Transcription Services/Note Taking

Transcription formats 101: audio transcription simplified

By Take Note Team on October, 8 2019
Take Note Team

Audio transcriptions come in many formats, and making the right choice can save you a significant amount of time, so how can you figure out which kind is best for you? Well, it’s all about considering what the transcript is for and knowing that there is actually a number of options. 

If you're interested in the insights, a transcript such as Detailed Notes without all the fluff can deliver fast access to the useful part of the recording. If you need every word spoken no matter how irrelevant to the topic or even every 'umm', 'err' and filler word, both of these are available as 'Verbatim' options. 

With the number of transcriptions services available, all of which offer many options with varying naming conventions, it can get confusing. But don’t worry! We’re here to break it down for you, so you have all the information you need to pick the right kind of transcript format for your needs. 

Detailed Notes

One of the most versatile and accessible transcripts on the market, 'Detailed Notes' retain word-for-word accuracy for key passages, but take the 'editing' process further than most transcripts. It can save you having to work through all of the content that doesn't add any value. 

The spoken word is surprisingly difficult to read when written down. We all pepper our speech with unstructured sentences, false starts, repetitions and circular references. If all of these are captured, it can turn reviewing a transcript into an extremely slow crawl.   

Detailed notes transcripts simplify the process of reading and analysing transcripts by making purposeful edits, aligning the spoken word with the kind of sentence structures we're accustomed to reading without damaging the meaning of what was said. To further accelerate the review process, detailed notes transcripts take additional steps: removing off-topic chit-chat and summarising interview questions.

A detailed notes transcript is focused and easy to review without losing any of the meaningful content. 

These transcripts are the ideal format for someone looking for a concise record of the facts. They let you understand the important things said, pick out key quotes and make practical decisions without being waylaid with unnecessary detail. Detailed notes transcripts are also often the most cost-effective and versatile form of transcripts. 

Here are just a few examples where the kind of concise detail delivered by detailed notes really shines:  

  • Transcribing meetings: if someone misses a meeting and they need to be filled in on the useful content, then this format is perfect. If you’re looking for a more concise way of displaying this information, detailed notes work perfectly here as you can still see what happened in the meeting without reading how the marketing director felt about the weather. You don’t miss out on any important information, but you don’t have to deal with irrelevant speech.
  • Focus group transcriptions: if you’re showing off a product/service to a focus group, these sessions can often result in a lot of information being collected. A detailed notes transcript can help you pinpoint and review the vital information your market research clients need easily and quickly without having to read any off-topic information. 
  • Interviews: if you need to transcribe an interview, then detailed notes is ideal as well. You will see what everyone has to say, but you don’t clutter the transcript with any filler words or irrelevant points.
  • Summarising a recording: if you want a detailed summary of a recording, then this is a brilliant option. You might not have the time to read through pages of dialogue but you want to gauge what was said and all the key points that were made. Detailed notes are the best way to do just that.  

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Verbatim

Next, we have verbatim, a level up when it comes to the amount of information captured, despite its relevance. Verbatim transcripts are often considered the industry standard but are increasingly being replaced by the concise editing delivered by detailed notes. 

Right away, we must note there are lots of different names for this transcription format: intelligent verbatim, clean verbatim or a word-for-word transcript. If you encounter any of these names, then know that they all refer to capturing every word spoken, and in some cases even 'um's and 'er's. But what exactly is a verbatim transcript?

Whilst a verbatim transcript will probably have the 'um's, 'er's, false starts and repetition removed, no attention is paid to removing off-topic conversation, or summarising points that are not central to the value of the recording. 

Compared to detailed notes, verbatim will naturally provide you with a longer transcript which can be harder to work through. However, this can be necessary if you have to capture every single word spoken no matter how relevant to the point of the research or meeting.

A verbatim transcript will cost you more to get transcribed, be harder to review, and can deliver limited additional value in the end. Although it's often more cost-effective to go for detailed notes, there are two scenarios where verbatim transcripts really excel:

  • Subtitles and captions: When it comes to creating subtitles and captions, you don't what summarisation. You need what is written to track with what's being said. It can be argued that you don't what any editing in subtitles. However, for most practical use cases, you want subtitles to be easy to read, making the limited editing — i.e. of ums and ers — involved in verbatim transcripts perfect for the job. 
  • Interviews that go 'off-topic' on purpose: Not every interview has a structured purpose that is easy for a transcriptionist to follow. For example, you might be writing a human interest story that is simply about someone. In that case, getting the full breadth of discussion in detail delivers value.  

Full-verbatim

Full-verbatim transcripts are the most holistic transcriptions available. They pick up and capture every little detail that is left out of verbatim transcripts and detailed notes. That means every stutter, ‘umm’, ‘err’, interruption and false start. 

Essentially, this transcription format includes every tiny detail that’s uttered in your recording. You can even pay more for annotations on tone, laughter and the length of pauses. 

It’s common to see this transcription format referred to as just ‘verbatim’ by some transcription companies. One thing you should absolutely take away from this article is the importance of looking at the service details, not simply making a purchase based on naming conventions.

If you need 100% of the detail delivered from a recording, a full-verbatim transcript is what you want. In reality, these transcripts are often over-kill. They bog down the review process with hard to read sentences and irrelevant details, and they can eat up your transcription budget with high per-minute costs. 

The only use-cases where full-verbatim transcripts tend to be a necessity is when it comes to legal cases or where text analytics is being used. If you’re presenting evidence in a legal setting, or are using sentiment analysis technology, a full-verbatim transcript will likely be required. In most other contexts, you would be better served by a detailed notes or verbatim transcript — delivering the important detail at lower costs in a more accessible format. 

Alternative Transcripts

The three transcription formats mentioned above are the most popular and widely used. However, you can choose from a couple of alternative transcripts as well. These ones offer something slightly different, but they’re mainly reserved for people who want quick transcriptions that don’t go into too much detail.

Draft transcripts

A draft transcript will basically be a quick run-through of a recording. The transcriptionist goes through everything in one go, jotting down all the critical pieces of information for you. This option is very cheap as it doesn’t provide the accuracy or detail of the other formats.

Summary transcripts

If you have a large audio file and you really just want to summarise everything as quickly as possible, then summary transcripts might be perfect for you. The focus is no longer on detail here — it’s on delivering an overview of the content. The problem is that you don't get anything you can quote, or really any sense of how points were delivered. But if all you want is 'meaning', summary transcripts are a useful option. 

Pick the right format for your needs

When it comes to transcription formats you don't have to settle for one size fits all.  Each format comes with pros and cons, but your choice can make a big difference.   It’s about what you need the transcript for. Do you need every single piece of detail possible? Can you afford to edit out some of the non-speech sounds? Different people have different needs, so decide on why you need the transcript before choosing a particular format. 

If you still need more help making the right choice, then it’s worth discussing things with a professional transcription service. They will help you figure out exactly what you need, then match you up with an option that provides just what you’re looking for. 


We hope this article outlining different transcription formats has helped you. If you’d like to find out more about transcription services, check out our Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services

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