7 Ways to Improve Your Transcript Before the Typing Even Begins

Even people who purchase and use transcripts on a regular basis sometimes have only a limited idea of how exactly transcripts are produced. You talk into a recorder and someone hands you a script of it later, right? The mystery is understandable; how many of you really know the finer points of how your car works, or your smartphone? We just need to know how to use them. But, just like those electronic devices, you can get a lot more out of your transcripts by understanding what goes into them and what you can do to affect them. No, there isn’t a magic fix you can purchase for your transcripts, but actually in a way maybe there is. When ordering a transcript, it’s important to bear in mind the following:


1. Consider Your Audio Recording Technique

Things to Consider Before Ordering a Transcript

Click to enlarge image.

What exactly are you giving your transcriptionist to work with? Is it a cassette from your personal recorder, or is it a professionally produced audio file? Where was the microphone? There are dozens of factors that can contribute to the quality of the audio recording, and the quality of the audio recording is absolutely essential when it comes to producing a readable transcript later. A lot of people rely on personal recorders or dictation devices to record their meetings or hearings. Some of these devices record onto cassette (either standard or micro) and some record digitally, but all of them come with some risk when relied upon for recording multiple speakers. These devices are primarily intended to record a single speaker holding the machine directly in front of their lips. Placing it on a table in the middle of a meeting is no guarantee that everyone will be picked up on the microphone. If this is the route you want to go, choose a device that boasts an omni-directional microphone. For example, the Olympus LS-14 recorder has two 90-degree coverage microphones on it, which will easily cover a conference table, but is at least three times the cost of most consumer-level devices.

(Oh, and be extra wary of microcassette recorders. The format is only made possible by using thinner audiotape and a slower recording speed than standard cassettes, making them much more susceptible to damage and degrading over time. If you do use a microcassette recorder, make a backup A.S.A.P.)

If you have the budget, why not aim for a more professional recording? Multiple microphones (ideally one per speaker) with a mixer or a digital recorder with multiple inputs are now common. You have the option to adjust audio levels for each microphone separately, and you can even produce recordings where the transcriptionists can adjust these levels themselves during playback. If you are regularly producing recordings requiring transcription, a small investment in recording technology can pay you back handsomely with years of readable transcripts.


2. Be Mindful of Cross-talk and Talking Too Fast

Are your participants aware that they are being recorded for later transcription? If not, they’re probably not speaking in the direction of the microphone(s); they’re probably talking over one another, and they’re almost certainly speaking too quickly. It’s a good idea to caution the speakers, before the recording begins, that they need to speak loudly and clearly, to mind the microphone(s), and to avoid stepping on each other’s sentences. If someone acts as a moderator during the recording to periodically remind speakers of these ground rules, your transcript will benefit from it.


3. Be Prepared for Speakers with Accents

Special attention should be paid to any speakers with strong accents. Any reputable transcription company will do its best to pair your recording with a transcriptionist who has a good ear for that particular accent, but they need to be warned ahead of time. If halfway through a 2-hour meeting, there is a presentation given by a speaker from France, the unprepared transcriptionist may not have time to do anything more than give it their best shot, which could result in the loss of a lot of that presentation. And remember that the more obscure an accent is (relative to the audience), the more unlikely the transcriptionist will be able to parse it out. Urge all accented speakers to take a special effort to enunciate and make themselves understood.


4. Keep Background Noise to a Minimum

Where is your recording taking place? Is it a hot day, so you have a window open, or worse, an air conditioner running? Those sounds will compete with your speakers’ voices for prominence in the recording, so make sure that the microphones are aimed as much as possible at the people you want to hear. If the door is open to a noisy hallway, or the window to lots of street noise, close it. Ideally, do a sample recording beforehand so you can hear how the background noise competes with the speech. And don’t forget that all electronic devices emit an electromagnetic field to some degree, just by virtue of being on, and this field can show up in your recording as a hum or a buzz, often quite loud. If you have a large electronic device in the room (like an industrial copy machine), it may need to be shut off.


