Digital Transcription vs. Human Transcription

Artificial Intelligence typed on a type writer

Transcription is the age-old process of transforming the spoken word into text. This process delivers significant benefits, such as helping to make audio and video content searchable, easy to reference, and more accessible. 

In the past, people carried out the art of transcribing by hand before they advanced to using typewriters and later, computers. In 1962, IBM introduced its first speech-recognition machine. Initially, the company’s engineers designed the program to recognise spoken numbers rather than words. It’s safe to say that things have evolved significantly since then. However, the demand for transcription in all its forms continues to rise.  

To this day, humans continue to carry out transcription manually and with the aid of technology, but which method is best?

What is digital transcription?

Digital transcription uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to convert human speech into a text-based format. You may also hear the process referred to as Automatic Speech Recognition or ASR. 

Once digital transcription converts audio or video content into a text-based format, that transcript becomes useful for a broad range of applications. Reviewing a written version of the spoken word is often quicker than listening to an audio file or watching a video back. A text version also is the first step in generating captions, subtitles, and searchable content. 

Most digital transcription services attempt to decipher speech by using advanced algorithms. The software works by predicting the likelihood of individual words based on the context. Artificial intelligence allows the digital transcription process to improve over time as it gathers and incorporates more data into its algorithm.   

Scrabble tiles falling from a height

Human transcription

Human transcription involves people listening to the relevant content and writing or typing what they hear in a text format.  

Professional transcription providers, such as Take Note, rely on experienced transcribers who can type at high speeds while maintaining high levels of accuracy. Using skilled individuals allows transcription services to produce high-quality transcripts efficiently. Although Take Note uses human transcribers, our process embraces technology through our fully encrypted portal. This system provides a secure environment for your content and offers a quick and effortless way for you to interact with us.  

As well as services carried out solely by people, hybrid transcription services are also available. Hybrid services use ASR to fast-track the transcription process but use humans to review and improve the output to meet the required standard.  

Key differences between human and digital transcription 


A key benefit of digital transcription is the sheer speed at which a machine can convert speech to text. With digital methods, the process is almost instant. In contrast, it would take hours for a human to carry out the same task.  

Professional transcription services, such as Take Note, use highly-skilled transcribers to carry out video and audio transcription. Although they may not be able to compete with digital transcription in terms of speed, they do provide considerable time savings over the average person attempting DIY transcription. 

Additionally, the time it takes to produce a transcript is only part of the process. You also need to consider the time required to make the output usable. Although digital transcription is quick, is the results are often inaccurate. Time saved initially can be lost when you calculate the hefty reviewing and editing time. Short-form videos with little speech might be a quick process. However, an hour-long podcast would take a significant amount of time to correct. 


Mobile phone with the word error written in large letters across the screen

Understandably accuracy is a core requirement for transcription. Incorrect words can change the whole meaning of a sentence, make search functionality ineffective, or cause embarrassing errors. For example, misspelt names or words out of context can lead to confusing transcription results. When accuracy is particularly poor the output reads as gibberish and is of no use to anyone.  

Digital transcription accuracy levels continue to improve but are currently not up to the 99%+ standard required for accessibility purposes. On average, digital transcription accuracy levels are below 80%. In reality, this means that in every 100 words you should expect 20 to be wrong. That equates to a fifth of the text.  

There are numerous factors that impact the accuracy levels of your transcript and that you should consider when selecting a transcription solution. For example, prominent levels of background noise, the number of people speaking, and accents can all have a negative impact on your output. Human and hybrid services are better placed to cope with lower-quality audio, as well as accents and technical language. However, the extra work and time required to complete your transcript can impact your costs. 


Without human involvement the price of digital transcription is lower than human-based services. In some cases, digital transcription is even available free of charge within certain platforms, such as social media channels and video hosting platforms such as YouTube.  

Alongside integrated transcription and captioning solutions are editing features that allow you to correct inaccuracies in the output. Errors can be whole words and sentences, as well as permitting the correction of names, brands, or other technical language that machines find challenging to decipher. Editing tools are usually free of charge and included with built-in transcription and captioning functionality.  

For those without a budget or limited resources, using digital transcription might be tempting. However, most businesses opt for a professional service when high levels of accuracy are non-negotiable. Using free digital transcription upfront can potentially lead to costs later if you’re not meeting legal accessibility standards. 


When using digital transcription, you will invariably be getting a verbatim transcript, that provides a word-for-word record of speech. In many scenarios this is the ideal output. However, in other circumstances, tailoring transcripts for a specific use case can be beneficial.  

For example, people tend to use filler words, stumble over the occasional pronunciation, or repeat words. Although this is natural in speech it can look odd and clumsy in a written format and is often unnecessary detail for most transcription. Human and hybrid services can offer greater flexibility and customisation options to meet your needs. 

Common uses for digital transcription services 

Mobile phone displaying social media icons

Social media captions

The meteoric rise of short-form video has increased the demand and usage of captions. Not only does text of the spoken word improve accessibility for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, but also increases engagement for those who watch without sound or in noisy environments. For videos with minimal speech, built-in services can be beneficial as they support editing within the social media app. When transcribing for accessibility purposes the human touch can make all the difference and provide the necessary accuracy levels. 

Video conferencing built-in services

Many conference call providers and video hosting platforms include the ability to add transcripts and captions to your content. These tools help aid accessibility and boost engagement. Often a digital transcription feature is included as part of your package, alongside the ability to correct errors through an editing facility. If accuracy levels are low, you can also work with a human or hybrid transcription provider to deliver a high-quality transcript from a recording. 

Live transcription

The speed of digital services makes them an obvious option for live transcription. The benefits of speed in these situations may outweigh the levels of accuracy. It is a sensible idea to test your chosen digital transcription service before your live event to ensure the output is adequate for your needs. Having the transcript available ‘live’ loses its appeal if your audience can’t understand it due to the volume of errors. 

How to improve the accuracy of digital transcription 

The quality of the output from digital transcription is influenced by the quality of the audio content. Poor audio = poor transcript. 

Muffled speech, background noise and people speaking over each other make transcription more challenging for both people and machines. Humans can re-listen to content and apply what they know from the context of the recording to help determine the correct interpretation. However, digital transcription software will produce lower accuracy levels than usual when it comes to poor audio. 

If possible, it can be beneficial to test your setup to ensure quality audio from everyone speaking. If appropriate, you can also prompt people to speak at a decent volume and remind them to avoid speaking over one another – which is often easier said than done. 

Digital transcription can transform speech to text in a flash, but when it comes to accuracy levels, humans still outperform machines. In the future, we may see the machines match or better their human counterparts when it comes to transcription, but we are not there yet, 

When accuracy is a key requirement for your transcript, reach out to Take Note and get a quote today. Our fully encrypted services ensure your content is secure and turnaround times are guaranteed. 

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Kat Hounsell