Avoid Hidden Fees and Get the Quality Transcript You Need
When using a transcription service to transcribe audio, you might not always get the outcome you want. Conversely, you might get the right output but at a cost that is more than you thought.
Why? Surely transcribing audio is a straightforward process…
For the most part, yes — transcribing audio is straightforward, if not time-consuming. But, depending on the quality of your audio, as well as the quality of the transcription service, the outcome you get in a transcript can vary. Other transcription services will levy extra fees based on audio quality.
This article will break down exactly what can affect the kind of transcript you get and how to ensure you get high-quality transcription services at the right price.
1. Make sure you understand how detail and extras are priced
Most transcription services advertise their cheapest service as their headline price point. Depending on the service, this might represent a transcript that doesn’t include timestamps, speaker identification or even a word-for-word account of the recording. Sometimes, more than one speaker (even if it is just an interviewer asking a brief question at the beginning) can trigger an extra fee.
You need to be aware of these differences when comparing services and always look under the surface. You also need to understand the different levels of detail on offer by transcription services.
Most transcription services offer at least two types of transcripts — sometimes more — all at different starting price points. Again, the cheapest will be the price you see first, but it won’t always be the transcript that you need. In order of most common, those are:
- Verbatim transcripts, often called intelligent verbatim or clean verbatim, are edited but detailed transcripts. False starts, ‘ums’ and interruptions are removed to deliver a cleaner reading experience. These often sit at a middle price point. There is a 50/50 chance that this is the quoted price you will see when visiting the homepage of a transcription service.
- Full-verbatim transcripts capture everything. All of the edits removed in a verbatim transcript are reintroduced, along with annotations on tone and pauses. This is a far more expensive transcription option, often delivering too much detail in a transcript that is hard to read.
- Detailed Notes Transcripts are much like verbatim transcripts with even more editing. Interview questions are summarised and off-topic chit-chat is removed. These are cheaper, but not delivered by every transcription service. For those that have this option, this will often be their headline price point. For a lot of users, these are a great and cheap option. However, you are relying on the discretion of the transcriptionist to cut the right things.
- Summary/Draft Transcripts are the cheapest services, but they fall short of most people’s expectations of a transcript. Summary transcripts simply summarise a recording, while draft transcripts are a quick notes version that does not guarantee accuracy. Not offered by every transcription service, and of arguably limited use, these services are cheap and will generally be the headline price point if on offer.
When looking at transcription services, always make sure to look at their different transcript offers and make sure you are assessing the service based on the actual per-minute fee of the transcript you actually need.
2. Ensure your audio recording is high quality
Many transcription services have variable pricing based on audio quality. Understandably, lower-quality recordings take longer to transcribe. This variable pricing can also extend to accents and complex language. While you cannot control every aspect of a recording, such as the accents used by the speakers or quirks in the way they speak, you should focus on the things that you are able to change in order to ensure that the quality of the recording is as high as possible.
Some examples of this include using a high-quality microphone to ensure that the speech is clear, as well as recording and submitting the file in a high bitrate. This will make it easier to clean up the audio if damaged, and remove the possibility of distortion. Lastly, and perhaps most important, record in a quiet room, ideally one with sound dampening to prevent reverb.
A high-quality recording almost guarantees that the quality of your transcript will be much higher. In addition, the turnaround time will also be faster because there will be less background noise and fewer interruptions for the transcriptionist to filter through.
Do audio file formats actually impact transcription services?
There are a number of different audio file formats that your recording software will output to. Lossy files, such as MP3s, are smaller in file size which makes them take up less space on a phone or hard drive, but are compressed and potentially lower in quality. On the other hand, lossless files such as WAV are uncompressed, meaning that they are not modified in any way and the quality is at its peak.
However, when it comes to transcription, the file format isn’t nearly as important as the microphone used and the bitrate that it has been saved as. Even more so, the general speech quality, room sounds and accents are really what count.
If possible, when dealing with a cluttered recording, there is a benefit to not compressing the format. However, a high-quality MP3 is virtually indistinguishable from a WAV file, so don’t put too much emphasis on the format and instead focus on how the audio is recorded.
3. Know what you are getting into with automatic speech recognition (ASR)
Automated speech recognition software (ASR) is a much cheaper option that can be tempting to use if you’re looking to save money on your transcription needs. However, it’s not the most accurate transcription service available and does require your audio to meet certain conditions for it to be usable.
For starters, the quality of your audio file needs to be very high in order for it to be compatible with an ASR system. Multiple speakers and background noise will cause major inaccuracies with an ASR transcription service. Make sure only one person speaks at a time and ensure that their voice is loud and clear so that the ASR software has an easier time recognising each individual word. Unfortunately, if you can’t meet these conditions then using an ASR transcription service is likely to deliver unintelligible outcomes.
ASR transcriptions typically only have an accuracy of about 80%, so the cleaner your audio, the more successful it will be. If accuracy is a concern for your transcription needs then it’s best to rely on human transcription services instead. If speed and costs are more important, then ASR services can be an option provided your audio is recorded with these considerations in mind. However, your transcript is likely going to need to be reviewed and edited, so ensure you set aside time to do that.
Choosing the right transcription service
There are plenty of different transcription services available out there. Some use ASR exclusively, others only use human transcriptionists and some offer a mix between the two which can be tailored to your needs. Transcription services also offer a wide range of different extra services, such as proofreading or rushed services which could potentially introduce mistakes, which is a common concern to look out for if you’re looking for faster turnaround times.
Not every service is going to be the same quality and there are some services that will push extra services onto you, such as adding timestamps and identifying each speaker. If these services aren’t important to you then it’s important to choose a transcription service that allows you to customise the process so you can save money. However, looking for a service that bundles these options can end up being better value if they are something you need.
Security is something else you need to consider. If everything else is equal, and one transcription service is more expensive than another, the answer is likely to lie in their security protocols and where their transcriptionists are based. Depending on what you are having transcribed, this might be critical or of little importance. If you want to learn more, check out our guide to the signposts that indicate secure transcription services.