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In this section, we cover some general topics concerning transcription which may be useful for our clients. Either on this page, our FAQs section or our Guidelines and Equipment pages, we've covered most of the issues and questions we enounter on a regular basis. If there's any aspect that we haven't covered that you think may be useful, please contact us and we'd be happy to help.

Digital recordings versus analogue tape comparison

Explanation of our standard Layout & Transcript Code

Definitions of the most common Digital File Types

Voice Recognition - Will it Supercede Transcription?

The differences between a copy / audio typist and a professional transcriber

Project Management

Free Digital Recording from your analogue formats

Listed below are some pros and cons of using digital recordings as compared to an analogue system. By doing this, we hope to persuade clients that digital is the best way to go!

Digital Advantages
* Produces superior quality recordings which don't deteriorate over time.
* N
o length restrictions - digital recordings are as long as you need them to be.
* Sound files do not 'physically' break or become mangled.
* Easy to add additional bits of recording, such as dictation, in the middle of a file.
* No issues over reuse because you simply save to another file name.
* Fewer physical storage space issues - back up recordings to CD take up less room than tapes.
* Quick delivery - sending files via an online FTP service can be made on the same day from anywhere in the world.
* No return postage costs - digital files are simply deleted.
* Digital recordings can be copied with no loss of quality.
* Urgent sound files can be easily divided among several transcribers.
* Digital recordings are easily edited to cut out unnecessary sections that don't need to be transcribed.
* Audio time markers can be inserted to indicate precisely where inaudible or unclear words may be.

Digital Disadvantages
* Does require a Broadband internet connection in order to transfer digital files to the transcriber.
* Requires a compatible PC, with large hard drive to store large digital files, and a USB connection.
* Some clients can be reluctant to learn new technology which they perceive to be complicated.
* All precious recordings can be on one PC which can be vulnerable to PC crashes if not backed-up.
* Recorders need either rechargeable or long life batteries, and you need to remember to carry spares (as do tape recorders).
* Digital files types need to be compatible with transcription software.

These disadvantages are not insurmountable and we would be happy to advise you on switching to digital.

Analogue Advantages
* Familiarity with equipment if a client has been using a tape recorder for years.
* Ease of accessibility - one client maintains that 'all my tapes are on the shelf where I can get at them easily'.

If anyone can think of any other analogue advantages, let me know because, quite frankly, I'm struggling to think of any more!

Analogue Disadvantages
* Produces inferior quality recordings which are more subject to tape hiss
* All audio, mini and micro cassette tapes have a limited life and if reused too many times can break or become chewed up.
* Playback quality deteriorates over time.
* Restrictive in terms of length - parts of the recording may be missed as the tape is turned over.
* Additional recording, such as dictation, can't be added to the middle of a recording without erasing something which follows.
* Storage space needed if large volumes of recordings are made.
* Subsequent copy recordings will be less clear than the original.
* Tapes can take time to reach the transcriber through the post, or can be lost in transit.
* Postage costs are additional.
* Analogue tapes are more time consuming to edit if only part of the tape needs to be transcribed.
* Each tape recorder and playback transcription equipment has different counters so audio time markers are inaccurate.

As you can see, the advantages of digital far outweigh the disadvantages, and we hope that the sheer number of analogue disadvantages speaks for itself. If you have invested a great deal of time and effort arranging interviews, focus groups or conferences, why ruin them by using an inferior system? Please review our Equipment pages for some tips on recorders and microphones.

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We hope that this guide to our standard format and transcript code is useful in clarifying exactly what our service provides and what your transcript will include. Our transcriptionists use standard script style templates for the layout and formatting of all transcriptions. If you require something specific to your project or in your house style, we'd be happy to accommodate you, but please be aware this may impact on transcription time and costs.

We always provide a Transcript Code for each document, with each participant identified where possible, together with easily understood codes for inaudible words, or queries. We also provide audio time markers on transcripts from digital recordings so that you can relisten to any unclear sections if necessary. We list any 'best guesses' for individual words and if something is unclear or inaudible, we will mark it as such. We never make up dialogue; our transcripts always reflect exactly what can be heard on the recording - no more, no less.

