Transcription services have evolved and kept pace with the way businesses communicate among one another and with customers and the public. The shift from written to audio and video content has significantly increased the demand for transcription, which converts speech and select written materials into a written or electronic text document. A recent report on the U.S. transcription market confirms the 19.8 billion industry is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1% from 2020 to 2027.
Although transcription appears straightforward, it’s a challenging, specialized service that requires distinct skill sets. Transcriptionists begin by understanding the client’s specific requirements, then determine which transcription type will best meet their needs—edited, verbatim, intelligent verbatim, or phonetic.
This guide defines and explains transcription types, describes who uses transcription services and why, and provides examples to help you launch a successful transcription project.
Examples of when you would need transcription
Practically any kind of information created in almost every medium may need transcription, including audio files, videos, and written materials.
- Audio transcription: Audio files, such as recordings and podcasts, are commonly transcribed into readable, written text. For example, recorded legal depositions are routinely transcribed, so they are easily accessible to other lawyers, juries, and judges. Medical and healthcare professionals often record notes that require transcription for medical records.
- Video: Video transcription is the process of converting a video or film audio track into text. Video interviews, for instance, are regularly transcribed for blogs and news articles. Documentary films are often transcribed into ebooks.
- Written materials: Written PDFs and handwritten materials such as notes, letters, and manuscripts are routinely transcribed. Transcription of written materials may include converting multiple notes into a single, readable text document or extracting copy from brochures and similar materials to create a text-only layout.
Four common types of transcription
We’ve covered the kinds of materials transcription applies to, now let’s delve into transcription types—edited, verbatim, intelligent, and phonetic. Each has positives and negatives. The type of transcription you’ll choose depends mostly on the purpose you have for the transcribed content. Also, keep in mind that transcription to written text offers improved access to materials for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
It is where the complete, accurate script is formalized and edited for readability, conciseness, and clarity. Edited transcription addresses issues like grammatical mistakes, slang, and incomplete sentences. When transcribing from written materials, edited transcription also corrects spelling and punctuation and can make the spoken words sound more formal.
Yet edited transcription doesn’t apply to everything. Let’s say you’re transcribing an autobiography recorded by the author. In the example below, we highlight how using edited transcription would change the author’s voice.
Unedited: “My mama told us—me and my brother and sis, ‘Y’all shouldn’t complain about having to eat your veggies at suppertime.’”
Edited: “My mother told me and my siblings not to complain about having to eat vegetables at dinner.”
Verbatim transcription is the written form of spoken language converted from video and audio files. Capturing every sound made, it can include throat clearing and verbal pauses such as “ah,” “um,” and “uh.” It indicates when laughter and noises occur, such as a phone ringing or a door slamming. It can be indispensable when translating a video or an audio recording produced in specific legal settings.
Non-verbatim transcription, in comparison, may omit laughter and background noises, verbal pauses, and throat clearing, and clean up incomplete sentences. Imagine the witness testimony below (a fictitious scenario created solely for illustrative purposes) in verbatim and non-verbatim transcription styles. Which transcription style do you think should be used? The answer probably depends on whether or not you’re the defense attorney.
Verbatim: “I ah saw the er red (snickering) pickup truck hit the uh (6-second silent pause) the pedestrian.”
Non-verbatim: “I saw the red pickup truck hit the pedestrian.”
Or suppose you’re transcribing statements from videos of your CEO for the annual report, and her fourth-quarter earnings audio includes some coughing and throat clearing due to a cold. The example below highlights why verbatim transcription isn’t the right choice.
Verbatim: “We not only beat our fourth-quarter (sniffing, clears throat) earnings projections but exceeded our projections for the first three quarters (cough) as well.”
Non-verbatim: “We not only beat our fourth-quarter earnings projections but exceeded our projections for the first three quarters as well.”
Intelligent verbatim transcription
Intelligent verbatim transcription edits out distracting fillers and repetitions from the spoken word. The intent is to provide a more concise, readable transcript while staying true to the participants’ voice and intended meaning. Examples of adjustments made with intelligent verbatim transcription include:
- Filler words: Unnecessary words such as “you know,” “yeah,” “like,” and “hey” are removed.
- Non-standard words: In these instances, the transcriptionist removes or corrects nonexistent words such as ain’t, irregardless, dunno, and supposably.
- Repeating words or sentences: Stuttering and words otherwise unintentionally repeated are edited out during intelligent verbatim transcription. So are distracting, redundant sentences or phrases that unnecessarily say the same thing.
- Long, run-on sentences and ramblings: These issues are often resolved in a transcription by creating one or more sentences to convey the information in a more readable way.
- Irrelevant or off-topic sentences or conversations: It’s common for people to get off-topic for a moment or make an off-the-cuff remark when speaking. Intelligent verbatim translation cleans this up.
