Category Archives: Meeting transcription

Transcription – offshoring, onshoring, in-housing, outsourcing?

Transcription might seem like an obvious thing to outsource and ‘offshore’. After all, ‘it’s only typing isn’t it? It’s not rocket science?’ And yet ‘onshoring’ has been in the news a lot lately, with both positive and negative slants. On the one hand, onshoring could boost the UK economy; on the other hand, the fact that it now ‘costs roughly the same’ to make noodles in China as it does in the UK, according to the recent news story about Symington’s Noodles bringing noodle production back from China to the UK, is an alarming indictment on the state of the UK economy. But it’s not just that companies feel they can now pay even lower wages to UK staff; it is also the rise an rise of wages in China, exchange rate fluctuations and shipping costs too.

So how does transcription fit into this discussion? Well, another recent argument for onshoring has been quality concerns. And this article about IT onshoring suggests a number of other important concerns too: “…time zone challenges, language and other communication issues, high turnover (up to 40% annually in some cases) in offshore locations, intellectual property and security risks (especially in unregulated countries like China), are just some of the unanticipated issues that have plagued offshore development.”

And a number of of those issues could also affect transcription – the obvious one is language. Unless English is a first language then there is no way that someone can provide top quality ‘general’ transcription i.e. interview transcription services and focus group or meeting transcription services. It is possible (though perhaps doubtful) that they can provide equal quality dictated notes, for example, but a conversation – full of idioms, homonyms, a wide variety of different technical terminologies – no.

So … if I’m suggesting you should keep your transcription ‘onshore’ then what about keeping it in-house? Surely keeping it as local as possible will minimise the problems? Well no, not necessarily. And this is where we come to the ‘just typing, not rocket science’ issue. It’s true – it’s not rocket science, but it does require specialist skills, and even if you’re lucky enough to have access to a secretary or PA who can type, that doesn’t mean they can provide fast, accurate, grammatically correct and readable transcripts from an audio file … and all that on top of their regular workload.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I am recommending onshoring and outsourcing, since this is the service that we offer here at Penguin Transcription,  but I think you will agree that the arguments are valid.

Valentines Day – it’s all about love, and we love transcription!

We all love transcription here – which is a bonus as it’s what we do for most of each working day, but it’s rather like dentistry or chiropody – although we love it, it puts a shudder up most people’s spines. Sally at www.wordnerd.co.uk described it as ‘trudging through treacle’, and she is certainly not alone.

So why do love it? I think the number one thing for all of us is variety – one day we could be typing children talking about a local film project and the next day (or the next hour) we could be transcribing blue-chip directors discussing their use of technology or top academics discussing the intricacies of animal parasites. OK, that last one doesn’t sound too appealing, I have to admit, but the point is every single project is different, and within the projects, every single interview is different. What’s not to love?

Well, there are a few things we don’t love – notably poor-quality recordings, badly moderated focus groups, people at meetings who eat and talk at the same time (not pleasant if you’re actually in the room, but way, way worse on a recording) and bits of hardware or software suddenly packing up for no reason.

But even taking all those things into account we all enjoy the opportunity to learn a little bit about so many different things. It’s guaranteed never to be boring. And of course we don’t spend all day transcribing – just most of it. Recently we had Rory the Penguin in for a photo-shoot for our upcoming newsletter. He enjoyed his visit and participated fully in the life of the office. If you want to see him answering the phone (no doubt a surprise to the person on the other end), loading the printer, and indeed having a go at transcribing, then sign up to our newsletter! Only six a year so you won’t be bombarded with unwanted information, and we aim to keep it light, informative and fun. And we’re planning a special competition later in the year to celebrate our tenth anniversary.   Don’t miss out – sign up today!

Getting the best from a recording for transcription

There are many transcription services available but sometimes an affordable transcription service can seem hard to find. Transcription is not cheap, because it is a lot more involved than copy typing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a good deal with a transcription service, and what’s more, by providing good quality recordings you can make the transcription more affordable, as it will take less time to complete.

