Tag Archives: edited transcription

Context is Key

Context is key

I think one of the main reasons I love proofreading transcripts is that it’s fun ferreting out and changing those odd little mistakes where the sentence someone’s typed makes perfect sense, but in context it’s nonsense. It’s a bit like doing a puzzle really.  Context is so often the key.

It never ceases to amaze me that people providing transcripts sometimes get it so wrong – but I won’t deny that I also make mistakes – that’s why proofreading back through is so important! An example of a mistake I proofread the other day was a colloquialism. Of course not everyone is familiar with all colloquialisms, but I was a bit surprised the transcriber didn’t highlight this one as a query. It went something like this*: ‘I like doing x, but then I like doing y too. X is fun but takes a long time. Y is a bit less fun but it’s quick. It’s swings and roundabouts really.’ The transcriber had put ‘swims and roundabouts’ which at least gave me a chuckle. There’s no excuse for it though – when someone is transcribing this and types ‘swims and roundabouts’ a ‘that’s odd’ flag should automatically start waving in their brain. Then all you have to do is look it up on dear ol’ Google. You immediately get, other than a few references to an Angry Birds theme park that will include ‘a mixture of themed swims and roundabouts…’, a notification saying ‘Did you mean swings and roundabouts?

Then there’s the homonyms of course, or strictly speaking homophones – where words sound identical but are actually spelt differently. The obvious suspects are things like ‘they’re’ and ‘their’, or ‘aloud’ and ‘allowed’, but to be honest I wouldn’t employ anyone who couldn’t manage those! It’s the subtle ones that do still crop up though:

  • ‘It was all together a fine kettle of fish’ is wrong. It should be ‘It was altogether a fine kettle of fish’, because ‘all together’ means various things in one place, but altogether means completely.
  • ‘I was going to brooch the subject’ is nonsense because brooch is a piece of jewellery. The word should be ‘broach’ which means to bring up for discussion.
  • ‘The road was tortuous’ or ‘the road was torturous’? Well, either could potentially make sense. The first one means the road was full of twists and turns and the second one means it was full of pain and suffering.

The only way to know what the third example above should be, if the word itself isn’t clear on the tape after a few listens, is to look at the context. If the speaker goes on to say, ‘I thought if the bends got any tighter it would be quite dangerous’ then suggestion one is a winner, but she says, ‘It was a journey I really didn’t want to make. I knew it was going to be painful before I started,’ then we’re looking at option two.

Another essential part of proofreading is research, generally internet-based, to check on people’s names, or locations mentioned in a transcript. Searching out an obscure village in Thailand, for instance, listening again and again to check, ‘Is that really what he said, or is it wishful thinking on my part, because it’s a name I’ve found?’ And then going back and seeing if he says anything else about the village to give me a clue… context again. Perhaps ‘It was near Chiang Mai’. Heck, the one I found is down in the south and Chiang Mai is up north – start again; but what a sense of achievement when you do track them down!

One has to be a little careful not to waste time though. Perhaps in the case above the interviewer knew exactly where the interviewee was talking about and could have filled in the blank in a second or two! So we always try to fill in the blanks, but if something uncertain then we’ll always flag it up for the interviewer to double-check.

Then there’s bits you can’t quite hear – either the person’s mumbling or the recording isn’t great, or the interview is recorded somewhere noisy and a train went past blowing its’ whistle.  I always like to make a stab at those, although I’ll always highlight them as only possibilities, rather than definite. An example cropped up today. Someone was talking about making a contribution to something, ‘but not very much and very tan-xxx-ly.’ I could hear the ‘tan’ and the ‘ly’ quite clearly but the whole word wasn’t quite clear. Context was key again – she’d only played a roll from the side-lines so the missing word was ‘tangentially’.

So if you’re a novice transcriber reading this, do take on board that context is absolutely vital in this kind of work – and if you’re a potential client, please be assured that all work from Penguin Transcription is transcribed by a small team of experienced and knowledgeable transcribers, and then carefully proofread – taking context into account!

