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Ever watched a video on YouTube with automatic captions turned on, only to see lines of gibberish spill across the screen? If so, then you already know why transcriptionists are so important!
The Basics of Audio Transcription – What is Transcription?
But before we get into the tools and skills they use while creating a transcript, let’s answer the bigger question: “What is transcription?”
For the purposes of this article, transcription is the art and science of writing down what people say in an audio or video recording. When you watch subtitles on a video, for example, you’re actually seeing a type of transcription.
Transcription allows you to consume audio content in a written format. Not only are transcripts used for creating subtitles/captions, but they’re also used for repurposing and archiving content. Online courses also commonly include transcripts with their audio and video training materials, so students can quickly reference information.
At its most basic level, transcription writes down what is spoken. But that’s actually an oversimplified description!
Transcripts come in all styles. Some transcripts include every stutter and filler word like “um” or “okay,” while other transcripts polish sentences, maybe even correcting grammar errors when they occur. Some transcripts include timestamps, while others don’t. In addition, most transcripts include some form of speaker identification–an abbreviation, word, or another marker that’s included before the spoken words, to identify who said what.
The Basics of Audio Transcription – What Tools are Needed?
Audio & Video Player
While transcribing audio, a transcriptionist uses software for playing audio and video files. You can perform basic transcription using a regular media player, but transcription software makes playback a lot easier.
Transcription requires a fast typing speed, and a good keyboard is essential for increasing your typing speed. You need something that’s easy on your wrists, fits your fingers, and doesn’t stick when you type. Also, make sure you choose a keyboard that contains ridges on the “J” and “F” keys, which are used for touch typing. (Touch typing is when you type words without looking at the keyboard, and it’s a much faster way of typing.)
In addition to playing the audio file, you have to have something to type your document into. Word Documents (.doc or .docx) are most commonly used for this, though you could type into a Google Document instead, if absolutely necessary. Word Documents, however, allow you to use special features that speed up your transcription. With a few clicks of a button, you can set up autocomplete functions and spellcheck standards that will make transcription faster.
If you’re doing transcription, headphones are another MUST…especially noise-canceling headphones. These high-quality headphones are a great investment, and they allow you to hear nuances of speech that could be the difference between one word and another. They also allow you to focus on the audio, without being distracted by background noises.
I transcribed for several months WITHOUT a foot pedal, but I don’t recommend it. If you’re serious about transcription, this tool is essential. It allows you to plug into your transcription software and start/stop/fast forward/rewind audio files by pressing the pedal with your foot. This keeps your fingers on the keyboard, typing, so you don’t waste time moving your hands and clicking your mouse to replay tricky audio segments. (In order to use a foot pedal, you will probably need transcription software like Express Scribe.)
While you can perform transcription using a basic audio player and Word Processor, transcription software offers many more features that speed up transcription. Just a few features you may find helpful include audio adjustments, so you can hear poor-quality audio files without breaking your eardrums, or timestamp shortcuts, so you insert timestamps without manually typing ever hour, minute, and second.
You would be surprised how many different kinds of accents, slang words, and technical jargon you’ll discover in audio files, so transcription requires excellent research skills. You have to know the difference between homophones–words that sound alike when spoken, but are spelled differently–as well as how to find the spelling of unknown words (at least phonetically, so you have something to notate).
Standards notes and guides will help you consistently format a transcript, so the numbers are always written the same way, words are always spelled the same way, and you always include timestamps and speaker IDs using the same formats.
A lot goes into a quality transcript! Next time you watch subtitles on a British TV show or comb through a training course using a transcript instead of the video, think of the human being that listened to the audio so you could read it! And think about the basics of audio transcription and everything that went into that final product.