Here are a few things to consider:

Time Taken to Transcribe

When pricing up your options the most important thing to remember is that it’s just not possible to type as fast as you speak. Even an experienced transcriptionist will be able to average four times as long for a good, clear one-to-one interview – so an hour of recording will take an average of four hours to transcribe. (Industry standards obtained from the Industry Production Standards Guide, published by OBC, Columbus, OH, USA). But a poor quality recording will take much longer. So how can you make sure that your transcript is clear, in order to get an affordable transcription price? Basically, the easier you make the transcription for the transcriptionist, the more likely they are to be able to give you an affordable transcription quote.

Equipment

First of all, use the best transcription equipment you can afford, and make sure it’s right for your needs. This means that for interviews you should have a recorded with an external microphone rather than one built into the recorder, which is only designed to pick up dictation. For focus groups you should ideally have several microphones so that all participants are audible, and for conferences the speakers should have good microphones and there should also be people in the audience with ‘roving’ microphones to take around to any audience members wanting to ask a question.

Environment

Always try to make sure that you are recording in a quiet environment. Open windows can cause big problems unless you have a ‘noise cancelling’ microphone, which many digital ones are these days. So can air conditioning, so if you do have an air conditioning unit in the room try to ensure your speakers are not situated close to it. If conducting interviews by phone, and assuming that you have arranged these in advance (and asked permission to record, of course) then it’s helpful to ask your interviewee to try to make sure they’re in a quiet environment too!

Details

If you are interviewing and you want the names included then it is helpful to spell out your interviewee’s name at the beginning of the recording, before starting the interview, and speak out any information you would like on the transcript header e.g. the date, the job title of your interviewee etc. For conferences a speaker list and also a delegate list, if there will be audience questions, can save the transcriptionist a lot of time in trying to work out names and organisations.

Care with Conversation 

During the interview, unless you need to interrupt in order to take back control of the interview, try not to speak over your interviewee. Often in a normal conversation we say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ or ‘right’ or ‘OK’ more to indicate we’re listening than for any other reason. Every time you say that you are likely to be obscuring a much more important word or group of words spoken by your interviewee. And in conferences or panel discussions, if one speaker is giving a talk (i.e. without interruptions, not a discussion) make sure everyone else’s microphones are turned off. I have, in the past, had to mark whole sentences or even paragraphs of a talk as inaudible, because all I could hear were two panel members chatting about their holidays or little Jonny’s operation, and not the speaker!

Format

Most transcriptionists work in a standard format, whether that be tabular, tabbed, interviews shown as initials or full names etc. Again most are happy to work to your specifications, but the standard format might well be cheaper, so think carefully about whether you need something different or not. Find out what the standard format is in advance if it concerns you, and you may be able to adapt it to your needs.

Verbatim?

Finally, give some serious thought to whether or not you need a verbatim transcription. Verbatim transcription includes every repeated word, every ‘um’ and ‘erm’, all those ‘filler’ phrases like ‘you know’ and ‘know what I mean’ that may be repeated a hundred times in one interview, and can also include pauses, coughs, throat clearing etc. if required. Needless to say, this takes longer. If the transcriptionist can filter out all this stuff the transcript is quicker. In my company the cheapest level is what we call ‘intelligent verbatim’ which cuts out all these fillers but leaves the rest exactly as it’s spoken. Different transcriptionists work this differently though, so always check when you’re phoning for your quote. You can find detailed information about our editing levels on our website.

There are, of course, occasions when verbatim is required – depending on your topic it might be required for legal reasons, or you might be studying the language. But if you really don’t need it, don’t end up paying for it!

