Tag Archives: transcription equipment

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!

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!)

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, http://www.penguin-transcription.co.uk or contact us and we’ll be happy to chat through them with you.

‘Hidden noise’ problems when recording for transcription

Sometimes background noise in a recording is unavoidable, but it should be pretty obvious that it’s going to affect the recording! Examples might be a recording in a train station with lots of announcements and train noise in the background, a very noisy cafe with other conversations going on around you (not to mention coffee machines) or in a room with a bunch of screaming kids. We’ve transcribed all these sorts of recordings – sometimes it’s frustrating but we accept that at times it’s just unavoidable. With noises like this though it comes as no surprise to the researcher when we say, ‘Background noise is a bit of a problem!’

However, there are quite a few ‘hidden’ noises that can also cause problems, and, unless you’re aware of the possibility of them being a problem, it’s likely that you won’t notice them until it’s too late. Some of these are avoidable if you are prepared in advance – but some will fall into the ‘just have to live with it’ category, as above! However, hopefully the ‘hidden noises’ below will provide you with a few extra things to look out for before starting your recording.

  1. Silent ring. A mobile phone, even if set to silent ring, can interfere with the recorder, so that for the period that it’s vibrating or silent ringing the recording is inaudible. If you need to have mobile phones set to silent, we suggest you place them as far as possible from the recorder/microphone.
  2. Taking notes. When you take notes, you will hardly hear the sound of your pen shuffling across the paper, but the recorder will, if you are writing next to it! We have had recordings sent in where the speech is actually inaudible because the interviewee is sitting a bit away from the recorder and the interviewer is sitting almost on it and busily scribbling notes! The simple solution is to make sure the recorder is closer to the interviewee and to make sure that, if you need to take notes, the pad is not very close to the recorder/microphone.
  3. Shuffling papers. Similar to above – if you have paperwork, or anything else for that matter, such as a handbag, right next to the recorder, then shuffling or rustling noises can sound very loud.
  4. Wobbly recorder. Not a common problem, but we have one client who always seems to have it – if the recorder isn’t lying flat and the table or whatever the recorder is sitting on wobbles a bit, the recorder will rock and the sound of it moving will be considerably louder than the sound of the people speaking!
  5. Air conditioning. Air conditioning, while not sounding especially loud in the room, can interfere with some recorders and make the recording useless. DO take a short sample recording if you’re in a room with air conditioning, while the air conditioning is running, and make sure it’s OK. If it isn’t and you can’t change rooms, open the window if possible! The sound of traffic/building works etc. outside isn’t ideal either, and may cause some inaudible sections, but that’s better than an unusable recording!

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?