Transcription – the art of turning sounds into script

Having set out to be a proofreader, I fell into transcription by lucky circumstance, when a friend started to do transcription for an agency. I didn’t even know at that stage what transcription was, but over 15 years of doing it, I have learnt the ins and outs, ups and downs of the job.

At its simplest, transcription is turning spoken word into a written document, as a record of an event. While any transcription job requires a high degree of accuracy, with most jobs there will be room for some light editing, to remove false starts and repetitive phrases. The jobs that require every ‘um’ and ‘er’ to be included are in some ways the most challenging, as you try to work out how to convert a sound from a speaker into a word on the page!

Variety is the best thing about the work: one day I might be typing up the recording of a highly scientific webinar, Googling like mad to find all the medical or technical terms being used, another I might be transcribing interviews as part of an investigation into the care and treatment of a patient who has died unexpectedly; or sometimes it will be an analysts call for a large multinational company, or an investigation into housing benefit fraud.

Accents can make a job more difficult, as can people speaking over the top of each other in a meeting involving multiple participants. The quality of the recording is also a very significant factor in how straightforward or otherwise a job can be.

The tools of the transcriber are few: a computer with internet connection, a suitable software package, a foot pedal connected to the computer for stopping and starting the recording, and if necessary a pair of headphones. I often wonder how transcribers in pre-digital times had the patience and perseverance to do the job – I am ever grateful for the technology we have today, without which it would be much more challenging and time-consuming.

Catherine Bockett, Hexham

Transcription for consultants and GPs
Transcription and translation of police interviews 
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