Price

And finally, remember that the cheapest transcription quote might not be the most affordable one in the end. There is an oft-quoted phrase: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Will it really be cost-effective to send your hard-won interviews to the cheapest service if what comes back is gobbledygook and you have to go through the whole thing correcting every other word? How much time will you then waste that could have been spent more productively? Recommendation is always the ideal way to find a service, but if no one you know can recommend a transcription service then look for testimonials. A good company with a strong track record should always be able to provide these. If you’re still not sure, ask questions and base your decision on the quality of the answers. Things you might like to ask are: turnaround time (when will you get the transcripts), confidentiality procedures, whether they have experience in your field, what the standard format is etc.

First Penguin Transcription Client Satisfaction Survey

This is probably something I should have done a long time ago, but I’ve finally set up a client satisfaction survey, which all clients have the opportunity to fill in, and for which they receive a link when I send them their invoice.

So far the feedback has been incredibly positive. The first positive, for me, was that anyone bothered to fill it in at all, but we have had quite a good response rate. It’s only been running a couple of months but her are some of the highlights:

  • 80% of respondents used our website
  • 100% of respondents would use Penguin Transcription again
  • 100% of respondents were very satisfied with the readability of our transcripts
  • 90% were very satisfied and the other 10% satisfied with our transcript quality
  • 90% very satisfied and 10% satisfied with our ability to identify and correctly use technical words
  • 100% of respondents were very satisfied with our ability to distinguish different speakers in recordings with multiple speakers

One client mentioned that he needed to take the transcripts we sent and put them into a different layout with line numbering etc., so I will be contacting him to explain that this is something we can do for him, at no extra cost, to save him a bit of time. We can work with any Microsoft Word-based template that you provide, and can also work in Excel templates, but that will sometimes incur an extra cost as it’s a little more awkward and can take extra time.

Clients who respond are put into a quarterly draw to win an Amazon voucher, and the survey only takes five minutes or so, so no one need feel they can’t spare the time. If we’ve done some work for you in the last couple of months and you didn’t receive a survey request, just let us know and we’ll be happy to send one out to you (although I think and hope that everyone’s had one!)

How to successfully get a conference transcribed

A word on timing

The most important piece of advice I would give as a transcriptionist is that if you’re going to have your conference transcribed you should arrange for completion of the transcription before the conference even takes place! Of course you are going to want to send the transcript (or your interpretation of it) out to your speakers and delegates as soon as possible after the conference takes place, but a conference is a significant chunk of work to transcribe.

Let’s take an example of a conference where the talks (and possible workshops etc.) total 5 hours. Even if you have excellent audio recording equipment and supremely clear speakers, with minimal question and answer sessions or workshops (the point of which I will explain in a moment) the time taken to transcribe is going to be four times as long as the recording – so you’re looking at an absolute minimum length of time taken in this example of 20 hours. Twenty hours of work is probably a minimum of three day’s work for one person, and there’s a very good chance it will take longer.

A good, established transcription company, employing fully trained and competent transcriptionists who are able not just to type but also to proof-read and edit, recognise the correct homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently), and punctuate English correctly, is probably going to be booked up for at least the next few days, and if you book in your recording before the conference and agree to send it on a certain date, they will be able to turn it around for you much faster.

Audience questions and participation

Question and answer sessions are often tricky because of the range of different voices involved. This applies to the audience but also to a panel if you are having panel sessions.

For audience sessions, make sure you have ‘roving microphones’ that can be carried around the audience, so that questions are actually audible on the recording. A good conference recording set-up, so that your main speakers can be clearly heard, and individual microphones for each member of the panel are also essential. These may well come with the conference venue but make sure you check this in advance!

What your transcriptionist needs from you

Another very useful tip is to provide the transcriptionist with both a speaker list and a delegate list. Then during the conference ask the Chair to ask all delegates to state their name and position before asking the question. The transcriptionist can then refer back to the delegate list to insert the correct spelling into the transcript. The same applies, of course, to speakers, although they don’t need to state their names if you provide an agenda and they are introduced.

