How to Choose a Transcription Service

Aug 18, 2011 | Resources | 1 comment

It’s easy to find a transcription service online.

A simple search for terms like ‘transcription service’ or ‘transcriptionist’ on Google, Twitter or Facebook will throw up several pages worth of information.

But how do you decide which is the right service for you? What questions should you ask? What instructions should you provide? How do you decide what you need?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Transcription Style

Decide how you want the recording transcribed.

Do you need a word-for-word transcript or would you rather have the unnecessary parts (like the ums and ahs) edited out? Would you like the non-verbal communication (laughter, pauses, etc.) and ambient sounds included in the transcript? Do you need grammatical errors corrected?  

There are three transcription styles commonly used – Clean Read, Verbatim and True Verbatim. Each style offers a different level of detail and it’s a good idea to think over your requirements before choosing one.

2.  Transcription Turnaround time

How soon do you need the transcript?

One hour of recording takes 4-5 hours to transcribe. The transcription time increases if  the recording involves strong accents, background noise, multiple speakers, technical terminology etc. If you need editing & formatting as well, that would require additional time.

The standard turnaround time of most transcription services is 3-5 business days depending on the length of the recording. If you need a transcript sooner, mention this before the project begins and discuss any applicable ‘rush’ charges.

3. Technical Terminology

What is the subject of your recording? Is there industry-specific terminology involved (related to finance, software, real estate etc.)?

If you need technical terms transcribed, look for a  transcription service that researches spellings at the time of transcribing. This will save you a lot of time spent filling in the blanks later.

If you don’t need the technical terms transcribed, you can ask the transcription service to put a time stamp (hh:mm:ss) at the points in the transcript where the terms appear. This will speed up transcription and also help you easily find the relevant part on the audio at the time of proof reading.

4. Accents

Speakers with neutral accents are easy to understand and transcribe. But transcribing speakers with accents requires familiarity with the accents. For example, not everyone can transcribe an Australian or Irish accent unless they have a trained ear for these.

If the speakers on your recording have strong accents, it would be wise to choose a transcription service that is familiar with the accents involved.

5. Audio Clarity

If your recording has background noise, low volume, echo, or multiple speakers talking over each other then it will take much longer to transcribe and and the transcript may not turn out very accurate.

It’s a good idea to first send a test recording to your transcription service and ask them to provide a sample transcript before starting work on such files. 

6. Speaker Identification

When there’s more than one person speaking on a recording, it helps to have each speaker identified separately on the transcript, like:

John: blah, blah, blah

Katy: blah, blah, blah


Speaker 1: blah, blah, blah

Speaker 2: blah, blah, blah

Now, transcribing 2-3 speakers isn’t a particularly difficult task, but if there are more than 3 speakers then the transcriptionist has to listen very carefully to differentiate between the voices and mark speaker names correctly on the transcript. It also takes more effort to tune in to multiple speakers’ rate of speech and style of speaking.

Not everyone can do this well and therefore it’s a good idea to choose an experienced transcriber or transcription service for recordings with multiple speakers.

7. Formatting

This is an important one if you don’t want to land up with a long document and hard-to-read document, something like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nam nisi nibh, vestibulum eu vulputate in, pharetra id velit. Phasellus aliquet, leo eu porttitor sagittis, augue elit ultricies sem, a dignissim nisi dui vel dolor. Nulla eget nisl sit amet dui condimentum ullamcorper. Proin ultricies viverra pharetra. Sed at ipsum urna, ut malesuada sapien. Mauris id ipsum dui, nec lobortis arcu. Donec imperdiet porttitor nisl a vehicula. Integer in neque sed ipsum commodo mollis at id est. Suspendisse lacus ipsum, molestie sit amet suscipit sit amet, suscipit ut lorem. Proin lacinia convallis nisi, et adipiscing nunc ultrices in. Ut at leo tellus. Nulla quis massa turpis. Cras semper dolor quis mauris faucibus eget tristique tellus ornare. Fusce pellentesque justo dolor, sit amet porta augue. Proin tristique malesuada velit eu lobortis. Phasellus ornare mollis laoreet. Fusce vel neque vitae eros cursus interdum. Fusce dapibus felis nec eros condimentum accumsan. Duis cursus semper arcu, sed venenatis mi fringilla euismod. Aliquam eget urna quis augue mattis tincidunt. Donec dapibus cursus odio, a volutpat leo pretium et. Morbi tellus nisl, rhoncus non accumsan vel, auctor ut felis. Nulla congue tristique augue vel egestas. Ut dignissim convallis lectus, id porta eros varius non. Morbi sit amet euismod orci. Integer et nisi leo. Proin nunc arcu, molestie ut gravida id, molestie semper neque. Nulla gravida urna sit amet libero dictum scelerisque.

Let the transcription service know that you would need a properly formatted transcript. You can also ask for additional formatting such as headings, subheadings, special margins, italicizing of text, etc. This may involve additional time and cost, but is worth it in the long run.

8. Time stamping & Time Coding

Time stamps are inserted in a transcript where the transcriptionist can’t understand a word. They’re usually in [hh:mm:ss] format and are helpful while editing.

Time codes are periodic codes placed on a transcript (say every minute or every 3 minutes etc.). These are helpful for research for e.g. when you’re trying to locate where in on a recording a specific dialog took place.

Discuss your requirement with the transcription service to ensure they put in the right stamps/codes.

9. Sending files

How are you going to send recordings to the transcription service? (Emailing recordings is not a good idea due to size and encryption issues). Also, how will the transcript be delivered to you? Will you receive a link? Would the transcript be sent as an attachment in an email?

Many transcription services provide free online space for uploading files. If they don’t, you can use online file transfer services such as,, etc.

Using securing online storage for sharing files is highly recommended if you’re concerned about the safety of your data.

12. Payment methods

Depending on the location of the transcription service, there are several payment options to choose from such as PayPal, Moneybookers, Payoneer, and Xoom. Wire transfers, moneygrams, and checks are also some options available.

Deciding on a mutually convenient method of payment will save a lot of inconvenience later. Don’t forget to check for transaction fees that differ according to the payment method used.

Outsourcing your transcription work can lead to substantial savings both in terms of time and cost. But an uninformed decision can lead to the opposite.

For best results, invest a little time on research and ask the right questions.

Good luck!

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