Although we endeavour to minimise 'inaudibles', there will inevitably be some instances where it's impossible to decipher what's being said. Typically, this arises from either a poor quality recording, background noise or when a speaker muttered, spoke too fast or had a strong accent. Please view our transcription times page for details of all the factors which can influence how clear a recording will be and, therefore, how complete the transcript can be. Clear recordings usually result in no 'inaudibles'.

We are happy to provide simple Word line numbering throughout the transcript if required at no extra cost. However, time-stamped formats, either every five minutes or every minute, add considerably to transcription time at an hourly rate for audio tapes, and will be charged at a higher per audio minute price for all digital recordings. See our Prices page for details.

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Each digital file type has advantages and disadvantages which should be taken into account when considering which recorder to buy, which file type to use, and whether there are any transcription issues involved. With all digital files, there is a trade-off between recording quality and file size. Digital sound files can be extremely large if they're not compressed, but compression is 'lossy'. In other words, if you compress an original 'lossless' audio file to a smaller size, this removes redundant data but may also result in a reduction in audio quality. This can create problems with the transcription - it's akin to having an original audio tape copied to a less clear version.

It may be possible to compress clearly audible interview, lecture or dictation recordings without compromising quality too much - choose MP3 where possible. But we would recommend against compressing recordings of focus groups, meetings or any recordings with any background noise issues. We would urge all clients, where possible, to send us the original digital recording, full size, to avoid any loss in quality from the original. Having made an investment in digital equipment, why compromise on the final recording file quality just to get a smaller digital file and make a faster online transfer to the transcriber? Far better to set aside extra time to upload the digital files (or even leave them 'cooking' while you do something else), than end up with an inferior recording which takes longer to transcribe and may result in an incomplete transcript.

Some notes on the more common digital file types are below:
CDA Audio Files are standard recordings on CD and are typically the file type found on music CDs. An analogy would be that the CDA is a sort of 'sleeve' or cover file and the underlying file containing the recording itself will be in a different format, most likely Wav or some other common format. So don't look upon CDA as a recording option for your recorder. Professionally made digital recordings of conferences or lectures are frequently made as CDA files. Most transcription software will not play back CDA format, although it's possible to convert the audio file to a .WAV file by downloading CDEX_130.zip converter or by using CD Ripper

Dct is a form of digital recording that's encrypted at the time of recording and needs to be decrypted in order to be transcribed. It's frequently used in medical transcription where confidentiality is important.

DSS TrueSpeech has very high compression ratios ranging from 15:1 to 27:1 and, although that produces small, manageable files, the resulting recording is very 'lossy'. We don't recommend this format for group interviews or situations such as focus group recordings, but it would probably be acceptable if used in dictation or one-to-one interviews in a quiet environment.

DSS is a proprietory digital file format developed by Olympus. It stands for Digital Standard Speech. Olympus also provide the playback software. DSS files are considerably smaller than Wav files but suffer no loss of quality, and are therefore an excellent choice for swiftness of transfer and clarity. Lanier and Grundig recorders also produce dss files.

MP3/MPEG - a compressed WAV file often used for music. It produces a very clear recording with minimal loss of quality.

Real Player IVR is a proprietory video format from Real, which is not convertible to an audio file. Although Real Player Plus has a feature claiming to convert different formats, it never seems to work with IVR! However, it is possible to rerecord an IVR file (in real time) onto an audio file in order to be transcribed.

Sony DVF have their own proprietory version of the dss file, producing a highly compressed recording on a much smaller file.

WAV form Audio is one of the more common digital file formats. It produces a superb quality sound file as it is 'lossless' but is very large - a 2 hour recording can take up around 300Mb. Although wavs can be compressed further, we would rather receive the original large digital recording. Far better that the file takes a little bit longer to send through than compromise the clarity of the recording.

