The Art of Transcription, Part 1

So, is it really art? If so, is it visual art of performing art? And what do you mean when you state, “The Art of Transcription,” anyway? Well, I suppose, that just depends on what you consider “Art” and how you would define it. Are you looking for the denotation or the connotation of the word? Are you looking for its mimesis? expression? form? Or it could simply be, “The skill of…” or more poetically, “There’s great skill in doing that thing.” Maybe it is a combination of some of those elements. Simply put, transcription means, “Turning the spoken word into the written word.” So, if you want, let’s play at being an etymologist for a brief moment. We could say, “Transcription is the process of turning the spoken word, or speech, into the written word, or text.” We could make it sound more dramatic, “There’s great skill in turning that which is spoken into that which is written.” Sounds more Shakespearian, no? Well, to be truthful, it is all of those things. But it is something more basic, too. As we know it, as a profession, it simply is writing (or typing) spoken words — be it a Q&A, interview, vlog, podcast, sermon, conference, lecture, or any other form of spoken words from audio and video files — into a written document. In that way, too, it most certainly is an art.

All pontificating aside, I want to talk to you about transcription. Briefly, I want touch on what are the types of transcription, why I chose it as a profession, what does it require of an individual to be successful in this career field, and how one sets out to become a transcriptionist — BTW, it is a growing field, and the demand for transcription is surging — It could even be something that you might just be interested in for yourself. Oh yeah, well anyway, let’s get started, shall we?

Transcription, as a profession, is just what I stated in my opening paragraph. To define it succinctly, it is writing down in a document exactly what you hear spoken to you as it was spoken. You are not really at liberty to change words or even the order of the words spoken. Remember, most people do not talk as if they are walking, breathing grammar books. The everyday vernacular of people varies greatly in sentence structure and syntax.

That said, a transcriptionist’s job is to help a written document to convey the intended meaning and give voice to the speaker through the correct and appropriate application of punctuation, using the right word choices – particularly with homophones and homographs — and making sure terms and jargon are spelled correctly, and if there are multiple speakers, to make sure the speakers are correctly identified. To do that is, indeed, an art — in form, mimesis, expression and, of course, value. And it certainly is a demonstration of the great skill of turning the spoken into the written.

Now, transcription can be formulaic. Though you don’t change what is said in wording or structure, there are two major styles of transcription conventions: standard verbatim and strict verbatim. With standard verbatim, you omit the false starts, stutters, all the uh’s and um’s, and change informal vernacular terms like “gonna” and “wanna” to “going to” and “want to”. For strict verbatim, you generally don’t clean up any vernaculars, though sometimes a client may wish for some adjustments to strict verbatim. Of course, these terms are used by transcriptionists in the field of transcription so they may be a bit jargony for those in other career fields. However, as I always like to say, “Learn something new every day.” Maybe I am piquing your interest in the Art of Transcription? Hopefully I will by the end of this blog, yes?

Just as there are specialties in the career fields of medicine, law, engineering, and teaching, so is it in the industry of transcription as well. There are three main categories of transcription: general, legal, and medical. Medical transcription is the area of transcription that is on the decline and falls victim to the advances of technology and was the one area of transcription that could somewhat be supplanted by artificial intelligence technology. However, both legal and general transcription are in high demand, and actually, the advancement of technology is causing an exponential need for human transcription. That is because these two types of transcription are dependent upon nuance, voice, word choice, and of course, punctuation. All of which AI cannot achieve with any real semblance of accuracy. If you are skeptical, okay, then watch an entire newscast on TV with close captioning turned on. You will soon notice puzzling and often hilarious misspellings, syntax errors, and mistakes in word choice and usage. The same goes with AI-generated transcripts. Oh, and don’t get me started on those auto-generated transcripts that YouTube creates. LOL As one who has a YouTuber client, I can attest to the fact that those are not at all accurate. By the time, and if, artificial intelligence gets to the point that it can distinguish human nuance, it will probably conquer us due to our flaws. At that point, hypothetically speaking, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

