Tools For Transcription: The DNA Of An Ideal Transcriber

There is more to the process of transcription than simply having the right equipment; good digital transcribers are a truly rare breed. So what are the personality traits that set the expert team here at McGowan Transcriptions apart?

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The overarching characteristic required for good audio transcription is a genuine enthusiasm for the work. A thirst for knowledge is prerequisite. Fortunately, transcribing offers plenty of opportunities here. Through the sheer scope of projects we encounter, transcribers are able to amass a large body of industry-specific understanding. The personal benefits are also self-evident. My colleague, Laurian, talked in her blog about her discovery of the smartphone, which has transformed the way she works. This is knowledge that was gained from a group that she transcribed. Digital transcription is all about people; as a Psychology graduate I like to think of it as a polite way to be nosy and I am forever amazed at how I am inspired, moved and challenged by the stories that I hear. Whilst some of our team are well-travelled and even live abroad, transcribing widens your horizons from the comfort of your own home. You are exposed to cultural differences that transcend the challenge of transcribing foreign accents; you are transported into a world which was hitherto unknown.

Discretion is of the utmost importance to McGowan Transcriptions; we abide by the MRS Code of Conduct regarding confidentiality. Therefore despite the temptation to discuss with friends what we have learnt about new and upcoming technologies, it remains firmly under our hats. Naturally, there is a clandestine pleasure derived from seeing a product come to market some time after we have transcribed a group on it. Consequently, knowing that we were part of the research process and witnessed it in its developmental stages imbues us with a great sense of pride. It is reward enough to know that we have contributed in some small way through our work.

Having good general knowledge aids digital dictation transcription enormously, whether it is to pick up on literary references or to have awareness of current affairs. As a team, we have a wide range of educational and vocational qualifications, all of which add that vital specialism to our work. However, our digital transcribers not only have 80 years of transcribing experience but also a colourful collection of backgrounds and lives. One trained as an actor; one used to live on a boat; others live in Spain, France and Greece; one keeps hens and another was a musical director for a circus! Add to this a healthy collection of children, young and old, and you can see that we are a very well-rounded team.

Another often-undervalued attribute is good, old-fashioned common sense. Sometimes our ears can deceive but a good digital transcriber will intelligently re-listen and scan for nuance and sense. This ensures that transcripts of conversations don’t contain references to ‘carrot workers’ (CARAT workers) or ‘a floating boy’ (floating buoy). Occasionally a transcriber must step in where a respondent’s own syntax is idiosyncratic. Someone could pause oddly mid-sentence, and failure to convey this could be disastrous. For example, ‘Next year I’m going to marry my girlfriend. In the shed we have some furniture. Walking around, you’ll see our style’ could be heard as ‘Next year I’m going to marry my girlfriend in the shed. We have some furniture walking around’, an exaggerated example perhaps but it illustrates the point! Good proofreading also comes into play when overriding an overly-zealous spell checker. When transcribing medical interviews, we might type ‘ectatic aorta’ only to find that Word has other ideas and it has now become ‘ecstatic’.

A can-do attitude is paramount. Digital transcribers often encounter things like background noise on a recording or everybody talking simultaneously in a lively group. Patience is needed to rewind and re-listen to make sure we have captured what is said. Young children and dogs do not understand that by trying to eat the recording device or jump on the moderator (that applies to both children and dogs) they are affecting our ability to hear the interview! Whilst it can be frustrating and sometimes tiring to maintain such levels of concentration, this challenge is also what gives such a sense of achievement at the end of the day. A positive and persevering approach means you must also be willing to handle any subject. Inevitably, our work sometimes covers topics that are more unfamiliar or less interesting than others, but it is all part of the colourful tapestry of online audio transcription.

Self-motivation and self-discipline are character traits written through a transcriber like a stick of rock. One of the most gratifying things about transcription is the flexibility it permits, but this brings with it its own challenges. Many a time, I must resist the temptations of my ubiquitous Sky+ box or the lure of a crafty afternoon snack, and it does take a certain type of personality to ignore these comforts of home. But it is precisely this ability to work independently and not to need the constant ‘voice over the shoulder’ of supervision that makes a good transcriber unique.

Moreover, excellent digital transcribers are a self-selected group. Our exceptional range of assets and attributes are what allow us to maintain the high standards we achieve. It is our life experience and personalities that assist us in our work and provide that irreplaceable human element that transcribing software simply cannot replicate.

Blog written by
Li Collins – Senior Medical Transcriber