- Removes pauses, coughing, and general noises: Anything irrelevant to the topic or that interferes with the voice of the person speaking can be omitted, including nonverbal and verbal pauses, background noises, and coughing or sniffling.
Phonetic transcription notes the way spoken words are pronounced using phonetic symbols.
Although the English language has 26 letters in the alphabet, there are around 44 unique sounds called phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that can make one word different from another. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a standardized representation of speech sounds in a written form that applies to all languages. For example, the noun dish has four letters, but the IPA presents this as three sounds: diʃ, where ‘ʃ’ stands for the ‘sh’ sound.
Why would you use phonetic transcription? An example is when a word changes in pronunciation over time. For instance, if you’re transcribing a period movie not spoken in modern English and the word quandary is used, then a phonetic transcription of quandary would be appropriate. This is because originally, the second syllable in the word quandary was stressed, whereas the first syllable is emphasized today. Another example would be differences in dialects. There are four different dialects in the United States. Using the word caramel as an example, the second “a” tends to get dropped as a vowel once you’re west of the Ohio River. If you wish to retain the dialect in which the word was spoken, use phonetic transcription.
Which transcription would be common for your industry?
You might think industries and organizations around the globe standardize on a transcription type. This may generally be the case, but it’s not a hard rule. Consider the examples below.
- Legal: We used a previous example of a witness testimony where verbatim transcription could be a better choice than edited transcription. When transcribing from an audio file spoken by an attorney to create a legal brief, edited transcription would be preferred. Verbal pauses such as “um” and noises like a cough would be inappropriate or unnecessary to include.
- Film: The transcription type for the film industry can vary widely. One example is needing audio files from a film shoot transcribed to assist in post-production editing. In this case, verbatim may be the ideal transcription type. When transcribing a documentary where the text may be used to translate the content to other languages, edited or intelligent verbatim transcription may be the best choice.
- Business communications: Business communications tend to be formal, error-free, and concise, warranting edited or intelligent verbatim transcription.
- Publishing: The best transcription type to use is based on the readership or audience and publication type. Law and medical journals and business publications would not typically use full verbatim transcription.
- Podcasts: It depends on what the podcast is for, its intended audience, and who is speaking. When every nuance of a podcast is expected, then verbatim transcription would apply. If the podcast is reviewing best practices for medical safety, then verbatim is not appropriate.
- Medical: Medical transcription offers healthcare organizations a way to outsource the transcription of clinical audio captured via voice dictation, among other uses. In this case, intelligent verbatim transcription might be the way to go, especially if the transcriptionist is experienced in medical transcription and the subject being transcribed.
- Linguistics: Merriam-Webster defines linguistics as the study of human speech, including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language. Depending on the subject and the intended audience, linguists’ transcription types could be any of the four we’ve covered.
- Speeches: This is another example where it depends on the use and audience. If you’re transcribing a recording of a speaker using British English for an American audience and it’s critical to retain the British pronunciation, then phonetic translation could be essential.
How to choose the best transcription type to use
The transcription type you select largely depends on the intended use and the audience, as we’ve already explored. Still, you may wonder how to choose the best kind of transcription to meet your needs and goals. Follow these steps to help make the right decision.
1. Identify the medium
Will you be transcribing from a written, audio, or video medium? Make it a point to understand the medium’s quality before you begin, because this will impact transcription time. Is the audio recording low quality or easily heard and understood? Does the film contain fast-talking characters with heavy accents?
2. Know what the desired outcome should be
Determine what the results should be. Who is your audience, and what are you trying to convey via transcription? Delve into the details and review them. For instance, if you’re transcribing an entertainment podcast to text for the deaf or hard of hearing community, would verbatim transcription best convey the original content to the reader? Is this what you want to accomplish with the transcription? On the other hand, if the podcast describes medical care after joint replacement surgery, a “clean,” concise, easy-to-understand edited text format produced by a medical transcriptionist would be ideal.
3. Consult a professional
Transcription is a complex undertaking that may require experience or specialized knowledge to determine how to move forward. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, hire an experienced, independent transcription professional from Ndiwano.com.
Conclusion and next steps
Each transcription serves a distinct purpose, and transcription projects are often far more complicated than they initially appear. A successful project involves understanding several factors in detail. A wrong step or assumption can result in a finished product that is off-target or may be unacceptable for the audience.
If you don’t have the available staff or staff with the appropriate expertise to perform transcriptions, consider staff augmentation to meet your needs. Ndiwano.com has the largest pool of proven, specialized remote transcriptionists available, enabling you to hire independent transcriptionists with the confidence and ease of using the world’s work marketplace. Learn more at Ndiwano.com.