5. Prepare the Transcriptionist for Unique Terminology

When a transcriptionist comes across a word or phrase with which they’re unfamiliar, they’ll usually do their best to spell it phonetically. Unfortunately, this can leave the transcript looking amateurish at best (the name, “Andy Ziats” becomes “Andy Zayitts”), and misleading at worst (“SA program” becomes “essay program”), but a very easy fix is to prepare the transcriptionist beforehand with a list of keywords. This includes proper names (of both people and places), specialized terms (legal, pharmaceutical, etc.), and any acronyms to be used in the discussion. The list prepared beforehand is unlikely to be exhaustive, but it will go a long way towards reducing confusing or useless passages in your transcript.


6. Make Sure that All Speakers are Identifiable

This one comes as quite a shock to many transcription clients: when a meeting is being held with four or more participants, it is rare that the speakers’ voices are distinct enough for a complete stranger to reliably identify them throughout the transcript, especially for short “yes/no” or “uh-huh” statements. As a result, your document may eventually degenerate into a series of questions and answers attributed to “Male Voice 1” through “Male Voice 4,” and, in cases of very similar voices, even the numbering may not be possible.

Thankfully, this is another easy fix. If your schedule and budget allow, it’s a good idea to have someone sit in on the meeting solely to produce speaker ID notes. All that’s required is to number the participants, then keep a running list of the numbers in the order of which they speak, along with the first word or two of their statement. This is basic data entry and more advanced notes can be taken if time allows, but with just this bare minimum, you will see a dramatic increase in the accuracy of the IDs listed in your transcript.


7. Understand the Implications of Turnaround Time

Finally, how quickly do you need your transcript? The average professional transcriptionist takes between 2.5 and 4 hours to transcribe a single hour of audio, so if you need your 8-hour meeting which ended at 8:00 P.M. transcribed by first thing tomorrow morning, there are not enough working hours left for a single person to do the job. The task will need to be split among multiple transcriptionists, who will then lose the benefit of context when it comes to name spellings, proper terms, and even matching names to voices. A responsible transcription company will task an editor with combining the parts of the transcript and ensuring the pieces are as consistent as possible, but an editor’s practiced scan is still no substitute for the 8 hours of real-time attention that is most profitably done by a single individual. If accuracy is a higher priority than turnaround, consider giving an extra day or two for transcription time. You’ll definitely notice the difference in the final product.


No amount of preventative measures can guard against every pitfall. Eventually, you’ll have a meeting with an unexpected loud noise in the background (or a participant tapping his pen on the table the whole time), or maybe you’ll just catch a neophyte transcriptionist on a bad day. But by following the above steps, you can strongly stack the odds in your favor of receiving the best possible transcript. Feel free to email us or comment below with your experiences on this topic. Good luck! 


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30 Response Comments

  • AnonymousJanuary 22, 2016 at 1:55 AM

    fine post, it is useful to me and others, please just keep it on….

    • Andy ZiatsJanuary 29, 2016 at 6:44 PM

      You’re very welcome. Please keep reading, and I’ll keep writing!

      • KrystalJune 30, 2016 at 8:53 AM

        Action requires knowledge.

  • UserMarch 13, 2016 at 5:37 PM

    Hi there! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Keep up the great work!

    • Andy ZiatsMarch 21, 2016 at 1:19 PM

      Thank you very much! Transcription can be very rewarding when everything works correctly. It’s fun to come up with ways to improve that process. Please keep reading as we continue to explore this topic, and be sure to respond with ideas of your own!

  • NonApril 23, 2016 at 2:06 AM

    It’s easy to navigate and good for any level of typing proficiency, from those just getting started to the most accomplished typist.

    • Ubiqus USAMay 12, 2016 at 12:28 PM

      Yes, if anyone is in need of a transcript and follows the tips mentioned in this blog post, it will definitely be easier for the transcriptionist to work with, regardless of their level of experience. We appreciate your feedback!