It is also very useful to provide the transcriptionist with any supporting material on the conference that you have available as this will help to establish ‘key words’, words that may be not in common usage but particularly relevant to the topic of the conference. A good transcriptionist will also probably be able to search out most unusual words, but this takes extra time, and if you have already provided material to help, time will be saved.

Audio or video

A videoed conference probably won’t add a huge amount to aid the transcriptionist  although if there are large numbers of slides used then it may be helpful; or it could be equally helpful to simply provide a copy of the slide presentation. The disadvantage of sending video files is their size: sound files are large; video files are huge! The larger your file is, the longer it will take for you to upload it to the internet for the transcriptionist to download it, and the longer it takes the more likely you are to lose the internet connection, which means that you’ll probably have to start all over again!

The choices are to either convert the video to audio before sending, or to simply put the video on a DVD and pop it in the post. We can receive video via our file-sending service, but the issues above do still apply, and for a file as long as a conference it might be quicker to use snail mail!

Scientific transcription

I went to another fascinating series of talks at the John Innes Centre last night: ‘nature’s chemical tool kit’. I’ve been a ‘Friend of the John Innes Centre’ ever since I found out such a thing existed, and they always provide excellent, entertaining and ‘accessible’ science. They also very kindly provide a light supper afterwards and a chance to chat.

I was chatting to one of the ladies that worked there and we got talking about transcription… as you do. She commented that as a non-scientist herself she had had a scientific meeting transcribed a year or so ago and had thought it would be wonderful to have all the complex scientific words put in by someone so she didn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately of course, when the transcript came back all the names of chemical compounds, genes, plants etc. were just left blank or marked as [unknown word]!

This is not all that surprising given that most transcriptionists (though by no means all) come from a secretarial background and won’t necessarily be familiar with scientific terms, and this is an area where we can help! As I have a PhD in biology, I’m already familiar with the basic scientific terms, and even if I’m not familiar with the precise scientific term someone uses, I have enough of a scientific background to know where and how to start looking it up, which is actually one of the most important skills in transcription, to my mind.

Of course, there are things the client can do to ensure a better result from the start.  It’s always helpful to send any slides, PowerPoint presentations, abstracts and publicity material along with the audio, which will provide further clues as to what’s being spoken about.

If you have audience asking questions, as they did last night, then do make sure you have roving microphones. John Innes were very organised about this last night; they had two people with roving mikes in a fairly small auditorium so it was quick and easy to get the microphone over to whoever wanted to ask a question.

Also, if you want the audience members identified (not necessary last night, but it often is in a more formal environment) do make sure you ask them before the questions start, to identify themselves before they ask their question, and then send the delegate list to your transcriptionist so that s/he has the spellings. And remind the chairman that just because he knows it’s ‘Old Corky’ sitting at the back, saying ‘Hello Corky – let’s have your question then’ will not allow the transcriptionist to recognise ‘George Wellington Wells’ on the delegate list! (I’ve had this happen on many any occasion!)

Organising a conference – get the transcription booked in early!

A lot of conference organisers like to have the key note speech, at the very least, transcribed, and many also like to be able to send delegates copies of all the speeches or publish selected parts of the speeches on their websites.

Some people just publish abstracts sent in by the speakers, and that’s fine, but others want what’s really said on the day to be recorded for posterity, complete with panel sessions, audience queries, workshops and so on.

If you’re one of the latter, you might want to take a look at my article about getting your conference transcribed, which can be found here. I have just realised it’s a little out of date – surely there are no conference centres still recording onto cassette tapes? But the rest of the article is still valid. I will get that last bit updated soon!

The key points are:

  • Book your transcription well in advance
  • Use roving microphones if you are having questions from the audience
  • Provide your transcriptional with as much information as possible, including speaker list, delegate list, keyword list (if possible), agenda and general information about the conference’s content

The first point is probably the most important. A good transcription service is unlikely to be sitting waiting for your call and ready to swing into action when you say, ‘I have 20 hours of conference transcription and I need it back tomorrow please’!