Anyone who has ever ordered a transcript will tell you that there is a large difference between Written English and Spoken English. They both share the same sentence structure and grammatical rules, but where Written English flows from topic to topic in a readable fashion, Spoken English is subject to the whims of the speaker, and the less prepared the speaker, the more confusing the transcript. If someone is speaking off-the-cuff, they might stutter, they might have long pauses where they um and ah and stall to think of their next sentence, and they may start a sentence only to break it halfway through and switch to a different topic entirely. These breaks in the conversational flow are called disfluencies, and if there are multiple speakers in the recording, you can expect them to be an even bigger part of the transcript.
For this reason, many people will instead choose to purchase a written summary of their event, rather than a verbatim transcript. A written summary will abridge and abstract what might be multiple hours of presentations, Q&A, or general discussion into a short and easy-to-read report with the most salient topics highlighted and the irrelevant material omitted. This type of added-value document is a great way to preserve the information of a meeting or event in a readable and publishable format, and a good transcription company will work with you to find the level of summary that works best for your needs, and determine beforehand which portions of the event require the most focus.
Sounds terrific, right? Unfortunately, many people aren’t sure what exactly they’re ordering when they request a summary of their event. Are you hiring a note-taker to attend your event or are you hiring a writer to listen to recordings and craft a summary for you? The answer depends on asking yourself a few questions:
When is a Note-Taker the Right Choice?
If you want information gathered from your event in real time, then you want a note-taker: a professional who attends your event and takes down pertinent information, either electronically or with pen and paper. They may be noting particular topics of interest, specialized terms or proper names, or quickly summarizing the various sides of an impromptu discussion. These notes might be submitted directly to you for your reference, or they may be used in conjunction with an audio recording to produce a written summary of your event (as explained below). In fact, your note-taker might also be employed as your summary writer once the event is over. Either way, the notes taken at the event are not written for a general audience; they are written as reference material only. If an event is particularly well-organized and moderated, and if copious documentation was generated (i.e., a detailed agenda, participant bios, presentation scripts, etc.), then a note-taker may not be necessary. But if a professional recording isn’t being done or if there are no prepared speakers or an agenda, then a note-taker may be the only realistic way to gather information from the event.
Where Does a Summary Writer Come In?
Once the event is over, and all audio recordings and other materials have been compiled, then the summary writer takes over. The writer will listen to the event in full and, with the help of the event documentation and the note-taker’s notes (which the writer himself may have taken), they will begin the process of crafting a document which includes only the information relevant to the topics at hand. An event might be four hours and 200 pages long when typed verbatim, but once the welcome is omitted, along with all of the sidebar conversations, the redundant introductions, the corralling people in and out of lunch breaks, etc., one might find that the on-topic discussion only accounts for 50% or less of the event’s running time. The writer can abridge an event as much or as little as you would like, and the more information they are given, the better the document they can produce. As noted earlier, if documentation isn’t available for the event or if the audio recording is spotty (or worse, unavailable), then the writer will rely heavily on the note-taker’s notes.
1. Do I need a verbatim transcript or a summary? What kind of document will suit me best? If I don’t know what information I am looking for, then I should order a verbatim transcript and have everything that was spoken included in the final record. But if the topic is defined clearly beforehand and the event record needs to be quickly read and understood by multiple parties afterward, then perhaps a summary is the right choice.
2. How good is my audio recording? Is my event being recorded professionally? Will any skilled transcriptionist or writer be able to listen and clearly make out all of the speakers at the event? If not, then a note-taker might be a wise investment to ensure that crucial points are not missed.
This is true for both verbatim and summary documents, but especially so with summaries, which rely heavily on context for coherence. (P.S.: If your event is highly confidential, with no audio recording allowed at all, engaging the services of a note-taker/writer will still allow you to obtain a summary of your event afterward, produced entirely from the hand-taken notes.)
3. How good is my documentation? Does my event come with an agenda? Are all of my speakers giving prepared presentations, and do I have access to those presentations?
If the answer is “no” and the participants have no better idea than you as to what they’ll be saying or discussing during the event, then, again, note-taking might be a valuable service for you, whether you’re purchasing a verbatim transcript or a written summary.Hopefully this has given you some insight into a few of the ways in which note-takers and summary writers, used both separately and together, can help you to create the best possible text record of your event. We’ve only scratched the surface of your possibilities, which might vary according to the type of event you’re hosting (e.g., public hearing, financial meeting, focus group, etc.) and how it will be organized, so please feel free to email us or comment below with your experiences and suggestions on this topic. Good luck!