Engaging with transcription services for the first time can be a daunting task. You will be confronted with a lot of options, competing companies and huge variations in price. Some services appear to be free, while others can cost anywhere between £0.05 to over £2 per minute of recorded audio. Like with most things, these costs reflect differences in service quality.
The most expensive transcription services, however, are not necessarily the highest quality options. There are companies that charge more than their service is worth. More fundamentally, however, you need to identify the best quality service for you. The transcription service that best suits your needs will depend on the type of recording you have and the type of transcript you need delivered.
This article will guide you through the major difference in transcription services, teach you how to spot quality transcription services and allow you to pick the solution that you need.
Transcription Services vs. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) Software
The big divide in transcription services are those done by human transcriptionists and those created by software. This difference is almost always made clear on transcription service websites. However, fees less than £0.40 per minute of recorded audio are a strong indication that the service is software led. A lot of software services also operate on subscription models, something that is less common with human transcription services.
If you want quality, you can rule out software transcription services. Software services have their place, but they operate with no quality control mechanisms and deliver transcripts that are full of errors — sometimes they deliver transcripts that are completely illegible.
The main factor impacting the quality of automated transcription services is audio quality. However, the number of speakers, speaking patterns and accents are all important. Automatic speech recognition (ASR) software is basically only capable of producing intelligible results under ‘ideal’ circumstances and only excels with neutral American accents.
Even a high-quality recording of a single person speaking slowly and clearly is likely to produce errors. Software transcription services struggle to hit accuracy rates above 80%. If several complicating factors are present, that number can decline to as little as 3% accuracy. If you need a ‘clean’ transcript, you should expect to put in time reviewing and editing that file. Under many circumstances, the transcript you receive from automated services will be of little use or value.
Options Can Add Value to Your Transcript
Quality human transcription services will provide you options around the type of transcript you receive. If a service claims to deliver human-based transcripts, but only offers ‘verbatim transcripts’, you should question what is going on. Although the names sometimes vary, you should expect to see three different types of transcripts with human transcription service:word for word, summary/notes and verbatim. These offer different levels of detail vs. readability at a number of different price points — allowing you to tailor results to suit your needs.
Word for word transcriptions remove ‘ums’, ‘errs’ and false starts. The detail of the recording is retained, but you get a transcript that is easier to read. These transcripts are also easier to produce, often giving you a price break compared to a strict verbatim transcript.
Summary/notes do not focus on capturing direct phrasing and instead summarise a conversation. If you are seeking a transcript to absorb information quickly, this is exactly what you want. They are cheaper per minute of audio than other services. So, make sure to take advantage of this option if it suits your needs.
Verbatim transcripts deliver precision. Basically, if you want detail, you can have that to whatever standards you need. That could mean the reintroduction of ‘ums’, the denotation of pauses or comments on tone. Quality transcription services will allow you to customise the detail you what and how you want it delivered.
Ensuring Data Security When Using Transcription Services
Transcriptions often include sensitive or confidential material. You need to protect your data. That starts with a simple Google search to investigate the reputation of transcription firms. Look out for ISO 27001 & 9001 certifications. We would recommend avoiding transcription services that don’t possess these accreditations.
You also want to see ‘https’ websites, rather than an older ‘http’ address. ‘Https’ encrypts communication between the website and your browser. Ideally, only engage with companies that go further and use SSL encrypted login portals for sharing data. For European companies, GDPR presents another concern. You are responsible for making sure that your transcription partner follows all GDPR requirements. Your best course of action is to choose partners that are based in countries that are also covered by the GDPR.
NDAs and Offshore Transcription Services
Make sure that your transcription service partner is willing to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Most are willing to do so. However, if you are concerned about security, you should also think about who is undertaking your transcription. If your files are sent abroad, for example, it becomes more difficult to prosecute any breaches in security — a reality that increases the likelihood that such breaches might occur. Human transcription services with starting fees less than £0.75 per minute of recorded audio likely use offshore labour.
For sensitive material, try and keep your files within regions that have high ethical business standards and judicial systems that pursue violations. World leading data protection regulations deliver the greatest accountability and security in the UK for English transcriptions.
Accents and Technical Language When Using Transcription Services
Accents, colloquialisms and technically complex language can all impact transcriptions. This is most dramatic for automated transcription services, but can also make a difference when it comes to human transcription services. To overcome this obstacle, you might have to pay a little bit extra. But, if you ignore this challenge, it can lead to inaccurate transcripts.
For intelligent verbatim and summary transcriptions, particularly, it is important that the transcriber understands what they are writing. Quality transcription services will provide access to transcriptionists with relevant professional experience. They will also allow you to submit a glossary that lists any highly technical language or brands included in the recording. Doing so will ensure that those words and phrases are transcribed correctly.
Look for Options, But Don’t Be Lured By Cheap Starting Prices
A quality transcription service will offer you options. You should be able to get a summary, intelligent verbatim or verbatim account of your audio. Timestamps are another important option that either cost more for inclusion or will mean a higher default rate. Turnaround times will also impact price. Ideally, you want options. Options will give you the greatest value for the service you need.
As a rule, however, you should look with suspicion at any human transcription service with starting prices less than £0.75 per minute. Low starting prices are an indication that there will be a caveat — offshore workers, turnaround times in excess of a week, or steep price increases based on audio quality that are arbitrarily applied. That low starting price may also only apply to recordings with a single speaker and increase substantially even if an interviewer only speaks momentarily.
You can generally find out what these price jumps will be by investigating the company's website. For audio quality, it might be difficult to figure out what quality thresholds will trigger a price increase. But, you can at least identify what that increase will be. If operating on a tight budget, you can always call the company and ask about specifics. If no direct contact information is provided, that is a red flag.
Summary: Quality Transcription Services are Delivered by Humans and Provide Options
If you need a quality outcome, you are likely to need human transcription services. The best transcription services will offer you options. However, they will not hide their real prices in ‘extras’ that get triggered without warning. Look for services that allow you to get a quote about the specifics of your project and encourage you to contact them to discuss any concerns that you may have.
If the information you are having transcribed is sensitive or confidential, you need to be even more careful about the transcription service you choose. At the very least, make sure that the company has secure and encrypted storage and sharing capabilities. Ideally, look to keep your data in regions with high ethical business standards.
With all of that said, however, the importance of these factors depends on your requirements and the audio you need transcribed. If you have really clean audio of one person speaking slowly and carefully, you might be able to get a transcript of usable quality out of automated transcription software. But, if you are looking for quality, keep your eyes open for options, mid-range starting prices and quality control guarantees. It is always best if you are able to contact the agency directly.