Questions and answers to becoming an educated transcription shopper
Due to the nature and variation of most transcription work, comparison shopping can be very confusing and, sometimes, even deceptive. With that in mind, the following is a list of questions and some commentary for which you should have answers prior to selecting a transcription service.
Important to note that, in the digital age, you will not be limiting your search to just local or regional providers. The whole world is open to you.
Please click each Frequently Asked Question to reveal the Answer.
Does it make any difference what service does my transcribing - besides price?
- The most important factor in selecting a transcription firm is the quality and diversity of its human resources, i.e., its transcriptionists.
- The second most important factor is its level of transcribing experience and responsiveness to any problems.
- The third factor? Rates! But remember, low transcribing rates will not necessarily translate to low costs.
- Always think about how you value your own time if you need to spend time cleaning up poorly transcribed material.
What are some of the variables that could affect the transcription process and costs? Why should the transcription company be alerted to this information when you request a quote?
Why are these variations important?
Because each of these factors can make a difference in what you will eventually pay for your transcript and should affect a truly valid estimate.
How do these types of variables translate into predictable project costs?
With great difficulty! For example, most established services charge an hourly transcription rate for the type of work listed above.
The hourly transcription rate charged may be the same, but the final cost could vary substantially.
It should be noted that most of your established, professional firms will contact you immediately if they discover anything in the audio that could adversely affect the projected estimate of the total cost.
Does the transcription service have experience with the type of work that you need? For whom have they done similar projects and can they provide a reference?
Your decision should include consideration of the type and volume of transcribing a potential provider has done. How well a transcription service’s experience matches your project specifications impacts the quality of transcribed documents considerably..
Also consider how well the transcription service can handle your project’s specific transcribing needs This could include special requests like:
When it comes to evaluating a provider’s experience and performance on transcribing projects, references are a significant factor. It’s one thing for a transcription service to say they can deliver your project flawlessly. It’s another thing entirely to have a documented track record to prove it. Ask!
What are the questions potential clients never, ever ask a transcription service?
Could you give me some information on your transcription staff?
- What’s their academic background?
- Where are your transcriptionists from?
- What are the transcriptionists’ particular competencies in relation to the work I need done?
It’s advantageous to choose a transcription service based on their ability to provide transcriptionists with the background, education, and life experiences that best match your project’s needs.
Relying on experienced companies with top-notch reputations is your best guarantee of value for your transcription dollar. Aside from selecting a mature transcription service that has a strong history of high-level work in a variety of subjects, what is more important is the quality and depth of the transcription group. While you probably will never have direct contact with a transcriptionist (unless it’s a one- or two-person operation next door), it is important to get a good idea about the backgrounds of the staff.
Factors listed below are critical to a quality transcription team:
- If you have a large project under tight deadlines, select a transcription service that doesn’t rely on just one or two transcriptionists. Between sickness, holidays, vacation, personal problems, etc., projects can very easily be delayed.
- While the transcription industry has tradtionally relied on home typists, it is best to select a service that insures that all production is monitored under professional supervision. This results in greater confidence that the quality and integrity of the work, as well as the required turnaround time, will be ensured.
- If you’re trying a new service, send them a short sample of what you need to have transcribed and evaluate the results, as well as the cost. In the long run, it will save you time, money, and anxiety.
- A note to the wise: if you are considering outsourcing transcription offshore, send a 15-minute sample to evaluate their ability to transcribe American English. Usually they will do a sample at no cost.
- Don’t limit your search for transcription services to local sources alone. With electronic transmission of audio and emailed transcripts, you now have access to top-quality nationwide sources and equally quick turnaround as if they were next door.
- If your transcripts are part of projects that generate direct income, the more rapid the turnaround, the quicker the completion of the project. This not only gives you a competitive advantage but also gets you paid more quickly.
How do transcription services bill for their services?
No matter what method of billing or transcription rate structure is used, there are certain questions that should be addressed.
When transcription rates are quoted for any of these billing methods, questions should be raised, such as:
- How does the transcription service define length of words? Average number of words per line? Per page?
- How many lines are on a double-spaced page? (There is a major difference between 24 and 26 lines per page – 8.3% to be precise.)
- Does the transcription service use 10-point, 12-point or larger font size?
