Lovely new testimonials for Penguin Transcription

Lovely new testimonials for Penguin Transcription! Thanks to Andrew, Sue and Greg.


Language is Evolving – and the Transcriptionist has to evolve with it!

The way language evolves has become a fascination for me since I started transcribing. I started thinking about this again when @Wordnerdsally on Twitter brought my attention to the latest rebuttal, by  Académie Française, of an English word (hashtag), because it’s damaging French language purity. Will they actually stop the Frenchman (or woman, or child) on the street from using the word? I very much doubt it!

The fundamental problem with the whole idea of the Académie Française as a protector of the purity of the French language is that language is not, and never has been, ‘pure’. It changes over time because it’s living and it evolves; people speak it, younger generations love to twist and turn it and make it their own, waves of immigration bring in new words and change old ones, and language just keeps on changing.

A favourite evolution of a word for me, into something more negative than its original meaning, (pejoration, in linguistic terms, so I’m told) is ‘silly’. In Old English, ‘silly’ meant, of all things, blessed! If you were blessed, I suppose you were naturally thought to be innocent, so the word then started to mean innocent. By the time of Middle English (Chaucer’s era) that had evolved into ‘deserving compassion’. Not quite sure how the link worked there but I suppose if you were innocent of a crime and had been accused of it you would deserve compassion – maybe it evolved that way? Anyway, if you needed compassion, that must mean you were weak, right? Well no, probably not, but that seems to have been the thinking then, so ‘silly’ started to mean ‘weak’. ‘From there it was ‘a short step’, says linguist Professor John McWhorter, to it coming to mean ignorant, and from ignorant it evolved into ‘lacking in good sense’, which is one of its meanings today.

This is probably a very over-simplified description of the evolution of silly, not least because it doesn’t only mean ‘lacking in good sense’. It can also mean frivolous and it can be used to describe objects, not just people. However, it’s an indication of the complexity of language and the difficulties inherent in making sense of it! And making sense of language, as it is spoken, and translating that spoken language to something that makes sense on the page, is really what transcription is all about.

The evolution of silly took place over hundreds of years, but some words change much faster than that, especially in spoken English, rather than the more formal English usually found in writing. An obvious recent example is ‘wicked’. When I was a lass ‘wicked’ meant evil, and to some it still does, but most people would hesitate to use it that way because in the younger generations it has come to mean ‘cool’ which of course when I was a lass meant slightly chilly, and not hip (a joint of the body?), groovy (having lines engraved in it?) or just ‘in with the current style’ (from ‘Urban Dictionary‘).

So a good transcriptionist isn’t ‘only’ someone with a fantastic grasp of English spelling and grammar, but someone with their ‘finger on the pulse’ of current spoken English. Fortunately at Penguin Transcription our transcriptionists are not only experienced, but range considerably in age and background. When that the word ‘mardy’ came up in a transcript I was doing I had no idea the word even existed and kept trying to ‘hear’ another word that would make sense to me, but then a younger colleague listened to it and grasped it straight away. (For those who are just approaching ‘middle age’ like me, or older, it means grumpy, surly or miserable apparently!)

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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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!


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.

Further points from our customer satisfaction survey

This is really good news for us: 100% of respondents who had used other transcription companies said that Penguin Transcription was better than other transcription companies – which is encouraging to say the least!

Respondents were asked to rank the following in order of importance to them:

Turnaround time
Advice & guidance
User-friendly systems and service
Introductory offer
Charity/academic discount rate
Free short sample

And this is how the rankings come out so far:





Advice & Guidance


User-friendly systems and service










It’s good to see that the things that we pride ourselves on are the things that matter most to our clients!

And finally, here are some comments from our clients:

Anne and her staff are really supportive is arranging details of transcription process, deadlines, costs etc. They are also very responsive to queries and often identify issues within audio that they resolve promptly.

Luke Dickens, Goldsmiths College, University of London

And regarding the quality of our transcription services, a short and sweet comment from Rick Young Limited:

Very happy, which is why I use you.


