Whether you’re an undergraduate trawling through endless notes for your dissertation, a post-grad trying to write your thesis, or a tenured professor working on your next book, you’ve encountered a common dilemma: there’s too much information and not enough of it is either useful or readily accessible.
If your data is in a written format this is one thing — the ability to speed read or skim a text is a skill that most academics possess, parsing written information quickly and picking out the good stuff from the bad. When data comes from recorded lectures, interviews or audio notes, however, it can be much harder and slower to digest. Let’s face it, you can’t use “CTRL+F” on an audio file.
Academia is a constant race against time and transcription services can be invaluable in making audio data more accessible. However, academia is not known for its high salaries, and students, particularly, don’t tend to be the most financially well-endowed demographic. Even more critically, for most in academia, getting a transcript made is likely to be coming straight out of your own pocket — not some faceless company account. You need an academic transcription service that’ll give you a quick turnaround at a reasonable price, without coming at the cost of accuracy.
With a host of academic transcription services out there, it can be tricky to identify which is best suited to your needs. Academia is hard enough, this post will make finding the right transcription service easy.
Speech to Text Software: The Benefits and Caveats
Automated speech to text services use Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) software that allows you to convert audio files into speech in minutes. Because there are no human or labour costs to factor in, ASR services tend to be very affordable with prices starting at less than 10p a minute — with some ASR services even being free.
However, while these software solutions offer fantastic speed and affordability, it comes at the cost of accuracy and reliability. Quality ASR outcomes are far more dependent on audio quality than a human transcription service. With poor audio quality, multiple speakers or background noise, using ASR becomes an increasingly ineffective choice. What’s more, ASR may not be able to identify complex terms and jargon which are common in academic circles.
Always make sure to get timestamps in your ASR transcript and be prepared to spend some of your own time deciphering what is delivered. You will get your transcript back faster (sometimes in real time!) with ASR, but, it will take up more of your time than a quality human transcription service to actually get the transcript you need.
The Human Touch… Is It Worth Paying For?
While it’s understandable that those with need of academic transcription services may wish to keep costs down and get a fast turnaround, a lapse in accuracy caused by ASR can create more problems than automated solutions solve. If you can get a high-quality recording of an articulate speaker, using an ASR provider might work. Recorded lectures (where high audio quality can be acquired) are a good candidate for ASR. But, the level of quality required by ASR is not always realistic.
As such, the accuracy offered by human-based transcription services may, for many, more than make up for the extra costs, especially if turnaround isn’t a huge issue for you. Most human transcription services offer standard turnaround times of 24-48 hours. You can get faster results if you are willing to pay for it. But, the better avenue of investigation is slow turnaround times. If you can plan ahead and wait more than two weeks for your transcript, you will be able to find transcription services that will offer you rather substantial discounts on per minute prices, but, without any cost to quality. If you are flexible with time, you may be surprised by just how affordable human-based transcription services can be.
Verbatim vs. Professional Verbatim… What’s the Difference?
The way in which we speak is very different to the way in which we write and this can cause problems in verbatim transcriptions. Written communication is a far more efficient way of conveying meaning than spoken communication. The natural flow of dialogue often includes deviations, repetitions and fillers such as “umms” and “aahs”. Our brains do a great job of filtering these out of everyday conversation, to the point that we barely notice them. When we see that speech written down, however, it can be bewilderingly hard to read.
Verbatim transcripts give you everything. You can even pay extra for notes on tone, laughter and pauses. Under some circumstances, that can be a benefit, or even essential. But, it will always be more difficult to read than is otherwise necessary. A little bit of editing can go a long way when it comes to producing a transcript that is easy to read. That is exactly what verbatim delivers. You get all of the meaning, and almost all of the exact words, without any of the repetitions, deviations and conversational fillers. All the stuff, none of the fluff!
This can be extremely useful if you need to capture a large quantity of information but need to be able to parse it quickly and easily. Verbatim is also the cheaper choice. In addition to being easier to read, verbatim transcripts are easier to produce, meaning you get a slight price break if verbatim is a solution that fits your transcription needs.
Detailed Notes Transcripts
If you have a large amount of audio content, but not all of it is directly useful to you, you may benefit from even more editing. One of the many things that is great about human transcription services is the ability to customise what you get to specifically fit your transcription service needs. For the most efficient consumption of information, detailed notes transcripts deliver exactly what you need.
Detailed notes transcripts are a much briefer and more condensed version of a transcript delivered in a more digestible format, allowing you to get the information as fast as possible. This is perfect, say, when studying for a final exam. Detailed notes transcripts can also be used to determine which recordings are worth listening to yourself. Want a detailed notes transcript but know that there are key quotes you’ll need to capture? Not a problem! Most service providers will offer a “summary with quotes” option which cherry picks important quotes and preserves them verbatim. You can even get them highlighted for you!
Academic transcription services can be your lifeline!
By offering a host of solutions to your transcription needs, while also taking your budget and timeline into account, an academic transcription service can be the lifeline you need. It can take the time and administrative effort out of condensing notes, while also allowing you to parse long-form content quickly and mine it for the information you need. Getting the right service is about understanding your needs and the options in the market. If you have high-quality audio and time to experiment, test out an ASR solution — it might work, and if you have time to edit it, you can get transcripts on the cheap.
If you need something done right, first time, you need to look into human transcription services. This will also give you the option of picking the type of transcript your need and the level of detail that is optimal for your purposes. If you are willing to wait a few days, it might not even cost you that much. When looking into transcription service rates, however, make sure to investigate the details. The providers that appear to have the lowest rates sometimes hide their true costs in hidden fees — charging more per speaker, complex vocabulary, poor audio quality etc. The best deal is really the one that delivers the outcome you need. Start there and work backwards.
You have been reading about how to get the right academic transcription service. If you want to learn more about transcription service rates, the security of your data when using transcription services and more, we have written an Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services just for you!