How to Transcribe a Recording – Yourself

Sep 4, 2017 | Resources, Transcription | 1 comment

There are times when you need to roll up your sleeves and transcribe your recordings yourself. This could be because you need something done immediately, or because only you know the language or accents on the recording, or maybe because the subject is very technical and you couldn’t find anyone with the subject matter expertise to do the job right.

Whatever your reasons, it’s important to know that transcription is a time-consuming task and having some basic knowledge and tools will go a long way in making the process easier.

First up, the things you’ll need.


Things You’ll Need


  • A computer or laptop with a soft keyboard – typing for long hours can be hard on your wrists and upper back. Using a soft-touch keyboard will help reduce the stress.
  • Playback software – Any program with play, pause, rewind options would suffice. We recommend Express Scribe but you can use any application that is available.
  • A footpedal (optional) – A footpedal lets you manage the play-pause-rewind functions with your feet, leaving your hands free to type.
  • A good pair of headphones – Get a good pair of headphones or earplugs to listen to the recording. Using speakers is not recommend unless the audio is studio quality because there are chances you will miss words that are spoken softly.
  • A word processor like MS Word.
  • Typing speed of 50-60 words-per-minute (this is not necessary but it definitely helps).

Now let’s take a look at the actual steps of transcription.

Steps of Transcription

Step #1: Calculate how long it will take

As mentioned earlier, transcription takes time (even if you have the best tools). So the first thing to do is find out how long it will take.

Let’s assume you have a 60-minute digitally recorded interview to transcribe. If it’s a simple recording (i.e. it has no background noise, reasonably good volume, 1-2 speakers, and no over-talking) an experienced transcriptionist would take about 4 hours to transcribe it.

If you don’t have a lot of experience in transcription, it will take you between 8-10 hours (with a minimum typing speed of 50 w.p.m.).

This estimate is for intelligent verbatim transcription. Verbatim or true verbatim transcription require additional passes and therefore take longer. Read this article for more information about transcription styles.

Step #2: Configure your playback software

Express Scribe allows you to use hot-keys to easily play/pause/rewind/fast-forward a recording without having to take your hands off the keyboard to use a mouse. You can even configure a hot-key to insert time-stamps.

Whichever software you use, be sure to configure hot-keys on it (almost all programs have this feature) because using a mouse for these functions can be frustrating as well as time consuming.

Step #3: Transcribe the first draft (with time codes)

Start by creating a first draft of the transcript. In this step you should type quickly without worrying too much about accuracy.

While typing, if you come across words or phrases you don’t quite understand, don’t waste time by re-playing or researching them at this point. Simply put a time-stamp and move on. You can come back to them at the time of proofreading.

You may also want to add general time codes while transcribing (such as every 3 minutes or 5 minutes) to facilitate reading along with audio later.

Tip: Add placeholders for speaker names

A trick to save time while creating a draft transcript is to add placeholder text instead of full speaker names. You can use any general placeholders such as 1: and 2: or I: and In: for interviewer and interviewee. When you’re done, you can add simply ‘find and replace’ these placeholders with actual names.

Step #4 : Proofread

When the first draft is ready, you can begin proofreading the file. To do this, replay the recording from the beginning and check every word in the draft. As you go along, replace time-stamped sections with missing words/phrases and fill-in any fillers, false starts, ambient sounds etc. (only if you are transcribing a verbatim or true verbatim transcript).

These are the 5 key steps to follow when transcribing a recording yourself. Of course there are many tips & tricks that seasoned transcriptionists use to work faster (like adding shortcuts in your word processor, etc.) but if you are a beginner, then following these steps should save you a considerable amount of time.

Do let us know if you found this article helpful by leaving a comment below.

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