When getting started as a transcriber, you may be confused about the rules to follow, how to format your transcripts and when to use colloquial expressions. Read on for an introduction to basic transcription guidelines.
Note: Different transcription companies may have specific additional rules to be followed. You should confirm and conform to the rules of the company where you are applying for transcription work.
Most companies offer a base pay amount for their jobs. There is also a score-based bonus transcribers can earn by doing better work i.e. following formatting guidelines, special instructions and returning work early.
Any submission that does not meet the company’s minimum requirements may be rejected. Some companies will allow you to redo the job while others will assign it to other transcribers. Rejected work may not be paid for. Therefore, you should carefully learn and master the transcription style guide of the company you are working for.
Let’s get started with the basics.
Basic Transcription Guidelines
- Accuracy. Only type the words that are spoken in the audio file. Phrases or words you don’t understand should not be omitted. Instead, they should be tagged appropriately according to the company’s guidelines.
- US English. Use proper US English capitalization, punctuation and spelling. Do not write phonetics or netspeak such as “u” for “you’.
- Do Not Paraphrase. Do not correct the speaker’s grammar nor rearrange words. Also, do not cut words that you think are off-topic or irrelevant. Any words not spoken should not be included. Type the actual words spoken.
- Do Not Add Additional Information. Do not add additional information such as page numbers, job numbers, titles or your comments in your submission. Such information can be added in separate fields below the transcript.
- “Clean Up” Non-Verbatim Jobs. Lightly edit non-verbatim work to remove false starts, filler, and stutters. Check the company’s guidelines on what should be removed.
- Verbatim Work Should Be Truly Verbatim. When transcribing verbatim work, include every utterance and sound exactly as you hear. Unless directed in the work’s “Notes” section, all filler words should be included. Also, transcribe stutters as accurately as possible.
In most cases, the file you will be transcribing will be part of a larger audio file. Transcription companies require transcribers to deliver consistent results from one file to the next. This is why they have format transcripts.
Note: Check the format transcript rules of the transcription company you wish to work with.
Here is a rundown of the general transcription format guidelines.
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
- Use word wrap when writing. Fix any line breaks in the middle of your paragraphs before submitting the work.
- Do not use double spaces after sentences or anywhere else. You can use Search & Replace function in your word processor to change all double spaces to single ones.
- Follow correct grammar. All sentences should start with a capital letter and have the correct punctuation.
- Where possible, break compound sentences into smaller ones. Long sentences should be broken into fragments.
- Keep your paragraphs short to a maximum of 400 characters.
- Insert a blank line between paragraphs. Also, start a new paragraph at every speaker change.
- Do not indent anything.
Conjunctions such as “so”, “or”, “but”, “because”, “and” and others are used to join two parts of a sentence together. Whenever possible, do not start a sentence with conjunctions. Most of the time, you can cut off the words without changing the meaning of a sentence.
Conjunctions should only be used at the start of a sentence if omitting them will change the meaning.
Speaker labels are words used to identify a person speaking in an audio. The label is usually the speaker’s name, role or other identifying attribute.
- Use speaker labels to identify a speaker as specifically as possible
- Format speaker labels correctly according to the company’s rules
The speaker label should be followed by a colon and space. Also, capitalize each speaker label word.
Interviewer: Hello, and welcome. I’m Jack. And you are?
Woman 1: I’m Rachel
Woman 2: I’m Samantha
Let’s wind up this guideline with both basic and verbatim interview transcription examples.
Basic Transcription Example
With basic transcripts, filler words, conjunctions that start sentences and false starts should be removed from your transcript e.g.
Jack: It was quite, it was quite challenging to ride a horse for the first time.
Jack: It was quite challenging to ride a horse for the first time.
Verbatim Transcription Example
With verbatim transcripts, all words you hear should be typed as they are. These include conjunctions, filler words and unobtrusive sound events (e.g. car sounds) that can be heard.
Here is an example:
Paul: If only I had come earlier, I wouldn’t have missed a spot.
Annie: Oh, that’s really sad
Transcription companies may have specific guidelines to be followed. Go through the guidelines, even if you have experience transcribing before, as there may be different rules to follow. The guidelines are usually comprehensive. You can create a cheat sheet to refer to when transcribing the company’s work.