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!)

Chaffinch in frosted rose

The robin wouldn’t sit till long enough, so here’s a seasonal picture of a more obliging chaffinch, taken just before starting work this morning.

Seasons Greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year to all our readers!

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!)

HR/Personnel Meeting Transcription

HR (human resources) a.k.a. Personnel, covers a multitude of sins, from hiring to firing and everything in between. Many companies keep records of their HR meetings, whether they be for recruitment, disciplinary meetings, discussions about a change of hours, performance reviews or exit interviews.

Some take minutes or make notes, but many now digitally record these meetings.

Why record

The human memory is all too fallible, and even a day or so after a meeting you will often find you have one person swearing that x happened and another saying no, it was y. They both believe what they’re saying is true, and if there is no record, who is to be believed? An audio or video recording provides a permanent, checkable record of events.

Why have the recording transcribed

  • To provide each party to the meeting with a complete record of proceedings
  • To annotate with action points etc.
  • To provide a permanent, easily checkable record of events – a text version can be checked by searching while an audio version will needed to be listend to in full or skipped through until the relevant point is found
  • To easily prove compliance with the law, should the employee decide to take the company to tribunal at a later date

Why use a professional transcription service

Transcription is time-consuming and skilled. It takes a fully trained transcriptionist with a good touch-typing speed around four hours to transcribe one hour of recording – the average time for people without the right equipment, training and touch-typing ability is usually suggested to be around seven to eight hours but could be even longer.

In the modern, lean workforce most companies do not have skilled secretarial staff available to carry out this work on an ad hoc basis; secretarial staff it does employ are likely to have their time already filled, so they outsource transcription to professional transcription companies such as ourselves.

The information within such meetings is, of course, highly confidential, so outsourcing needs to be carefully considered. Over our ten years in operation we have gained a reputation for excellence and built trust with a number of regular clients. We have strict confidentiality policies and breaching them would be not only unethical but completely counter-productive, as we would lose our trusted status.

We have a small team based in Norfolk and a very small number of other UK-based transcribers who have all signed contracts and adhere to our confidentiality policies. If you would like more information on these policies please visit our website, or contact us and we’ll be happy to chat through them with you.

Transcription for PhDs – don’t leave it too late

If you’re doing a PhD with qualitative research interviews, then it’s very likely that you’re going to need to transcribe them or have them transcribed. That might be something you know in the back of your mind, but perhaps you’re thinking you might as well get all the interviews conducted first and then worry about the pesky business of transcribing them.

Having worked in transcription for the past ten years, and also having done a PhD of my own, I can assure you that is not the best way to go about it! There are quite a few hoops you’ll need to jump through before you can get the transcription done, and the sooner you think about, the easier it will be.

Let’s tackle those hoops one by one – and if you have any thoughts on things I haven’t covered here, feel free to comment.

1. Ethics

If you’re doing qualitative research you’ve probably already discovered that ethics is  minefield! Your ethics committee may well tell you that, for purposes of confidentiality, you should transcribe all the interviews yourself. That’s fine if you’re a fast touch typist and you’ve got enough time built into your schedule to spend between four and seven times as long transcribing as the length of your interviews, but that might not be the case. Supposing you’ve conducted 20 one-hour interviews; transcription is going to take you at least 80 hours, or maybe more like 140 hours if you’re not expert (nearly 3 weeks of full-time work), which  could perhaps can be better spent doing something else… like analysis!

If the ethics policies allow you to outsource your transcription, they will probably have quite a number of provisos regarding data safety, and quite rightly too. You will need to make sure that your audio/video can be sent to your transcription service safely, so using an encrypted website, or sending by post on a passworded data stick for example. (All files sent to us via our website are encrypted.) You might also want your transcription files passworded on return, names of participants (and perhaps any personal names mentioned, or even place names) changed in the transcript, or blanked out, and perhaps return of the files through an encrypted website too, rather than email, to give an extra layer of protection.

