What does ‘transcribe’ mean?

Transcription definition, meaning and benefits

Video and audio content offer significant rewards from a marketing standpoint, but only if you do them well. If producing voice-dependent content is a core part of your business communication strategy, you’ll probably be keenly aware of two critical production challenges:

1. The immense amount of work it takes to produce compelling and professionally presented footage.

2. Ensuring your content is developed to be accessible to as broad a segment of your audience as possible.

Audio or video transcriptions are a powerful tool that can help you tackle both of these challenges. A well-transcribed video or audio recording is more likely to be consumed by your target audience and better positioned to sway their opinion. Transcription is one of the easier value-adds you can bring to your video and audio content. Moreover, done right, transcription can drastically improve your content marketing strategy and offer an excellent return on your investment. 

If you’re concerned about what the term “transcribe” means, what are the benefits of transcribing your audio and video content, or what a transcriptionist exactly does, we can offer some reassurance, by the end of this guide all your questions will be answered.

What is transcribing and why do you need it?

  • 1. What’s the definition of transcription?
  • 2. What are the benefits of transcribing audio and video to text?
  • 3. Verbatim vs. non-verbatim transcription
  • 4. Transcript formats
  • 5. How to transcribe your videos
  • 6. What does a transcriber do?

1. What’s the definition of transcription?

When audio or video recordings are converted to a text transcript, that’s a transcription. Usually, a transcript focuses on accurately reproducing words as text. However, depending on what kind of transcription you use, the process can also involve recording speech mannerisms, audience reactions (such as laughter or applause), and even background ambient noises.

We’ll dig into a detailed comparison of transcription styles within the next chapter, but for now, you should know there are two main variations:

  • Verbatim: Where a transcriptionist types all of the words they hear with minimal editing
  • Non-verbatim: Where a transcriptionist removes all filler words conveying an edited and streamlined version of what was said

2. What are the benefits of transcribing audio and video to text?

There are many potential benefits of transcribing audio and video to text, including:

  • Accuracy: Having a transcription of an audio or video recording gives you an accurate account of what was said that’s easy to review and share. This can be helpful for business, legal purposes, and more. 
  • Accessibility: Transcribing audio and video recordings can enable those who are deaf or hard of hearing to access your content, making it more inclusive. 
  • Legal compliance: Ensuring you have closed captions (from transcriptions) on your audio and video content can help protect you from discrimination lawsuits.
  • Improved comprehension: Transcriptions can provide cognitive reinforcement for the audience, giving them more than one way to absorb the message. 
  • SEO: Adding transcriptions when posting audio or video files online tells search engines what your content is saying, which can help it rank for the keywords it contains. Web bots that crawl web pages to rank them can only read, they can’t hear. Transcriptions ensure your audio content comes up when people are searching for the kind of content that it contains. 
  • Easier repurposing: Once you have a transcription, it can make it easier to repurpose the content into various formats like emails, blogs, or social posts. 
  • Easier translation: If you want to translate the message into another language, transcribing can make the process much easier as you can send the document to a translator. 

Transcriptions are necessary for many situations and helpful in others. If you’re publishing any type of audio or video content online, a transcription should accompany it for both accessibility and legal reasons. Plus, transcriptions can be helpful in other situations such as when running a business or going through legal proceedings. 

3. Verbatim vs. non-verbatim transcription

There are three broad types of transcription. Which you choose will depend on both your personal preference and the intended purpose of your transcription. 

Non-verbatim transcription

Think of a non-verbatim transcript as a carefully edited formal piece of writing. The transcriber ignores any errors of speech, unnecessary filler words, unintended interruptions, and ambient sounds. The sentence structure will also be cleaned up slightly to ensure the transcript is easy to read and understand. 

Non-verbatim transcription produces a polished copy, ideal for capturing meeting records, presenting advertising material, or encapsulating focus group data when non-verbal information isn’t required for later analysis.

Verbatim transcription

On the opposite end of the transcription spectrum, we have verbatim transcription. As the name suggests, this process involves the transcription of every utterance, word-for-word. Hesitation, word stumbles, grammar errors, and filler sounds (umm, hmm, and so forth) are all reproduced in the transcript, alongside descriptions of ambient sounds and audience reactions. You’re left with a detailed textual recreation of precisely what happened during the voice exchange.

Straight away, you’re probably intuiting some of the strengths and weaknesses of strict verbatim transcription. Strict may be ideal for an exchange where emotional nuance is as important as what was said — for example, a customer feedback interview. However, this approach would be inappropriate if you require a simplified and polished message such as promotional copy. 

