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Outsourcing Audio Transcription – Why It Works

Outsourcing transcription can be a benefit for many reasons. Transcription is a specialised business; anyone can set themselves up as a transcriptionist, but transcription is much more than typing. That is why if your administrative/secretarial staff are not specially trained in transcription, or if they are simply overloaded, outsourcing can be the answer.

Outsourcing transcription works for many reasons, but the nub of the matter is that although anyone can set themselves up as a transcriptionist, a good transcriptionist is much more than just someone who can type; transcription is a specialised business. That is why if your administrative/secretarial staff are not specially trained in transcription, or if they are simply overloaded, outsourcing can be the answer.

What does a transcriptionist do?

A transcriptionist takes audio recordings, whether they be on tape or digitally recorded, and creates a typed transcript of the recording. Such recordings may be dictation (one person speaking), interviews (one or two people being interviewed), focus groups (a group of people under guided discussion), meeting recordings etc.

What’s so special about that?

A transcriptionist is more than ‘just’ a typist because s/he is doing more than just typing what’s on a written page. The transcriptionist has to understand the content of the recording in order to be able to punctuate it correctly and correctly spell homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently). The transcriptionist may also need knowledge of a particular vocabulary (e.g. for medical or legal transcription) and a general transcriptionist still needs a better than average vocabulary and general knowledge, in order to correctly pick up on things like place names, names of events, technical details etc. A transcriptionist these days is probably also an expert researcher on Google – a great way to fill those general knowledge gaps provided you know how to do it properly! Of course this person is also an expert typist with a fast typing speed – audio typing takes longer than copy typing for precisely the reasons listed above, but the industry standard for a fully experienced transcriptionist is that it takes about an hour to transcribe fifteen minutes of good quality interview recording (a bit less for dictation and more for groups or for recordings with ‘issues’ as indicated below.) Even someone who touch types may find that without transcription experience it takes much, much longer. Finally the transcriptionist also needs to have excellent attention to detail in order to proofread the work thoroughly before handing it over to the client.

Why outsource?

If your staff are not trained transcriptionists and you have transcription required on an ad hoc basis, then the reasons listed above should make the answer obvious. A meeting transcription might take a trained transcriptionist a full day to transcribe, so a non-trained member of staff could easily take two days – two days when they are unable to complete their normal day-to-day functions. The results may also be disappointing if their grammar and ability to punctuate is not up to scratch. The outsourced transcriptionist will complete you work without taking anyone away from their normal duties.

It is also useful where company politics might come into play! I have recently transcribed a number of disciplinary interviews etc. for a variety of clients who preferred that their secretarial staff were not party to the contents of the meetings. Also if you do not require transcription on a regular basis you may not have the relevant equipment, and this can be quite costly. If recording on to digital formats there is freely available software that will allow your staff to listen to the recording, rewind, play it back at varying speeds etc. but without a transcription foot pedal the time taken to transcribe is increased even further.

Finding a good transcription company to outsource your work to

Anyone can call themselves a transcriptionist so how do you know if you’re going to get a decent service? There are a number of things you can do – and some you shouldn’t! One of the don’ts is asking for a CV. Why not? Because a transcription service is a business, not your potential employee. You wouldn’t ask a solicitor, estate agent, builder or chiropodist for a CV, so why ask a transcriptionist? Instead go by recommendation, just as you would do for another business, or if you don’t know anyone who can recommend a good transcriptionist look for testimonials. Many transcription services show these on their websites.

Another don’t is to ask for the transcriptionist to take a test – frankly, if they have time and inclination to do this they’re probably not very busy – and while that might be because they’ve just started up a business but have years of excellent experience (if you’re lucky!) it might also be that they’re simply not very good. If you do require a test then you should expect to pay for it at the normal rate.

If you have a significant number of recordings that are going to need transcribing in a short period of time then you might want to ask what procedures the service has in place to project manage large jobs like this, whether they employ people directly, subcontract etc. If they subcontract, you might need to check their confidentially procedures to ensure that this won’t be an issue. If all your questions are answered quickly and positively then the chances are you’re talking to someone who is familiar with working with such projects!

Other things you should be asking are price (obviously) and turnaround time (when they can get the recordings back to you). Do bear in mind that a good service might well be a busy service so if you can book in advance of wanting to send your recordings, so much the better.

Questions your potential transcription service should be asking you include: what kind of transcription is it (interview, focus group etc.), how long is your recording, what kind of recording (e.g. standard cassette tape, digital recording in .wma format), what’s the recording quality like, is the speech clear, do you need a verbatim transcription and when do you need your transcription returned?

If you have a specific requirement regarding formatting now is the time to say so, as most services have their own standard formats which will be used unless you state otherwiseFind Article, although they’re very happy to format in any way you require.

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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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