Transcribing interviews … ugh

Most journalists use voice recorders for interviewing, and then face the tedious task of transcribing those interviews. Here’s a workflow idea to speed up that process.

Record the interview and create the audio file. My Olympus recorder plugs into the USB port on my laptop and I just transfer the file. Sometimes I use a Zoom H2, which records to a removable SD card. Several smart-phone and tablet apps can serve as recorders, too.

Then I import the files into an application called Express Scribe (costs about $30). In ExpressScribe, you can play back the files and adjust the speed for your typing speed. Better yet, spend $55 and get a compatible foot control. Mine has three customizable pedals – I set the middle one for play, the left one to jump back 5 seconds and the right one for fast forward. Between the speed setting and the foot pedal, I rarely have to stop typing. I’ve noticed my transcription time cut in half from the days when I’d have to stop typing to hit “play” and “rewind” on the recorder.

So far so good. We can stop here and we’ve already saved time. But, we’re still typing. Another potential piece to this process can solve that … almost. It’s voice recognition software, the most popular being Dragon Naturally Speaking. Problem is, it learns your voice only, after you read a sample text to it. It can’t recognize multiple voices. So just playing your interview file into it doesn’t work.

Here’s a solution: Using headphones or a headset, listen to the interview and repeat what your subject says into the microphone. It’s a little like being a translator – with practice, you get better. The foot pedal helps immensely. Dragon recognizes your voice and transcribes the words. All you need to do then is go back and clean up the typing – but as you get the hang of dictating – including saying the words “period,” “comma,” etc. – the files are pretty clean.

Doing a series of long interview with the same person? You could even create a Dragon user profile for that person and have them speak the sample text into your computer mic. Then, if your recording quality for the interviews is good, Dragon should be able to get most of it.

Dragon’s list price is $99.99, but Amazon and others sell it for much less. Dragon also offers a free smart-phone and tablet app called Dragon Dictation. It’s not bad for transcribing speech blocks that lasts a minute or less at a time. Once it’s done, you can email it to yourself. (I find this app even more valuable for dictating text messages rather than having to type them.)

So, assuming you already have the voice recorder, that’s a total cost of about $150. Next time you’re two hours into transcribing a long interview, ask yourself if that’s too much to invest. Even if it is, try a few elements of this workflow separately and see what works best for you.

Have a different process for transcribing interviews? Feel free to share it below.

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