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Finding Affordable Transcription for Interviews, Focus Groups, Conferences and More

There are many transcription services available but sometimes an affordable transcription service can seem hard to find. Transcription is a lot more involved than copy typing and is not cheap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find an affordable transcription service, and by providing good quality recordings you can make the transcription more affordable, as it will take less time to complete.

You may have been conducting research interviews, focus groups, market research, but whatever your reason for recording conversations you’ll be looking for an affordable transcription service. There are many transcription services available but sometimes an affordable transcription service can seem hard to find. Transcription is not cheap, because it is a lot more involved than copy typing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find an affordable transcription service, and by providing good quality recordings you can make the transcription more affordable, as it will take less time to complete.

You may have planned to do the transcription yourself, but if you are not a fast touch-typist and do not have specialist transcription equipment then you have probably now realised that it’s going to take you a very long time. I have had clients come to me saying it was taking them 20 hours to produce a transcript of a 1-hour recording. That’s why they ended up using a transcription service!

The most important thing to remember is that it’s just not possible to type as fast as you speak. Even an experienced transcriptionist will be able to average four times as long for a good, clear one-to-one interview – so an hour of recording will take an average of four hours to transcribe. A focus group may take six hours or more per hour of recording. (Industry standards obtained from the Industry Production Standards Guide (1998), published by OBC, Columbus, OH, USA) Transcriptionists also have to make sense of what’s being said, punctuate the speech correctly and use the right homophones (words like there/their/they’re that sound the same but are spelt differently.)

So how can you make sure that your transcript is clear, in order to get an affordable transcription price? Basically, the easier you make the transcription for the transcriptionist, the more likely they are to be able to give you an affordable transcription quote.

First of all, use the best recording equipment you can afford, and make sure it’s fit for purpose. This means that for interviews you should record with an external microphone rather than one built into the recorder, which is only designed to pick up one voice dictating. For focus groups you should have several microphones so that all participants are close to a mike.

If you’re conducting interviews then, if at all possible, conduct them in a quiet room, as background noise will dramatically increase the time taken to transcribe the recording, as the transcriptionist may have to listen to sections several times in order to capture the interview speech. It is helpful to spell out your interviewee’s name at the beginning of the tape, before starting the interview, and speak out any information you would like on the transcript header e.g. the date, the job title of your interviewee etc. You may also want to conduct a ‘debrief’ session at the end of the recording, when you are alone, in order to quickly record your impressions of the interview. For research interviews this is often part of the methodology.

Focus group transcription will cost more than a one-to-one interview transcript, but you can still get an affordable transcription service if you work to make your recording as clear as possible. Again make sure the recording is conducted in a private quiet room. Air conditioning can affect a recording, but so can opening a window, so if it’s a hot day it’s worth making a couple of test recordings before you start to see if there are problems! It’s really important to firmly chair a focus group too. Remind all the participants that all their views are valid, there are no rights and wrongs and, while you’re interested to see if they agree or disagree with each other, they should try not to talk (or shout!) over each other to make their point. Saying this at the beginning is important but it’s even more important, if you want affordable transcription, to remind participants each time things start getting a bit ‘out of hand’ that they need to speak separately for the sake of the recording. Finding the balance here between letting the talk flow and making sure you get a good recording is quite an art!

Conference recording is best left to the professionals if possible! Often these days a venue will provide recording facilities of good quality, included in the price. A microphone needs to be set up for the speaker and there should also be people in the audience with ‘roving’ microphones to take around to any audience members wanting to ask a question.

Digital recording systems provide the best quality and many transcriptionists only work with digital now, so if you want to give yourself the widest field then it’s certainly worth considering digital.

Any information you can provide to the transcriptionist about your recording will help, and may help toward an affordable transcription service. For example a list of key words will reduce the time spent ‘Googleing’, searching the internet to find out how to spell technical terms, names of organisations etc. If you can provide this info it certainly saves time, and saving time saves you money, again reaching toward that goal of an affordable transcription service. Technical work will always be more expensive than non-technical, but providing a ‘crib sheet’ of key words should reduce the cost.

Most transcriptionists work in a standard format, whether that be tabular, tabbed, interviews shown as initials or full names etc. Again most are happy to work to your specifications, but the standard format might well be cheaper, so think carefully about whether you need something different or not. Find out what the standard format is in advance if it concerns you, and you may be able to adapt it to your needs. If, for instance, it’s essential that you have speakers in different fonts or different colours, this will add to the price. It might be more cost-effective for you to put this in when the basic transcript is returned to you!

Finally, give some serious thought to whether or not you need a verbatim transcription. Verbatim transcription includes every repeated word, every ‘um’ and ‘erm’, all those ‘filler’ phrases like ‘you know’ and ‘know what I mean’ that may be repeated a hundred times in one interview, and can also include pauses, coughs, throat clearing etc. if required. Needless to say, this takes longer. If the transcriptionist can filter out all this stuff the transcript is quicker. In my company the cheapest level is what we call ‘intelligent verbatim’ which cuts out all these fillers but leaves the rest exactly as it’s spoken. Different transcriptionists work this differently though, so always check when you’re phoning for your quote. Here are some brief examples. Somewhat more expensive is edited, which corrects the grammar and any mispronounced words as well as knocking out all the fillers.


So, anyway, you know, I said …er, ‘Well, Susan, I really think you, you shouldn’t be um asking, er, me that.’ And she, erm, er, she, she, well, she said, ‘Look Mark, I dunno what you mean,’ know what I mean?

Intelligent Verbatim

So anyway I said, ‘Well, Susan, I really think you shouldn’t be asking me that.’ And she said, ‘Look Mark, I dunno what you mean.’


So I said, ‘Well, Susan, I really think you shouldn’t be asking me that.’ And she said, ‘Look Mark, I don’t know what you mean.’

You can see that a whole extra line of typing is required for the verbatim work in just those two sentences.

There are occasions when verbatim is required – depending on your topic it might be required for legal reasons, or you might be studying the language itself and the way it’s used. But if you really don’t need it, don’t end up paying for it!

There are many excellent reasons for interviewing groups of people, but don’t do this in order to try to reduce the transcription cost! As already stated, it takes much longer to transcribe a group of more than two or three people (including the moderator/interviewer) because of the time taken to distinguish the different voices and the fact that people will inevitably talk over each other, especially when they get excited, enthusiastic, impassioned or angry.

And finallyFree Articles, remember that the cheapest transcription quote might not be the most affordable one in the end. There is an oft-quoted phrase: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Will it really be cost-effective to send your hard-won interviews to the cheapest service if what comes back is gobbledygook and you have to go through the whole thing correcting every other word? How much time will you then waste that could have been spent more productively on your core business?

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Penguin Transcription is part of Penguin Office Services,, and offers an affordable transcription service by tailoring each quote to the exact requirements of the client. The more information the client can provide us with, and the better the quality of the recording for transcription, the more affordable the transcription service will be. Why not visit our site,, and fill in an enquiry form to receive a quote for your transcription requirements.

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