Common Transcribing Mistakes
Riddle me this: How many words does it take to form an eight-word sentence? I’ll tell you the answer in a minute, but first let’s talk mistakes…
We all make mistakes, whether it’s mixing a red sock in with the white laundry, or sending a text to the wrong person. They can be embarrassing, hilarious and utterly perplexing, but, at the end of the day, who can blame us? We’re only human after all.
When you make mistakes in transcription, however, things can get particularly confusing; try understanding a medical report about liver failure when it starts talking about ‘abnormal lover function’! For all the transcribers out there, we address some of the most common slip-ups seen in the transcription world, and how to avoid them.
The Atomic Typo
No, this isn’t the latest Marvel superhero, but rather an enemy of the humble spellchecker. Atomic typos are the name given to spelling mistakes your spellchecker can’t pick up on because the mistakes are actually real words; think typing heath instead of health, county not country, or conversation over conservation. Atomic typos mean it’s so important to double- and triple-check your work, because these might seem like small mistakes, but just think how embarrassing it would be if you missed out the Ls in public or clock! Homophone: If Yoda had been the screenwriter for E.T.
If you thought atomic typos were bad, meet the new supervillain! Homophones are words which sound exactly the same but have different meanings, such as deer and dear, bear and bare, or knight and night. These are the bane of any writer, but for transcribers in particular they can cause all sorts of confusion, not least because of the speeds we write at. The most infamous of all homophones are, of course, there, their, and they’re, which crop up in almost every transcription, and which we all have a habit of getting wrong every once in a while. If you find there are particular homophones you’re slipping up with, ensure you do a search for them in your transcripts before finishing just to check whether you’ve used them correctly (Ctrl or Command +F in Word).
Autocorrect (More like ‘AutoINcorrect’, am I right?)
Oh, what it must be like to have the confidence of Autocorrect! If you’re using a system which has this function, you’ll know what a hit-and-miss tool it can be. On the one hand, it manages to figure out the gobbledegook you type when your fingers start cramping, but it also seems to think we frequently use the word ‘ducking’ in casual conversation. As well as reading through your transcripts once you’ve finished, it’s a good idea to keep a watchful eye out whilst you’re typing for any corrections your computer might automatically decide to perform, or you can always turn off the function altogether. In Word for Windows, this means going to File > Options > Proofing > Autocorrect Options and unticking the box marked ‘replace text as you type’. In Word for Mac, go to Tools > Autocorrect… and untick the box marked ‘automatically correct spelling and formatting as you type’.
Sorry, I didn’t catch that?
At the end of the day, for all the spellchecks, double-checks and triple-checks we do, there are some audio files that don’t make things very easy on transcribers, but there are still some things you can do to make sense of them. Firstly, research! If you know the names of some of the respondents in the file, it can be worth giving them a google; I often try to find people’s LinkedIn pages as they often list current or recent employers, and then check out the official company websites. This can then give you a clue as to the topic of the conversation you’re transcribing; it’s rather amazing how one quick search can help in decoding the audio so that suddenly everything makes sense!
Sometimes thick accents you’re not used to can result in more mistakes than normal. However, if you’re struggling with a respondent’s accent at the beginning of a file, I find that perseverance is key. Whilst it can feel overwhelming initially, like you’re marking inaudible after inaudible, you will often come to adjust to the accent. I frequently find that audio I’ve marked as inaudible first time around suddenly sounds crystal clear to me when I listen back to it again later. So, never give up!
A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
So, did you figure it out? How many words does it take to form an eight-word sentence?
The answer is one: Buffalo, or to be more precise:
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
Thanks to the crazy and bizarre rules of the English language, buffalo is both the singular and plural word for bison, as well as a place in New York, and a verb meaning ‘to bully’. As a result, this is a grammatically correct sentence, which essentially means ‘Bison from Buffalo who are bullied by bison from Buffalo also bully other bison from Buffalo’.
Aren’t you glad English is your native language and that you didn’t have to study this nonsense?
Written by Transcriber Lydia