WMA (Windows Media Player) can be found on all Windows-based PCs. Although it produces a much smaller file than Wav because it's considerably compressed, the sound quality can be inferior.

Codecs are algorithms used to reduce the number of bytes contained in large files by eliminating redundant data, thus compressing the file. The transcriber or transcription software will need access to the codec that has produced the compressed file. In effect, the recorder is producing a 'brand name' type digital file. For example, Sanyo recorders produce Sanyo .wav files and will need a Sanyo codec in order to play them back. PCs and many types of transcription software come with a variety of codecs already installed, but it would be wise to check first to ensure your digital sound file can be played. If not, most manufacturers will send out the relevant codec for a charge, or you may be able to find some way of converting the file to another format. A search online will usually resolve this.

'Lossy' - as well as apparently butchering the English language, the terms 'lossless' and 'lossy' do have a relevant technical meaning in digital formats. Your recording equipment may allow you to set different attributes for the same file type. This can make an enormous difference to the sound quality and size of the file, and consequently the transcription. In some cases, for example, with dictation (one person speaking into the machine, in a quiet environment), you can probably afford to lose sound quality and the recording will still be clear enough. In other cases, such as focus groups in noisy environments, you may find that you need to choose a slightly larger file size in order to maintain decent sound quality. DON'T compromise on quality for the sake of file size.

The information above is based on our experience of actually transcribing these formats, not the manufacturer's marketing 'puff'. My thanks to friend and colleague Anne Hickley for help with this section. She is far more technically minded than I am!

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If I had a hundred pounds for every time someone told me that transcription services would soon be obsolete and that everyone would be using voice recognition software, I wouldn't need to run a business! However, I'm firmly convinced that voice recognition software in its current form is not a substitute for transcription services - but then I would say that, wouldn't I? Below are some of the reasons why I remain unconvinced that it will replace me quite yet.

Voice recognition software currently comes in two forms - Dragon Naturally Speaking and IBM's ViaVoice. As well as being used to give a computer commands (e.g. to save a file), it can also be used to convert speech straight into a Word document. However, the main disadvantage is that voice recognition software is a 'dog for one master' only.

It's possible to use the software successfully for dictation but it can't cope with even one-to-one interviews and would probably go into meltdown if you tried it with group meetings or focus groups. The software needs to be trained to become used to one voice. Asking it to recognise and accurately transcribe the different voice of your interviewee as well as your own questions, or the multiple voices of a group, is simply not possible at the moment. Even with one voice dictation, the software still needs to be corrected and trained to recognise new and unfamiliar words or technical terms or names.

The only way to use voice recognition software effectively for an interview situation would be to listen to the recording and re-speak everything you hear - both questions and responses. Obviously, this would be very time consuming, having to stop and start the recording so that you can 'speak' what you're hearing. Essentially, you're attempting to perform simultaneous translation - concentrating on listening to someone else's speech, while saying those words a few seconds later but without losing what's being said next. Try it with a recorded TV or radio programme and see how difficult a skill that is to master. Add on the time taken at the end to proofread and tidy up the Word document and it becomes clear that it would take far longer than the original interview length. Is that a valuable and productive use of your time? Magnify that time and effort many times if you then tried to tackle 'speaking' a focus group, especially if the recording is less than clear.

Another major factor when considering speech recognition software is its inability to judge which homonyms should be used. The latest versions are now capable of recognising the more common ones in simple sentences, such as deciding whether it's here or hear. However, long, complicated sentences can defeat it. All this adds to your proofreading time at the end.

You also need to consider how the software will tackle commands for punctuation or formatting certain words in bold, for example. Most programmes require you to leave a pause between the command and the next chunk of 'text'. If the pause isn't long enough, you'll find those commands entered as part of the text itself, which will need to be edited out later. For an interview format, you will need to indicate a change of speaker with a new line and initials, and a tab command. Even if you just decide to enter a change of speaker on a new line and tidy it up afterwards, this all adds to the time taken. Allegedly, one of the latest versions (Naturally Speaking) will also punctuate for you - deciding where all the commas and full stops go. Be prepared to correct this later - its idea of punctuation is not mine!