The level of protection needed will depend, or we can hope that it will, on just how confidential the data is likely to be. So highly personal information, such as research into domestic violence, might require all of the above, whereas interviewing people about the culture of their business organisation might be rather less critical.

Here at Penguin Transcription we can assure you of complete confidentiality and are happy to discuss any ethics-related concerns with you. We have been working with researchers to provide transcription for ten years and have an excellent track record, as our testimonials show.

2. Type of transcription

It may seem obvious that if you’re taking the trouble to record all your interviews and get them transcribed, you want a ‘full verbatim transcription’ so that you don’t lose a single, precious word. However, unless you are working in counselling, psychology or linguistics, and actually studying the way speech is used, you are probably better off with what we call intelligent verbatim transcription.

Verbatim will include every single ‘um’, ‘er’, incomplete sentence, cough, laugh, sneeze and filler (such as ‘y’know, or know what I mean or kind of, often repeated many times in each sentence). As Phil Bayliss (2007) points out in his paper ‘Tinkering with Transcriptions’, downloadable from this page, not only is this type of transcript hard to read, but if you need to send it back to your interviewee for checking, they might find it downright embarrassing!

Intelligent verbatim transcription still includes exactly what’s said, including emotions such as laughter (although we’ll leave those out if you don’t want them), and (again, unless you’d rather not) we would type ‘I’m gonna get another one’ rather than ‘I’m going to get another one’ if that’s what’s said, but we leave out all the ums and ers and fillers and false starts and interruptions, making for a transcript that’s easier to read, easier to analyse, and not embarrassing for the interviewee.

Not only that, but it’s substantially faster to transcribe than a full verbatim text, and therefore also cheaper! So if you’re looking for affordable transcription services, consider intelligent verbatim.

3. The practicalities of recording for transcription 

There is a lot to think about, even at the recording stage, relating to transcribing your interviews later. There’s an article here about choosing the right recording equipment for your needs, and you will also need to give some thought to sound file types. We’re happy to discuss any of this with you, even before your project starts, at Penguin Transcription.

Then there’s the seemingly obvious stuff, such as don’t put the microphone too far from the people speaking, don’t stick a batch of papers on top of the recorder by mistake and try not to eat while talking as it will make you hard to understand! (I say ‘seemingly’ obvious because over the ten years I’ve been transcribing I’ve come across all these problems and more.)

Sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, recording in a noisy cafe, or a room with the TV on in the background, screaming kids or the washing machine going full tilt, is unavoidable. If that’s the case, so be it, but if you can avoid anything like this, it’s well worth doing, as the transcript that comes out at the other end of the process will be of much higher quality, with far fewer ‘inaudible’ markings etc.

4. Outsourcing transcription

As yet there is no transcription ‘magic bullet’ that allows you (or us) to feed your audio into a machine and get typed text out. Speech recognition is of no use in an interview or group context, as it needs to learn to recognise different voices.

It takes a fully trained and competent transcriptionist around four hours per hour of recording, depending on recording quality, so for an hour’s worth of transcription you need to pay for four hours of a transcriber’s time. Just something to bear in mind! And that time will increase for verbatim or if there are significant issues with the recording e.g. background noise.

Outsourcing transcription is not just about price, however; it’s about quality. At least it is if you don’t want to waste too much time going through and redoing it!  I won’t pretend – we’re not the cheapest out there. (We’re also not the most expensive!) The reason people keep on coming back to us is that we can provide the quality transcription they need. We have recently had two customers leave us because they found a cheaper alternative, and come back within a month because the cheaper alternative was not working out.

However, there are things that you can do to help us, and that will keep the costs down! Have a look at my article on finding an affordable transcription service, for some advice on this.

I hope this post has given you some food for thought, rather than cause for panic, and if you’d like to discuss any transcription requirements with us, please do give us a call on 01953 880206 or fill in our quote request form here.