How Times Have Changed

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Having read Joe’s blog entitled, ’20 Years Established Today’, I felt a bit nostalgic (and very old!) and started reminiscing about how things have changed in transcription. I feel very privileged to have worked with Joe for 16 of those years and have seen McGowan Transcriptions grow from two or three transcribers to around seventeen transcribers today.

I started off transcribing with Joe at her home for only a few hours each week where we shared her office upstairs. From there, Joe moved house and then I also shared her office with a new member of her family – a gorgeous little puppy (well, not so little) where there was never a dull moment! When I started to transcribe full-time for Joe, I moved into my own office at home.

Since then, I have seen massive changes, not only in the equipment we use but also with the internet and the downloading of files for transcription.

The old transcription machines which used cassettes were very unreliable and noisy, which just added to the difficulty of being able to hear what had been recorded. You could destroy a whole recording at the touch of a button. I can still remember frantically trying to feed tape back into a cassette that has become chewed up in the mechanical parts of the machine!

Digital sound quality is amazing these days but with cassettes, it was often impossible to hear what was being said and to hear absolutely nothing was the worst scenario because the moderator hadn’t hit the ‘record’ button! These are all, thankfully, things of the past although, every now and again, we are asked to transcribe from cassette. I do still have my transcription machine, so it is still possible for McGowan Transcriptions to offer this transcription service. I actually thought that cassette tapes were no longer being manufactured but, after having done some research on the internet, I found that it is still possible to purchase them and that they are having something of a revival at the moment! In fact, the cassette tape has just celebrated its 50th birthday – it’s amazing what you can find out from Google!

When Joe introduced the idea of using the internet many, many years ago, I can still remember saying, ‘I will never use the internet – I don’t need it’. How wrong I was. Now when I’m transcribing, I don’t think a single day or hour goes by without referring to something on the internet: the spelling of a medical condition/drug, company/people’s names, places, brands, types of technology, abbreviations, et cetera. The days of referring to my trusted Oxford Dictionary in paper format to check words and grammar are long gone. As transcribers, we come across new words every day in our work and we also learn about new things ahead of everybody else.

It always makes me smile when I see an advert for a new product with the actual strap line that was eventually chosen out of all the suggestions that would have been discussed at focus groups I had transcribed months before. Sometimes, you are eagerly waiting for a product to be developed because it sounded so good. I often find myself trying different products just because I’ve transcribed an interview about them previously – not because I want them or need them – but just to get an understanding of what the respondents were discussing.

It definitely helps the transcriber to have some knowledge of the research that is being discussed but Google comes to the rescue nearly every time if you have not come across a particular subject matter before. I really don’t know how we managed to transcribe interviews and groups without the internet all those years ago. I never realised that research could cover such a diverse range of subjects and it is impossible for us, even as professional transcribers, to know everything. But we do all have our own areas of expertise and knowledge that we have accumulated over the years, and you just never know when it might come in useful.

Transcribing for McGowan Transcriptions today bears no resemblance to how transcribing interviews and groups was back in the 90s. Today, I have a large, flat screen PC with a wireless keyboard and mouse. We have fibre optic broadband with ever-increasing speeds. We can upload and download digital transcription files. Our digital transcription software enables us to improve the sound quality of digital files with just the click of your mouse. The use of email and our secure uploading facility means that we can deliver completed transcripts immediately, anywhere in the world.

Well, that’s my trip down transcription memory lane and I can’t wait to find out what the future holds…

Blog by Shelly Tarling
Senior Research Transcriber