Choosing the Best Transcription Services for Your Writing Project

Written by Wendy Ledger

One strategy for getting your book written is “talking” your ideas into your phone or a digital recorder and then having that recording transcribed. For entrepreneurs on-the-go or for those who don’t type quickly, capturing your expertise digitally and then transcribing those recordings for yourself can be a viable option. Besides saving you money, transcribing your own recordings as part of your writing process will ensure you know your material inside and out.

Transcribing your own recordings, however, can be difficult and tedious. If you don’t have the proper ergonomic set-up, it can take a toll on you physically. If you’re a busy professional, it’s also not likely the best use of your time. For a single project, it might make sense. But for an entire book, or as a standard component of your business process, hiring a professional transcriber can actually save you time and make you more money in the long run.

Nearly 30 years ago when I started offering transcription services—creating a typed document from a recording—I was capturing recordings from cassette tapes that customers sent me through the mail. Then I would send the transcripts back by Federal Express. Obviously, it was a different era.

Today, almost everything gets recorded digitally. My clients upload their recordings to my website, and I send my work back to them as an e-mail attachment. In my field, transcribers often use software programs such as Express Scribe and Inqscribe to do their work. In some cases, speech recognition software is now also a viable option.

Consider the benefits and drawbacks of the following three options for getting your project transcribed:

Use Speech Recognition Software 

Over the years, the technology for recognizing and then automatically typing someone’s speaking as she or he speaks has dramatically improved. Using a program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking can also help you avoid the physical stress from extensive typing. However, this technology works best if the software is trained to transcribe just one voice. You will also need to say all the punctuation during your dictation (or add punctuation later), which can be cumbersome and time consuming rather than time saving.

Hire A Large Transcription Company 

Rates of large company’s like rev are generally cheaper. They can also often offer a faster turnaround time. But do you feel okay about a person you have not personally screened transcribing your confidential material? With a long-term project like a book, you also need to think about consistency. The skill rates of the transcribers in large companies can vary widely. Contractors for these companies mostly work at minimum wage. They have no time or incentive to focus on punctuation, spelling, or the context of your writing. If you need your work transcribed cheap and fast, this is your best option, but the quality of the transcription may suffer.

Hire A Professional Transcriber 

While hiring a professional transcriber can be more expensive, most of the transcribers I know are also editors or have an editing background. This means you’ll get back a transcript that is punctuated correctly and follows the standards of the Chicago Manual of Style. Professional transcribers like me can also individualize the format of your document to meet your needs. At my company, for no extra charge, I provide word lists of names and terms that I have researched and verified. I mark best-guessed words with time codes and can also insert time codes at the beginning of answers to interview questions, if that is helpful. I offer a table of contents that provides you a guide to subjects discussed in an interview. I also do not charge for “down time” in a recording. So, for example, I will not charge you for any chit chat, technical issues, or other moments in the recording that are outside of the scope of a recording of an interview. I mark these “down time” moments with time codes. All these features that professional transcribers offer can actually reduce your writing and editing time.

Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each transcribing option should help you choose the best option for your writing project.

Wendy has been a transcriptionist since 1989 and is certified as an editor through the UC Berkeley Extension Professional Sequence in Editing program. Since 2017, she has edited over 25 books for Peacock Proud Press and is also the author of seven books of fiction and counting!

Written by Wendy Ledger