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.