Transcription Services

A Guide to Getting the Transcription Service You Need

By Thomas Carter on January, 15 2019
Thomas Carter

If you’re on the hunt for transcription services, there’s a range of options available to you. But, not every one will suit your needs. In order to make sure that you don’t spend too much or get an outcome that doesn't fit, you need to understand the difference in the market. A little information will go a long way. Let’s get started.   

Speech to Text Software or Human Transcription Services?

In recent years, speech to text software, also known as automatic voice recognition (ASR), has increased in popularity as the technology has advanced. ASR is a cheap, swift solution. But, it doesn’t offer many of the benefits of traditional human-based transcription services. There are several important differences between ASR and human transcription services, and it’s hugely beneficial to be aware of the different options on the table and the pros and cons before you make a decision.

Speech to text software

Speech to text software is inexpensive, and some services are even available free of charge. For paid services, there are per-minute fees and subscription models. However, you are likely to end up paying around £0.10 per minute of recorded audio either way. Paid services deliver a slightly higher quality outcome and sometimes access to encrypted storage. ASR is also a very quick service, delivering a turnaround in a matter of minutes. Some apps work in real-time, allowing you to produce a transcript as you speak into a microphone.  

Quality is the central place where ASR software falters. There is no quality control mechanism in place with ASR, and the software can be unreliable. It is not uncommon for ASR to produce texts that are incomprehensible and confused. There are several factors that can affect the quality of the service — background noise, accents, and multiple speakers, particularly if they talk over one another. Even with a high-quality, ‘clean’ recording, speech to text software struggles to hit 80% accuracy rates. Whenever using ASR, you should expect to spend some of your own time cleaning up the transcript — if you can use the transcript at all.

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Human transcription services

Human transcription services are considerably more expensive than speech to text software. While prices may start from as little as £0.40 per minute, any charge lower than £0.75 will almost certainly come with conditions, such as turnaround times in excess of 7 days or outsourcing to offshore workers. Low starting quotes can also be misleading, often being accompanied by hidden extras like charges for more than one speaker, poor audio quality or accents. In most cases, you can expect to pay around £2 per minute. However, you may be able to get a cheaper rate with a bulk discount or prolonged turnaround time.

Although you will pay more, you get the quality control and options that a human transcriptionist can offer. Human transcription services make 99% accuracy guarantees. Customers looking for complete reliability benefit from proofreading services that often come standard. You can also choose from a range of transcript options. You can order a verbatim transcript that includes every little detail of a recording, even including notes about tone, laughter and pauses. The industry standard, however, is ‘intelligent verbatim’. This is an edited text with any ‘erms’, ‘ums’ or repetitions removed. These types of transcripts are much easier to read and understand. They are also easier to transcribe, often bringing a price break compared to the verbatim option.

The cheapest transcripts are notes/summary transcripts. These often just paraphrase the meaning, providing you with a quick way to digest information if the details aren’t that important. Conversely, you might use this type of transcript to figure out which recordings you should actually listen to yourself.

How Big of a Concern is Security with Your Transcription Services?

If you choose to use a transcription service rather than transcribing the audio yourself, you automatically lose a degree of control over that content. Depending on the nature of your business, this might not be a problem or be a huge liability. Transcription services are, generally speaking, pretty safe. But, there are a few things that security conscious transcription services users should consider.  

To improve security, look for websites that have ‘https’ addresses, rather than ‘http’, and always ensure that your transcription service is ISO accredited and uses encrypted SSL or TLS portals. If you are really concerned about your data, you should also think carefully about who is transcribing it for you. If your files are sent overseas, for example, it becomes more difficult to keep track of them and to follow up on any breaches in security. That not only applies to your ability to pursue violations, but also to the ability of the transcription company itself to guarantee control — both of which increase the likelihood that a breach occurs.  

Offshore transcription services also pose an ethical issue for some customers. If you choose a transcription service company that employs offshore staff, you may not be able to ensure that those workers are paid a fair wage. If this is an area of concern for you, it’s wise to choose a local business that employs local people and deals with all projects in-house. Hiring local businesses can also be beneficial in terms of understanding local dialects and accents. If you do have ethical concerns, search for services with high ethical standards and use reputable businesses governed by reliable judicial systems. Be careful with companies that do not have the relevant ISO accreditations.   

Many quality transcription services will be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). If worried about the confidentiality of your data, you should consider signing an NDA to be standard practice.

For businesses operating within the jurisdiction of the GDPR, the specifics of that regulation pose other compliance concerns that may need to be considered. Ultimately, picking providers that are themselves subject to the GDPR will reduce your exposure to risk. For English transcriptions, this makes the UK an ideal place to look for transcription partners. Just make sure that they don’t offshore their transcriptionist.

Are automatic transcription services safer?

Automatic services might seem like the safer bet. But, it is easy to be lured into a false sense of security. When using automatic services, you may not ever really know what happens to your data, and you don’t know whether or not a human will actually come into contact with it. These services might use your recording for test or control purposes, meaning a human might listen to your file anyway. If no security promises are made, you simply don’t know. Regardless, encryption is just as big a concern with automatic services as it is with human-based ones. You also run into all of the quality control issues detailed above — ASR software simply is often not up to the task of producing a usable transcript under many circumstances.    

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Summary: Which Transcription Service is Right for You?

There is no universal answer to this question, and there are several factors that may influence your decision when it comes to choosing which transcription service to use. ASR offers speedy results and very low costs, but accuracy and quality are a concern. To really use speech to text software at all, you need to invest in creating high-quality recordings in which people speak slowly and one at a time. Human-based services cost more and take longer, but the accuracy rates are considerably higher — in some cases, you can get a 100% guarantee.

Security may also play a part in influencing your decision. When you hand over a recording, you lose control of it, and many people want to enjoy peace of mind that their data is safe. Look for companies that have an excellent track record and high ethical standards, and choose a service that does not outsource work overseas.

The type of transcript you want may also affect your decision. ASR produces only verbatim accounts (if they succeed at all), which may not be suitable for you. With human services, you can choose from a broader spectrum of products, including summaries and intelligent verbatim.

To make the decisioning process easier, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much do I have to spend?

  • How quickly do I need the transcript?

  • Is accuracy essential?

  • How important are security and data protection?

  • What kind of recording needs transcribing?

  • How much time do I want to spend editing and cleaning up the final version?

  • Am I happy with a verbatim transcript, or would it be better to have a summary or an intelligent verbatim account?

  • Is the recording good quality?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a much better idea of which option suits you best. That is why a guide to transcription services is so important.


You have been reading a crash course on how to align your needs with the right transcription service. If you need an even more in-depth guide on what transcription services offer and how to make the right choice when it comes to your transcripts, we have written an Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services just for you!

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