Now, back to reality. If you are willing to put in the work, get proper and appropriate training, and keep sacrosanct the foundational value of confidentiality, transcription is a tremendously appealing and meaningful industry chocked-full of potential and the opportunity for personal and professional growth. Along with the fact that my background as a teacher and educator, the reasons as articulated in this blog article so far are amongst the motivators that lead me to this fascinating occupation as I searched for my perfect post-retirement career. While I have an artistic nature, being a classically trained organist, I am also a realist. I am not so naïve to think that I can become rich simply through buying into the plethora of the online promise perpetrators that propagate the internet, but I know with my work ethic, determination, and love of language that I can make a comfortable living as a transcriptionist. For now, I am getting established in the specialty of general transcription. Later on, I may add legal transcription to my toolbox as it is a tremendously appealing vocation as well. Anyhow, in addition to being able to support myself from the creature comforts of home, I am my own boss; set my own hours; decide how much I earn. I can write off my home office, supplies, advertising costs, telephone, printer, other work-related expenses, and even my coffee and snack costs, against my taxes. In addition, I pay far less for gas, vehicle maintenance, clothing expenses, lunches, and have no commute time other than the time it takes to amble from my bedroom or kitchen to my den/home office. Due to my years of experience as a teacher, I made a good living. Now, when I subtract all the expenses as articulated above, combined with the at-home benefits, I pretty much maintain the same standard of living, and all on my own terms. Yes, I made the right choice for myself. Perhaps it is a choice you might want to consider?

(End of Part 1)

For those of you considering a great home-based career in transcription, here is a link to TranscribeAnywhere’s free General Transcription Mini Course. It is fabulous and is what sold me on the program. It is well worth your time.

10 thoughts on “The Art of Transcription, Part 1

  1. The Art of Transcription is an excellent topic, and I couldn’t agree more with the term “Art”.

    To add to all the true points you mentioned, I believe an artwork is appreciated even more when the observer comprehends the technicalities involved in producing it. Skilled artists make it appear simple and effortless, but just try to reproduce the same effect and one realizes the depth of knowledge, experience, and flair that underpin their work.

    So too with transcription. The mind, ears, eyes, hands, and feet all combine to produce a readable transcript. Some audio even touches the heart. Not everyone understands the technicalities, not to mention the nuances, dialects, broken sentences, dedicated hours, style guides, client preferences, software frustrations, debates on commas, deadlines, pressure, and bleeding ears. Okay, the last one was a bit dramatic, but I thought I’d drop in a note that transcriptionists do appreciate it when an audio file is of good quality.

    Is it worth it? Most definitely. Like a fine meal that takes hours to artfully prepare and minutes to devour, the hours of intense and skilled focus deciphering an audio file render an accurate and readable transcript, valued by its user.

    1. Sorry, Monique. You are the one who eloquently said, “The mind, ears, eyes, hands, and feet all combine to produce a readable transcript.” Wow! I never thought of it this way. You really know how to artistically put words down on a piece of paper:)

      1. Thank you for the kind words, Maria. I genuinely believe it is my journey in transcription that has kick-started my creative juices. And Edward got the ball rolling. 🙂

  2. Hi Monique.

    How are you? Thank you so much for replying. I really enjoyed your thorough and deep feedback. You are very skilled with the pen, and I really enjoyed your analogy as well as the points and how you expounded upon the premise. Do you have your own blog, because you are a very skilled writer. Talk about an artist, you paint beautifully with your powerful and vivid imagery welding your pen, or in our case keyboard. Also, you wrote words of truth. Readers would very much be soaking up your words, and with the power that your prose generates, you would reap a rich harvest of followers. Thank you again for commenting.

    1. Thank you for your vote of confidence. No, this is my first outing. And that is the beauty of this whole journey with Transcribe Anywhere: the motivation to step out of a comfort zone, do something new, and excel at it.

      I hope to join the club of bloggers soon.

        1. Hi Edward,

          I really enjoyed reading your first blog. You are very talented at so many things! I’m sure your background in teaching and love of language has no doubt benefited you in your career as a transcriptionist.

          Some would say that as long as you’re a fast typist, that’s all it takes to be a good transcriptionist. Those people have no clue. As all of us know who are in the field of transcription, this is not the case at all. It takes determination, attention to detail, a love of research, and a complete desire to submit a document that’s as close to perfect as humanly possible. I love how you said, “The mind, ears, eyes, hands, and feet all combine to produce a readable transcript.”

          I came across your second blog and I figured I should look at your first one. Good luck with your continuing blogs. Have you considered writing a book? Maybe that’s another post-retirement passion in your future…

          1. Hi Maria,

            Thank you again for the kind words. I really enjoy transcribing, and I bet you do too. I have no doubt that you great at our craft. I have considered writing a book. It is just the “getting started” portion I am having issues with. LOL

          2. Hi Maria,
            Thank you for the kind words. I apologize as I thought I had responded to your posts. I am considering writing a book, but I am swamped with transcription work, which of course, is a good thing. I agree with all of what you say. You make good points.

  3. I love how you succinctly explained what entails a successful transcriptionist. You and Monique are two people who demonstrate the talent it takes to be top-notch at our craft. Those words you quoted are Moniques. Her blog was outstanding. I have no doubt that you are a talented writer yourself. I am honored and grateful that you are posting and taking your valuable time to comment on my blog.

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