- What margins do they use? 1″ all around? 1 1/2″ left margin, 1 1/2″ bottom margin, 1″ top and right margins?
- How fast do their transcriptionists type?
- If the audio is less than stellar quality, does the transcription service still charge the same rate?
- If they charge by the project, will they guarantee their bid, or insert a “not to exceed clause” in their contract?
- What premium does the transcription service charge for rush or emergency jobs?
- If by the page, do they charge extra for less than stellar audio?
- If they charge by the page, who eats the extra time for additional audio – the company or the transcriptionist? (It’s a loaded question.)
Low transcription rates – whether they be by the word, line, page or hour – don’t necessarily mean lowest costs. Beware of hidden fees!
What technical support is offered for transcribing a wide range of digital and analog formats?
A transcription company’s technical capabilities can be just as important as its transcribing experience. Consider the following :
- Can the transcription company offer high quality conversion of any commonly used digital formats including .wav, MP3, Real, and QuickTime?
- Does the company transcribe video from analog sources such as VHS, and digital sources such as MiniDV or DVD?
- Can the transcription company provide resources for complete conversion and transcription of reel-to-reel audio tapes?
- Will the company help me with most any aspect of my project?
There may be occasions when you’ve made every effort to ensure the best possible recording, but for whatever reason, something went wrong. Can the transcription service clean up poorly recorded sound so that it can be transcribed?
Perhaps you would like to have your recorded content digitized. Does the company provide digital files of your analog/video tapes for use in streaming over the internet, distribution on CD-ROM, or simply for ease of accessibility? Are they capable of creating an archival copy of your audio?
What is the best way to send recorded content to a transcription company?
If your firewall allows, many services recommend transferring your files via DropBox, Hightail, Google Drive, etc., which companies should be happy to set up for you at no additional charge.
If you require extra security on your file transfers, make sure you speak with the service about sending your recordings via SSL encrypted SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol). Make sure the transcription service offers private FTP accounts, so that only you have access to your audio files. Sending files electronically prevents delays and loss of media in transit, expediting the transcribing process overall. Additional charges may apply if a company is hosting private securely encrypted servers for your data.
This means as soon as recordings are sent, the service can put your project into its production queue and begin transcribing right away – no more expensive shipping costs and loss of sleep due to packages that never made it!
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
The most important fact that should be taken into account (even if you do not transcribe your recordings) is the quality of the recording. The computer people got it right many years ago – GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). If you put any value on your work, you should invest in equipment that will always result in good-quality audio. Since most the work listed above is done in less than ideal recording environments, your recording equipment should be of such quality that it will result in the best recording possible. While some poor recordings can be electronically corrected or enhanced, every additional action taken by a transcription company will add to your eventual cost – in one way or another.
Even if you do your transcribing, always have a backup copy of your original audio or video before you begin transcription.
I’m conducting interviews and recording focus group sessions, and I need a recording device. What do you suggest I purchase that gives me the most bang for my buck?
While we do not personally check each recording device on the market, we do chat with our existing clients, and do our best to read up on the latest products available on the market. We do recommend you complete your due diligence by reviewing blogs, websites, and reading reviews on websites where you are able to purchase equipment. Additionally, check out the listserv’s of different organizations, and see what the people are saying. You’d be amazed at how quickly people reply to posts with questions about which devices to use, and also how to use them.
Whatever the device, we do recommend spending a bit more on your recording device, so that you’ll hopefully save dollars on transcription in the long term. Additionally, if you’re able, we also recommend that you purchase an external microphone.
We recommend the following resources to begin your equipment search.
Vermont Folk Life Center
If you’re looking for one of the best sources for evaluations of field research equipment, particularly for oral (or personal) historians, we suggest you search here first. In addition to their own content, this site offers links to numerous other sources of valuable information.
Also an excellent source for evaluations of new equipment, along with some excellent articles about a number of topics related to sound recording equipment.They bill themselves as a resource for public radio, but don’t be fooled: they are an invaluable resource.
George Blood, L.P.
In the interest of full disclosure, we have been referring our clients to George Blood of Safe Sound Archives for the last 10 years, and we’ve yet to hear anything but excellent experiences with George Blood from our clients.