How to Write a Transcript: A Step by Step Guide to Interview Transcription
So, you’ve a recorded interview. What do you do next?
Writing your own transcript is certainly something you can do. But, to do it right, you need to take the right approach from the beginning.
Firstly, you need to know how difficult this might be — it’s not only time-consuming, but it can be draining to repeatedly go back and try to be as accurate as possible. To ensure you manage it all, you need to prepare beforehand and give yourself time.
Here is our step by step guide on how to create an interview transcription to help you simplify the process and get the accurate transcript you need.
Prepare before you start and identify what you need out of the interview transcription
In transcription, as in all things, preparation is the key to success. The better prepared you are, the smoother the transcription process will be. Follow these steps to make sure that your transcription gets off to the best possible start:
Identify what you want out of your transcript and think about what might affect the process
What is the purpose of the transcription? Do you need a completely accurate, word for word rendering of the interview in text, or do you simply need to condense it down to a series of bullet points? Is it simply a resource that’s needed for quick reference or is it something that you’ll need to reference repeatedly and in exact detail? A lawyer preparing a case based on a witness testimony will have very different needs to a market research executive referring back to consumer data in a presentation.
Ask yourself if you’ll need to refer back to the audio later or if you’ll be solely reliant on the document. Will you be the only person referring to it or does it need to be accessible for several people with different needs and skills? Think about how important verbatim accuracy is. Do you already know the main talking points of the interview or will you need quick access to them in the document?
Select your transcription requirements
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You’ll also need to think about any aspects of the recording which could prove an impediment to the transcription process. Your typing speed is one of these. Even for a skilled and experienced transcriber, it can take up to an hour to transcribe a 15-minute audio file.
The quality of the audio can also be a huge barrier to a high-quality and timely transcription. If you know that the audio is of poor quality, there are numerous means by which it can be “cleaned up” using software applications to make it clearer (although this can add more to your workload).
What’s more, the presence of more than one speaker can also make for a longer transcription, as can filler words, speech impediments, coughing, stuttering, repetition and other verbal tics.
The better you know the barriers to an effective transcription, the better prepared you are to overcome them.
Use the right tools
Creating your transcription will be a lot harder and take much longer if you do not have the right tools for the job. At the very least you will need:
Noise-cancelling headphones — Background noise can be an impediment to an effective transcription. Noise-cancelling headphones can help you to concentrate more fully on the audio.
Your computer — You don’t need a great computer to transcribe audio into text. Nonetheless, it helps if you have a solid keyboard, enough processing power to reduce lag (especially if using a web-based word processor like Google Docs) and a comfortable workspace. Keep in mind that your transcription could take 3-4 times as long as the audio file itself.
Transcription software — A dedicated software solution may allow you to type and control the recording without needing to switch between programs. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions which allow you to do this for free, including oTranscribe, Express Scribe and InqScribe.
What level of detail will you need?
As we discussed previously, the purpose of the transcription will dictate the required level of detail. There are several options available to you including:
Full-Verbatim — The interview in its rawest form with every word detailed, including “umms”, “ahs”, pauses, false starts and other verbal tics.
Intelligent Verbatim — Also known as ‘verbatim’, ‘clean verbatim’ or ‘word-for-word’, this is a slightly more polished version of the full-verbatim script with all the extraneous extras removed, making it easy to read.
Detailed Notes — The interview is reduced to a selection of detailed notes which give you quick and easy access to the information you need without having to parse large slabs of text.
Do you need timestamps and speaker identification?
These measures can prove invaluable in making the transcription easier to parse and mine for relevant information. But adding them will take time, so account for this if it’s necessary.
Starting to create the interview transcription
All that preparation may be cumbersome, but it will ultimately make for a faster and more accurate transcription. Now that you’ve laid a strong foundation, you’re ready to start creating your interview transcript.
Step 1: Listen to the whole recording before you transcribe
You may feel that you’re ready to start transcribing “cold” but it helps to have some familiarity with the audio before you start typing. Knowing the audio will help you to pre-empt any obstacles which might slow you down later.
Take notes as you listen. Identify speakers. Write down any words or terms you need to familiarise yourself with (like technical jargon or slang).
Now is also the perfect time to think about what kind of transcription the audio best lends itself to: full-verbatim, verbatim or detailed notes.
Step 2: Transcribe a first rough draft
Your next step will be to try and transcribe an initial rough draft. This is an especially prudent idea if you’re less than confident in your typing speed. Don’t worry too much about accuracy. You’ll get the chance to revisit and revise the document later. By all means, pause if you need to but try not to rewind the recording.
To facilitate faster typing, feel free to add shortcuts for this initial draft. For example, use “bc” as an abbreviation of “because”. You can go back and change these later using the ‘find and replace’ function, or you can enable the autocorrect function on your word processor to fix them as you go.
Step 3: Revisit the transcript and edit
Now you have a readable transcription that you can work from. It’s simply a matter of polishing it up and getting it ready for general consumption. Although your rough draft will be readable, maybe even useable, there will inevitably be issues like typos (spellcheckers never get them all) which you’ll need to correct before the transcript is ready.
It’s advisable to listen back to the interview at this point. Read through the document as you listen and address any problems or inconsistencies as you go along. You may well find that you misheard certain words or allowed the odd homophone to sneak in, like “hear” and “their”.
Step 4: Format it to your needs
You should now have a transcription that’s completely accurate and polished (even if it took time to get there). It’s now simply a case of formatting it to fit your needs and ensure that it fulfils its intended purpose.
Adjust the font and size to ensure that it’s easy to read even when scanning for quick reference. Use subheadings, titles, paragraphs and page numbers.
This is probably a good time to give the text one last proof to ensure that it’s fit for purpose. Make sure any shortcuts have been replaced and that all typos have been corrected.
Now that you have the steps to begin…
You’re ready to start transcribing. Transcribing an interview is a discrete skill that’s difficult to master, so don’t worry if the whole process took you longer than you expected.
Following this procedure will ensure that you’re able to strike the best possible balance between speed and accuracy. Ignore this process and go into transcribing “cold” and you’ll likely sacrifice one or the other.
Of course, even when you’ve honed your skills and gotten some experience under your belt, transcribing can still be a difficult and time-consuming process. Don’t be afraid to lean on professional transcription services when you want quick access to accurate transcriptions. This can save you time and guarantee that you get the accuracy and quality in your transcription that you need.
If this guide to creating your own interview transcript has helped you but you still want to explore the option of transcription services, our Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services can provide you with more information.