Transcription Services

What Transcript Do You (Really) Need?

By Take Note Team on April, 18 2019
Take Note Team

When choosing a human-based, quality transcription you may well expect that a written record of discussions and meetings is the same wherever you go.  

In fact, there’s a wide range of services available that can all impact quality and cost, but most importantly how efficiently you can get the value from the transcript.  

So, what’s the difference? Glad you asked!

Verbatim Transcripts: There is More Than One Way to Get a Word-for-Word Transcript

Most people who want a transcript come into the process thinking that they want a 'verbatim' transcript. They want a written account of their recording, one that matches it on a word-for-word basis.

This makes sense. But, there is actually more subtlety and variation on offer — choices that will impact how much you are charged and how useful the end transcript you receive will be. You need to understand these differences and your actual requirements to make the best choice.  

Speech is Different To Text

The way in which we speak is very different from the way in which we write, and this can cause problems in transcriptions.

When you write, you are deliberate, have time to edit and put thought into the order in which things are said. Speech is far more of a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of thing.

As such, the natural flow of dialogue often includes deviations, repetitions and fillers such as “ums” and “errs”. Our brains do a great job of filtering these out of everyday conversation, to the point that we barely notice them. But, if you see them written down, it can be bewilderingly hard to read.

Full-Verbatim Transcripts

‘Full’ Verbatim transcripts capture every single thing spoken on a recording. This includes all of those ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, false starts, repetitions, interruption and more. For an extra fee, you can even get annotated notes on tone, pauses, laughter etc.

Under some circumstances, this can be beneficial - even essential. But, it will always be more difficult to read, slower and more expensive to produce, and often delivers more detail than is really required.  

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Verbatim Transcripts

A little bit of professional editing can go a long way to improving the readability of a transcript. Even if you need word-for-word detail, you probably don’t need every ‘um’ or false start captured. Unless legally required to faithfully record every breath on a recording, a different type of transcript might serve you better than full-verbatim.

That is exactly what Verbatim delivers. Verbatim transcripts are designed with the idiosyncrasies of speech in mind. 'Ums', 'ahs', stutters, false starts and interruptions (that don't impact the meaning of a sentence) are edited from the transcript — delivering a clean transcript that is easy to read but still holds true to the word-for-word nature of the recording.

You get all of the meaning, and almost all of the exact words, without any of the ‘ums’ and ‘errs’, false starts and repetitions. Essentially all the stuff, none of the fluff!  

Verbatim transcripts are referenced using a number of names, including 'intelligent verbatim', 'word-for-word', ‘clean verbatim’ or simply 'verbatim'.

The versatility and simplicity of this type of transcript is the reason that many consider it to be the industry standard. Under a lot of circumstances, this is the type of transcript you will get if you just ask for ‘a transcript’ without making any specifications. But, you shouldn't take things for granted. A verbatim transcript will likely deliver better value for money than one with that filler added back in. It will not only be easier to read, it will likely cost less to have produced.

Alternative Transcripts

If details aren’t vital, and your main reason for seeking a transcript is to engage with a lot of recorded material quickly, you might want to stray away from verbatim transcripts all together.

These options aren’t offered by every transcription service firm, and a lot of people don’t even know that there are alternatives to verbatim transcripts. But, by making the right strategic choice when it comes to alternative types of transcripts, you can save yourself hours of review time and reduce the amount you need to spend to get a transcript produced.

Detailed Notes Transcripts

Detailed notes are the most valuable alternative to a verbatim transcript. Rather than just editing out ‘ums’, ‘errs’, false starts and repetitions, these transcripts are edited to be to the point and on topic.

Off-topic chit chat is removed and non-critical sections are summarised. Most commonly, this would include summarising interview questions. But, other rambling sections might be slimmed down. You will generally be allowed to provide direction on the type of content that is important.

Where this kind of editing is possible, detailed notes deliver a concise solution with less to read by removing all of the unnecessary content. These transcripts are also simpler to produce, giving you access to lower starting price points. For the right transcripts, this is an ideal solution that will deliver you a better transcript for less money.  

Draft Transcripts

Draft transcripts are a quick run through of a recording in which a transcriptionist captures as much of the information as possible without stopping. The exact criteria surrounding a draft transcript varies between transcription services. But, what is shared between them is that they are marketed as a cheap alternative for those who don’t need 100% accuracy.

In reality, these often fail to deliver reliable results because there is no distinction between what’s missed and what’s included. You get a transcript, but don’t know how well it reflects a recording and what you have missed by simply reading the transcript. Effectively, this removes most of the point in paying for a transcript for the sake of an apparent cost savings.

Summary Transcripts

Summary transcripts completely deviate from detail to deliver an overview of the meaning contained within a recording in the most concise way possible. This is a valuable alternative if the reason you need a transcript is to simply review a lot of recorded material quickly. You can even use summary transcripts to figure out which recordings are worth listening to yourself.

When engaging with summary transcripts, it is important that the transcriptionist understands the material being transcribed. For industry specialists, that means looking for quality transcription services that deliver access to transcribers with industry experience. This is the cheapest form of transcription service, meaning they are great if details don’t matter. But, you need to recognise that you won’t get direct quotes with this type of transcript.

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What About ASR? (Automatic Speech Recognition Software)

ASR solutions always attempt to deliver a full-verbatim transcript. However, ‘attempt’ is the key word. Although ASR technology has come a long way in recent years, it still falls far behind the capabilities of human transcriptionists. Accuracy rates for ASR max out around 80% and quality deteriorates if in the face of complicated factors. This can include background noise, poor audio quality, accents, or simply multiple speakers. You need a high-quality recording to use ASR, and you should always expect to spend some of your own time editing an ASR produced transcript.

What Transcript Do You Really Need?

For most people, a verbatim transcript will deliver the best value for money.

If you aren’t sure exactly what your transcript will be used for, verbatim transcripts deliver versatility and detail in an easy-to-read format that won’t cost extra. If you are legally required to capture every breath in a recording, a full-verbatim transcript might be what you need. Just don’t expect to be able to breezily read through that end result.  

If details can be sacrificed, you could get through your information faster using one of several alternative transcripts. However, we would recommend avoiding ‘draft’ transcripts as it can be hard to tell what was missed and what was captured. If you have an exceptionally clean audio file and have time to go back through and make edits yourself, you might be able to get something close to a verbatim transcript using an ASR software service. But, with ASR, you get what you get — there is really only one kind of transcript with ASR, and it entirely depends on the nature of your audio file.

The important thing is that you now know there are options, so get out there and get the transcript that you need — the transcript that you really need.



You have been reading about how to choose the best transcript for your transcription needs. If you want to learn more about transcription service price points or the transcription needs of different industries (medical transcription, legal transcription, market research transcripts) we have written the Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services just for you!

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