Smooth verbatim transcription

Somewhere between these extremes, you have smooth verbatim. The transcriber will “gently edit” the audio to retain something of the interlocutors’ delivery style while removing filler words and ignoring background sounds and listener responses. 

This is a versatile approach. If you assign a transcriber to produce this product, they will likely spend some time with you to set a level of detail appropriate to your needs.

Smooth verbatim is good for detailed qualitative conversations (for example, a job interview). The majority of the reader’s focus will be directed to overtly conveyed information, but some delivery information provides a useful context.

4. Transcript formats

You also have choices in transcription format — some general-purpose, others tailored to quite specific use cases. 

Plain text format

Plain text is the most common form of transcription. In this context, the term “plain text” refers to your choice of a raw text file (.txt), Microsoft Word Document (.docx), or Portable Document Format (.pdf). Formatting and styling will be minimal and confined primarily to intuitive paragraphing, line breaks, and, if you’re capturing dialog, distinguishers to identify who was speaking.

Which file format you lean to will depend on your target purpose. Report findings lend themselves to .docx and .pdf file formats, depending on whether you want the transcription to be editable or read-only, respectively. 

A .txt file format is better suited for giving your audience an easy way to view a transcription on any platform while listening to video content. It’s also better suited for SEO.

HTML document

HTML transcriptions are useful if you mainly embed video content into a website you host and manage. With an HTML formatted document, you gain the option of embeddingyour transcript directly into the page containing your video footage. 

You can even install add-ins to your page that optimize your transcript for a comfortable reading experience while viewing the video. You also have the option of merely publishing the transcript as a separate page on your site. 

While HTML is excellent if you host your site, the additional markup coding can be a hassle if you’re publishing your transcript to a third-party platform like YouTube or Facebook. 

As-broadcast script file format

A more specialized format, As-Broadcast Script files are usually used to transcribe already-existing edited video footage. While this format has various specialized sub-variants for content producers in the film and broadcast industries, most online video developers will seek a format designed to add closed-captioning functionality to their content. 

Time-stamped file format

A time-stamped transcript provides the exact beginning time for every new chunk of text. Content will usually be time-stamped by paragraph, though if your content is an interview, a transcriber will more likely aim to time-stamp each line of dialog. 

There are two everyday-use cases for time-stamped transcripts. 

First, they offer a way for a reader to note significant pauses or inaudible segments of an audio track. Legal hearings and detailed customer feedback interviews, for example, may require time-stamped transcripts. 

Second, video editors may use time-stamped transcripts to assist in the editing process. A precise breakdown by time will allow a videographer to produce content more efficiently. 

5. How to transcribe your videos

Ready to transcribe your videos? There are multiple ways you can go about it from doing it yourself to hiring a professional to do it for you. Here’s a look at your options along with the pros and cons of each. 

Mobile transcription applications

Mobile apps can be a good option if you need to record and transcribe on the go. There’s a mobile app for just about everything these days and that includes transcriptions. You can hop on Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store and search for “transcription” to browse a variety of options. 

For example, Otter is a popular app in the App store that records and takes meeting notes for you in real-time. Transcription is another one that can transcribe any video or voice memo in more than 120 languages. Many of these offer free versions or trials but then require payment for ongoing use. 

Additionally, most phones have a built-in transcription feature that won’t require any downloads or payments. For example, on the iPhone, you can open the Notes app and press the microphone, and it will transcribe the audio it detects. However, as you’ve likely experienced before, mistakes are common with mobile speech-to-text so will likely require some proofreading. 

Desktop transcription software

If you’d prefer to transcribe files on your desktop computer, you can download transcription software like Express Scribe and Transcriber. Then, you can transfer your files into the program to be transcribed or you can use the program to transcribe in real-time. Alternatively, you may be able to use the built-in software that comes with your computer. For example, Microsoft comes with Window’s Speech Recognition and Mac has dictation. Going this route, the ability to transcribe won’t require an internet connection. However, the final files will need to be proofread. 

Free online transcription programs

If you’d like to transcribe from your desktop computer and don’t mind going online, you can opt for free online transcription programs. For example, if you use Google Docs, it has a free voice typing feature that will turn audio into text. You simply turn on voice typing and then start talking or playing a file you’d like transcribed. Other options include oTranscribe and Speechlogger. While free, these programs will likely result in some errors so it’s important to proofread the files once they’re transcribed. 