* I can’t use real examples as all our work is treated as strictly confidential.

 

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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.

Transcribing when a translator is present

We’ve just taken on a big project, bigger in fact than either we or our client realised at first, as he wasn’t sure how many hours of recording he had! All the files have the interviewer, the interviewee and a translator. We only have to transcribe the English – which is a good thing, as between us in the office we only have a handful of French and Spanish, and this is something a bit more exotic!

Should be easy, you’re probably thinking – after all, if the sound file is an hour long you’re probably only transcribing half an hour’s worth! So why, you might very reasonably ask, am I charging this client our standard rate, and not a reduced amount?

Well in fact I have offered a reduced rate if the recordings are really clear and the translator speaks excellent English – but we (my client and I) rather doubt there are any recordings like that! This is inevitable and I am in no way blaming the client, or indeed the translator! Of course in an ideal world, all recordings for transcription would take place in a quiet office space with the windows closed, no air conditioning on (because it can play havoc with the recorder!) and, where a translator is required, the translator speaking immaculate English with no accent, as well as speaking the tongue he’s translating from perfectly.

Unfortunately real life does rather tend to get in the way – and when you’re recording in rural China or in a war zone, or even an oral history at a little railway museum in the UK, all of which are projects we have worked on in the past, the chances of being able to find a nice, quiet office to work in are pretty small. The chances of finding a perfectly bilingual translator are even slighter!

So although we can, in theory, race through the non-English parts and just type the English, in this project the recording quality is quite poor, the translators’ English leaves much to be desired and many of the translators also have strong accents. Also, the nature of conversation between three people means that the discussions are not clearly and neatly divided into English and the other language. Often, while the translator is trying to do his bit in English, the interviewee thinks of something else he wanted to say and interrupts. Sometimes the translator is talking to the interviewee and then quickly throws a few words in English at the interviewer, before replying to the interviewee in the other language. So we really have to keep our ears ‘peeled’ and listen to everything, even though we can only understand half of it!

All these issues mean it’s taking about as long, or sometimes longer, to transcribe as a good quality, all English transcription, so it’s costing about the same. All I can say is it’s a good job that we all like a challenge at Penguin Transcription!

General transcription ‘versus’ specialist transcription

I’ve just read a post which really irritated me! It suggested that ‘general transcription can be a route into a more specialist transcription role,’ and I dare say that’s true, but the way the post was written suggested (to me at least) that general transcribers were slightly second-class citizens compared to the great and the good in say medical or legal transcription.

To my mind that’s a bit like saying a labrador is better than a chihuahua … or for all those indignant chihuahua fans out there, a bit like saying a chihuahua is better than a labrador. The point is that they’re quite different skills. Both involve typing and both involve, at least to some extent, having a decent knowledge of English* grammar and punctuation, but while the specialist transcriptionist usually deals with dictation, the general transcriptionist usually deals with interviews or groups, and that’s where a whole other set of skills comes in.

The specialist transcriptionist will often be provided with the punctuation by the person dictating, although frankly that person probably gets it wrong as often as not; the general transcriptionist typing an interview, however, has to work out where all the punctuation goes, and also has to convert to text an often rambling and slightly incoherent conversation, so that when it is read back it actually makes sense.

The specialist transcriptionist will have to be conversant with specialist language, usually medical or legal, and have a wide vocabulary in this specific sphere. The generalist , on the other hand, needs a good general knowledge as he or she could be covering rocket science one day and religion the next. He or she also needs to be a good lateral thinker, to make sure that the word s/he thinks s/he is hearing is a word that ‘fits’ in context.

Both roles are highly skilled, and both involve more than ‘just typing’ but they are definitely quite separate skills and I think they are probably suited to different sorts of people. Whereas a specialist transcriber may enjoy and take pride in drawing on and building up their specialist medical or legal knowledge,  I love doing general transcription because of the endless variety of topics we cover. This week we’ve been transcribing about sexuality, stately homes, domestic violence and development of website statistics. Next week  we might be typing about sheep diseases or company culture again.