'Naturally Speaking', as it were, I'm biased! But I'm convinced that voice recognition software is a useful tool fit for a specific purpose, but that purpose is not yet transcription of all recordings in all circumstances.

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There is still a misconception that 'transcriber' is 'merely' a fancy name for an audio typist or even a copy typist. After more than ten years in the business, we can assure you that they're most definitely not the same!

This is how I see the differences:
A copy typist will have either a handwritten or printed page in front of them to copy. They already have all the spelling, punctuation and grammar there for them - unless the writer's command of English or the handwriting are particularly bad! Usually, no editing or interpretation are required.

An audio typist tends to be working from dictation and from recordings made by people in the same offices, or at least in the same company. I may be over-generalising but the typing usually involves general correspondence or reports, the recordings are made at dictation speed, they're usually listening to one voice (typically a familiar voice), and the subject matter will mostly be familiar to them if it's concerning the company's business.

Transcription is by far the most involved of the three disciplines. A transcriber has to rely on her ears far more than her eyes. They're dealing with different voices, accents, verbal habits and different content which can sometimes be very technical, as well as any issues over background noise and recording quality. It's not just a matter of typing the words verbatim. We don't type like robots!  It's about transcribing the right words, inserting the appropriate punctuation and conveying the sense of the passage or text as a whole. 

We pride ourselves on really 'listening' to what's being said.  We realise that understanding the flow of the words is equally important and that the wrong punctuation can completely alter the meaning of a sentence, as can mishearing a word, such as 'do' instead of 'don't'. Transcribers need a high standard of English in order to ensure that they don't make common homonym mistakes - the old chestnuts 'there', 'their' and 'they're' being obvious examples. Transcribers will also be tackling a wide variety of different and complex transcription projects on a variety of subjects, since their clients come from industries, businesses, organisations and universities all over the world. That's what makes transcription so interesting - you quite literally never know what you're going to be transcribing next, whether it be interviews about an artist's life, research interviews from a hospital, or a conference about Third World aid.

We hope that the above information explains why transcription will be more expensive than copy or audio typing. There are also different levels of service within the transcription world, with a wide range of prices and experience. We are firm believers in the old adages, 'You get what you pay for' and 'Pay peanuts get monkeys' - cheapest does not necessarily mean best

We are professional transcribers with years of experience. We know our subject thoroughly and we pride ourselves on providing an accurate and first class service. If you approach a professional business, you will receive a professional service. See this page for details of why our transcription service stands out from the rest.

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As part of our high quality service, we will undertake any project management of large assignments at no extra cost. This enables our clients to concentrate on their business, comfortable in the knowledge that we will take care of the whole audio transcription project, whether that is in digital or analogue format. Instead of dealing with a range of different transcribers for your large project, we will coordinate everything and you will have just one point of contact throughout.

If necessary, we will convert audio files to a compatible transcription format, distribute digital audio files to our team of experienced transcribers and ensure that all transcripts are completed to meet your deadlines. We will undertake to convert all standard audio tapes or minidiscs to digital format if the original recording is of good quality. ALL recordings are listened to a second time by the Director, Irene Boston, to ensure that the original transcriber has captured everything accurately. Any additional Internet research is carried out where necessary to identify names or terminology that may have been unclear - thus ensuring the minimum of queries. ALL transcripts are proofread by Irene Boston before being sent to clients. There is no extra charge for this service. Not all transcription companies do this, some don't even proofread (see this page for my 'rant' on the subject!).