Automatic captioning by YouTube

If you need a video transcribed, you can also upload it to YouTube and YouTube will automatically caption it for you using its speech recognition software. 

To review the captions, log in and go to the YouTube Studio. On the left menu, you’ll see Subtitles. Once you click Subtitles, you’ll see your videos listed and can click on the one you want to review. Under “Subtitles,” you’ll click “More” next to the subtitles you want to edit. Then, you can delete or change any errors. 

You can expect the accuracy to range from 50% to 80% depending on the quality of your recording. This route will be best for videos with good sound quality and limited background noise. In some cases, automatic captions won’t be generated. It’s often due to a video being too long, having poor sound quality, or having multiple speakers that overlap. They may also take a bit longer if the audio in the video is complex and won’t be possible if the language isn’t yet supported. 

Professional transcription companies 

To get a near flawless transcription of a file requires more than just technology. It requires a system built to eliminate errors such as one that includes an original transcriptionist or AI program, a proofreader, an editor, and a final checker. Professional transcription companies often offer this kind of multi-tier service so they can guarantee high levels of accuracy and fast turn-around times. However, they usually also come with the most expensive costs. 

A professional service can be a good option for a one-off project where accuracy is paramount and privacy is an issue, such as a transcription that will be used in a court case. However, it won’t likely be the best fit if you’re looking for ongoing, cost-effective transcriptions.

Do it yourself (DIY)

Another option is to do the transcribing yourself. While this could save you money, it will cost you time and can add up if you need transcriptions regularly. On average, one hour of audio takes a professional four to six hours to transcribe. It may also take time to develop the ability to listen carefully while typing accurately and quickly. This option will depend on the amount of time you have available and your skillset. 

Hire a freelancer

Lastly, you can hire a freelancer to transcribe files for you. Freelancers who specialize in transcriptions will often have the experience to deliver high levels of accuracy relatively quickly. They are typically more affordable than professional transcription companies, as they have less overhead, and they are often more accurate than software programs alone. 

Freelancers often have specializations in particular niches, which enables them to deliver higher levels of accuracy by understanding the context of the subject matter. In many cases, hiring a freelancer will be a happy medium that gets the job done well at a reasonable price.  

6. What does a transcriber do?

A transcriber converts audio records (for example, video footage of a meeting or podcast) to text. Some transcribers will specialize in a certain field of technical knowledge such as the insurance or healthcare industries. Others work as generalists, offering transcription services to clients across many industries.   

A transcriber combines active listening with a process of careful and methodical notation. They may consult a glossary or technical documentation for the more complicated subject matter. While a transcriptionist observes correct grammar and punctuation where possible, their first priority will usually be to capture both what was said and the manner in which it was delivered. 

A skilled transcriber will produce content that is:

  • Accurate, grammatically, and contextually
  • Well-structured and easy to read
  • Formatted specifically for your purpose

Transcriber skills and qualities

  • Fluent in the language of transcription: Beginning with the most obvious requirement, you’ll want to find a transcriber who speaks your language as their first language. Fluency of expression and strong language comprehension will help ensure your content’s readability.
  • Good with grammar: This is especially important if you’re looking for a clean read transcript. Good grammar skills will help your transcriber clean and edit spoken word content to register as professional English. Spoken and written language is quite different. Solid grammar skills will help bridge the gap.
  • Understands various accents and dialects: It’s essential to check that your candidate is familiar and comfortable with the accents and idioms used in your footage. This linguistic proficiency will help with any content, but it’s crucial for more chaotic dialog like a focus group session or a panel podcast.
  • Details-oriented: Transcription is demanding and intricate work. Your ideal candidate will be comfortable double-checking their work for spelling, grammar, and technical accuracy.
  • Communication skills: Finally, you and your transcriber need to communicate clearly about what you both need. Spend time corresponding with your shortlisted clients to be sure you’re on the same page.
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Transcripts can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your overall marketing strategy. 

  • Transcription-enhanced content is more accessibleto the deaf and the hearing impaired, and your audience can consume your content in a wider variety of settings than basic video footage allows 
  • It boosts your SEOon both Google and YouTube and enriches your online presence with an organic concentration of contextually appropriate keywords 
  • Transcription add valueto your audience’s viewing experience, which in turn keeps eyes on your brand, helps build customer loyalty, and sets you up with great material to drive your whole content marketing strategy forward

And, the great news is that this goal is very achievable. A skilled transcription specialist can deliver a steady flow of quality written content while you get to focus on the creative side of developing strong video content around your brand. 

You can make transcription a powerful facet of your marketing strategy.

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