So You Think You Can Type!

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It has been almost two years since Joe McGowan of McGowan Transcription Services threw me my employment lifeline. I was in Costa coffee at the time using their bottomless Wi-Fi facility.

At the time, I felt I had the requisite experience and that my legal and PA audio transcription background would equip me for the job of transcribing for McGowan Transcription services. I felt that my skills, especially typing speed, were effortlessly transferable. How wrong I was! It was merely a starting point, a foundation on which to rapidly build solid digital transcription experience.

I think the only similarity between dictated audio typing and transcribing of interviews resides in the fact that typing is required. Nothing, except practice, bridges the experiential gap. It could be argued that a typing speed of roughly 70 words per minute is an advantage and perhaps I take this for granted. However, not a single thing could have adequately prepared me for the range of audio transcription work I have done in the past two years. There is something very deliberate about dictation and often an assumption that the person transcribing may need all manner of grammatical hints and tips. An example would be me, working as a temp, struggling with the phrase, ‘Capitalar Revenue,’ which I’d never encountered before. It was a term used by a tax solicitor when dictating my audio typing for the day. I was so thrown by fruitless internet searches that I eventually enlisted the help of a colleague who looked at me quizzically saying, ‘Capital (R), Revenue.’

Clients of McGowan Transcription services seldom dictate, although there are those wonderful moments where an air punch signifies my joy at receiving clear, directed dictation to transcribe. Invariably, however, we are transcribing digital recordings of interviews or group discussions, so that researchers have neatly recorded documents, in MS Word, Excel or bespoke client templates, to refer to at a later date. The subject matters are diverse, as are the moderators and respondents. I have transcribed everything from researchers with Spanish accents interviewing Irish respondents to groups of sixteen Glaswegians excitedly giving their views on supermarkets and, it seems to me, everything in-between. Not to mention American ladies waxing lyrical about afternoon snacks and Australian men getting teary eyed about beer!

It amazes me, still, the extent to which people seldom answer questions in the way we may anticipate. It is, therefore, crucial to hone our listening skills, rather than concentrating on transcribing speed. It is always very satisfying, even for the person doing the audio typing of an interview, when the moderator manages to break into the psyche of a respondent and hits pay dirt! Sometimes, a little faith on the part of the person transcribing, is required, to continue to type what is being said, which may make no sense at all, at the time. Some statements remain non-sequiturs, but more often than not, dogged determined typing paints an illuminating picture; testimony to the skill and patience of moderators who artfully find what they’re looking.

But I feel my family rue the day I had a change in career direction – it’s amazing how intelligible muttering becomes when your ears are razor sharp!

By Laurien Kerr