Please visit our website, to find out more about the transcription services we offer.

* I am only talking about English transcription here as that’s what I know about!

Working with you transcription service to keep costs down and get the best results

If you’ve conducted some research including one-to-one interviews, and then realised how much work is involved in transcribing them, you’ll probably be looking for an affordable transcription service. 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 by providing good quality recordings you can make the transcription more affordable, as it will take less time to complete.

You could do the transcription yourself, but if you are not a fast touch-typist and do not have specialist transcription equipment then it will take you a very long time. I have had clients come to me saying they started the work themselves and it was taking them 20 hours to produce a transcript of a 1-hour recording. That’s why they ended up working with us!

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 able average three to 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 including checking. (Industry standards obtained from the Industry Production Standards Guide (1998), published by OBC, Columbus, OH, USA) Transcriptionists also have to make sense of what’s being said, punctuate the speech correctly and use the right homophones (words like there/their/they’re that sound the same but are spelt differently.)

So how can you make sure that your transcript is clear?

First of all, use the best transcription equipment you can afford, and make sure it’s fit for purpose. This means that for interviews you should have recorded with a good quality digital recorder. For focus groups you should have several microphones so that all participants are close to a mike, 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.

Next, you should prepare well before each interview. Make sure that, if at all possible, you have arranged a quiet meeting room, as background noise will dramatically increase the time taken to transcribe the recording, as the transcriptionist may have to listen to sections several times in order to capture the interview speech over the background noise. It is helpful to spell out your interviewee’s name at the beginning of the tape, 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. Alternatively make sure you keep careful note of this information and send it to your transcriptionist with the sound file.

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.

After the interview, it is enormously helpful if you can include a list of key words for the transcriptionist. Although we’re happy to go on a ‘Google hunt’, searching the internet to find out how to spell technical terms, names of drugs, names of organisations etc., if you can provide this info in advance it certainly saves time, and saving time saves you money. Technical work will always be more expensive than non-technical, but providing a ‘crib sheet’ of key words should reduce the cost.

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 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. At Penguin Transcription we will use any format you wish, and as a rule this does not increase the price. Just let us know in advance. If, however, it’s essential that you have speakers in different fonts or different colours, this might add to the price.

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 Penguin Transcription 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. Here are some brief examples. Somewhat more expensive is edited, which corrects the grammar and any mispronounced words as well as knocking out all the fillers. This is sometimes used for conferences, video conferences etc.

Verbatim

Erm, well, I dunno really, know what I mean? I mean, you know, when I asked them what Mary’s, er, um, condish, condit, condition was, they said like erm ‘I’m afraid we can’t, erm, tell you that, Mrs. Smith, ’cause you ain’t a relative.’

Intelligent Verbatim

Well, I dunno really. I mean when I asked them what Mary’s condition was they said ‘I’m afraid we can’t tell you that, Mrs Smith, ’cause you ain’t a relative.’

Edited

Well I don’t know really. I mean when I asked them what Mary’s condition was they said ‘I’m afraid we can’t tell you that, Mrs Smith, because you are not a relative.’

You can see that a whole extra line of typing is required for the verbatim work in just those few short sentences, and it also requires more concentration not to filter out those fillers!

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

Groups

There are many excellent reasons for interviewing groups of people, but don’t do this in order to try to reduce the transcription cost! It takes much longer to transcribe a group of more than two or three people (including the moderator/interviewer) because of the time taken to distinguish the different voices and the fact that people will inevitably talk over each other, especially when they get excited, enthusiastic, impassioned or angry.

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, or if everything is run into one giant paragraph with no formatting, as happened to a client of mine before he came to us? How much time will you then waste that could have been spent more productively on your analysis?