When it comes to official record transcripts – verbatim written accounts of formal or legal proceedings – Appen sets the gold standard for accuracy. These important documents are still 100% human-generated, despite recent technological advances. So, who are the talented people turning your audio into readable, reliable text?
James Morrison’s been a transcriber since 2005. A keen traveller, ironically, it was the job’s proximity to home in Devon that first attracted him. The reasons he’s still doing it 19 years later are more nuanced.
“The work is so interesting and varied,” he says. “I enjoy using the skills I’ve developed over the years, whether that’s a good command of English, having an ear for an accent, or being able to work quickly but accurately to a deadline.”
On the face of it, the process of turning audio into verbatim formal transcripts is quite straightforward.
Clients record their event – for example an investigative interview, disciplinary hearing, public meeting or some other kind of formal proceedings – then send the audio file to Appen via a secure portal.
Within a few hours or days, depending on the size or urgency of the project, the transcript is delivered back to client’s specific account on the same portal.
It’s what happens in between that’s important.
James is based at home, armed only with a PC, a foot pedal and some specialist software, as well as a deep passion for language and grammar.
“First, I download the recording from Appen’s secure website. Then, I check the deadline,” explains James. “Often, the client will provide a list of names, tricky spellings or specialist terms, and I almost always do my own extra background research too – it all helps make the transcript more accurate.”
Working quickly but with great skill, James transcribes the audio recordings, using a pre-agreed template. Once the first draft is done, it’s uploaded to the same secure website, where it’s checked by an Appen editor.
“I really value Appen’s quality checks,” James says. “To know they are monitoring my work keeps me on my toes and stops me from getting complacent.”
Transcription can be a rewarding and flexible career, with just the right amount of challenges, according to James.
“The work’s never dull. Over the space of a day I could move from an investigative interview on the other side of the world to an employment tribunal down the road. I also love the flexibility it provides, for both me and the clients. Grappling with different accents can be testing sometimes, but I believe there’s a science to it – and it’s a key skill for audio transcription.”
Is there anything clients can do to make the transcriber’s job easier and ensure the best possible finished product?
James’s top tips for an accurate transcript are:
- Provide a comprehensive list of names, terms, acronyms and jargon.
- Speak clearly, at an even pace. Don’t mumble or whisper.
- Stay as close to the microphone as possible.
- Use the best quality recording equipment you can get.
- Try not to talk over each other (called ‘overspeaking’) or talk too fast.
- Avoid using a video link if you can, as the audio quality is usually poor.
That said, he believes it’s down to the transcriber to take each job as it comes and produce a transcript that’s as accurate as it can possibly be.
Over the last 19 years, James has seen the transcription profession transformed by new technology, with the transition from physical to digital files.
With the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated speed recognition (ASR) applications, is there a chance that transcribers will become simply proof-readers in future?
“For the moment, I don’t think we have the technological solutions to cope with the range and complexity of human speech, especially multi-speaker environments. Or if they do exist, they’re still prohibitively expensive for most clients,” he observes.
”Even if this does change, I think there’ll always be a place for highly skilled, experienced transcribers with well-tuned ears!”
Appen provides verbatim official record transcripts and transcription services as well as data sets to train ASR technology. Contact us to learn more.