If you have a large project, one of our key recommendations is that you provide us with sufficient advance notice. As with all professional transcribers, our schedule fills up fairly quickly. If you are running a large project resulting in dozens of hours of recordings, we advise not leaving it till the last minute to organise transcription services. We recommend that you contact us as early as possible before your project begins. Once you have completed a booking form, this will allow us to reserve space for you in our schedule. Waiting until the project is completed and then trying to find an experienced transcriber at short notice could be difficult. Most professional transcription companies have a long list of regular customers and to suddenly find a large block of free space at short notice may be all but impossible. So book your transcription company in advance, in the same way as you would the interviewees and venues.

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Free Digital Recording - we convert all audio tapes, micro cassettes, mini tapes and mini discs to digital audio files for ease of transcription. This is only possible with a clear quality recording. As part of our service, we offer all our clients the digital version of their recording free of charge, which can be sent to them using a secure file transfer service, provided the client has Broadband.

This not only means we have transcribed from the digital recording, thus reducing the strain of stopping and starting the tape, but it means that clients can prolong the life of their recordings, and safeguard against tape breakages in the future by saving a digital recording to their PC. It also means we can provide time markers on the transcript which you can then relocate very easily on the digital recording, in order to clarify any inaudible sections. This is not possible on an analogue recording as each tape recorder will have a slightly different method of 'counting' and, therefore, any time markers will be inaccurate.

However, this will only work IF your original tape is of good quality. If your recording is nothing but hiss or background noise, then a second generation recording of that, even on digital, will only magnify the distortions and there's no point in even trying. We will advise you whether we believe your recording is clear enough for us to do this. Digital recordings are deleted from our system a week after the transcripts are completed, unless earlier deletion is requested by our clients - thus safeguarding our clients' confidentiality. And if we can persuade you of the advantages of switching to digital, we would be happy to advise you - please see our comparison of digital and analogue recordings and our Equipment pages for further information.


We specialise in digital transcription services including MP3 digital transcription, WAV digital transcription, WMA digital transcription among many other digital audio file formats. We also provide standard audio cassette tape transcription covering micro cassette or micro tape transcription, plus mini tape or mini cassette transcription which is also known as audio transcription or audio typing services. This can be extended to include minidisc or minidisk transcription services. Extensive experience in conference transcription services allows us to offer transcription of conference proceedings including keynote speaker and plenary session transcription, lecture transcription, seminar and symposia transcribing, Q&A session transcription and transcription of breakout sessions, roadshows, roundtable discussions and workshops. Interview transcription services form a core part of our service and include one-to-one interview transcription, as well as multiple participant interview transcription. We are pleased to offer discounted transcription services for charities, students and universities for their research interviews, particularly qualitative analysis transcription compatible with Nvivo and Atlas Ti. Support for oral history interview transcription projects can include both digital transcription services and audio tape transcription. A niche specialty is our podcast transcription services which also covers webcast transcription. Transcription services for authors, writers and journalists can include anything from digital dictation for article transcription and manuscript typing through to research interview transcription and writers' memoirs transcription. Also offered is focus group transcription, forum transcribing, market research and vox pop interview transcription as well corporate or group meeting transcription services. Word processing services and digital dictation for correspondence is also included. Teleconferences and telephone interviews can be transcribed from digital and analogue formats. Analogue video tape transcriptions are offered along with digital video transcription services. Different transcription styles are available including Intelligent Verbatim Transcription, Complete Verbatim Transcription, Edited Transcription and customised transcription styles for Oral History projects and Focus Groups.

We are pleased to offer free Advice Pages: Equipment FAQs Overview Transcription Times and free Guidelines for: Conferences Dictation Digital Audio / Minidiscs Focus Groups / Forums Interviews Lectures / Speeches / Presentations Market Research Vox Pops Oral History Interview Projects Podcasts Audio Tapes Teleconferences / Telephone Interviews Digital DVD / Video Tapes Webcasts Workshops Our Home Page provides an overview of the wide range of transcription services we provide.

Copyright © Irene Boston 1998-2008 IB Transcription Services - All Rights Reserved. All contents of this website are protected under copyright law.  No part of this website may be reproduced in any form, electronic or otherwise without written permission from IBTS.  Any copyright breach will be reported to the relevant authorities.


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