  • April CookMay 12, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    I didn’t know that the dictation equipment used would have such a big impact on the quality of a transcription. This makes me appreciate transcriptionists even more for their ability to figure out what is being said. If I am ever in need of a transcriptionist I’ll make sure to invest in good equipment so I can make sure I get a quality product back. Thanks this information and the tips!

    • Andy ZiatsMay 27, 2016 at 3:18 PM

      You’re very welcome! Yes, transcribers can wind up absorbing a lot of added difficulties if the recording isn’t done carefully. They deserve a tip of the hat for their efforts every now and then!

      • RuvellJune 30, 2016 at 9:37 AM

        Awesome way to explain this!

        • Ubiqus USAAugust 19, 2016 at 12:56 PM

          Hi, Ruvell – We agree! Thank you.

    • LanetteJune 30, 2016 at 8:54 AM

      Slick answer to a challenging question

      • Ubiqus USAAugust 19, 2016 at 12:57 PM

        Hello, Lanette – Thank you!

  • Gal GidowMay 17, 2016 at 8:34 PM

    Good discussion.

    • Ubiqus USAMay 27, 2016 at 3:27 PM

      Hi, Gal. We agree! Thanks.

  • Amanda DrewJune 27, 2017 at 5:33 PM

    It sounds like a really good idea to make a list of all proper names, specialized terms, and acronyms that you may come across. This would be especially important for people doing medical transcription because there are a lot of confusing and specialized terms there. It would be good to be sure to find someone who knew medical jargon to do transcriptions.

    • Andy ZiatsJune 28, 2017 at 4:24 PM

      You’re absolutely right, Amanda: nowhere is proper spelling more critical than in medical transcription. With all of the physician names, specialized terms, and drug names that are constantly being added, bad spelling can render a medical transcript completely unreadable, and thus completely useless. Thanks for reading!

  • JacquelynJuly 1, 2017 at 8:51 PM

    This is great, thank you

    • Ubiqus USAJuly 17, 2017 at 5:52 PM

      Thank you for reading, Jacquelyn.

  • Taylor BishopFebruary 1, 2019 at 1:10 PM

    Thank you for this advice for improving a transcript. It’s good to know that if you are recording a speaker with an accent the transcription company will find a transcriptionist that has a good ear for that accent. I wonder if it could be good to tell the company what accents are expected to be recorded so they can make the necessary preparations.

    • Andy ZiatsFebruary 4, 2019 at 2:51 PM

      Oh definitely! The more information you can give your transcriptionist beforehand, the better job they’ll be able to do on your transcript. Remember: when you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail. Thanks very much for your comment, and please keep reading!

  • Triple AJune 21, 2019 at 7:18 AM

    In these days, most of the businesses are taking hold of the transcript service for converting the audio files to the written format. However, before the transcript process begins, you should consider some of the factors that include the audio recording technique, keeping the background noise to a minimum level, be mindful and cross-check the audio before writing. You have nicely explained the content along with describing the points. Thanks a lot!

    • Andy ZiatsJuly 8, 2019 at 1:48 PM

      Thanks, Triple A – We’re glad you agree! There’s always room for improvement in any process! Thanks for reading!

  • KPanditSeptember 24, 2019 at 2:41 AM

    Your tips are really great. Thanks for providing such great tips.

    • Ubiqus USAOctober 7, 2019 at 5:13 PM

      Hi, KPandit – You’re welcome and we’re glad that you find these tips useful! Thanks for reading.

  • ParvezSeptember 30, 2019 at 5:49 AM

    Great! The list is impressive!! There are so many things to read now. The post is absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration both of which we all need!

    • Ubiqus USAOctober 7, 2019 at 5:12 PM

      Hi, Parvez – Thanks for reading and leaving your feedback. We’re certainly glad that you find this information useful and inspiring!


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