Better knowledge - better transcripts
Dictation and Transcription Tips #1
Michele Duran Skroch (skraw)
505-922-1000 Albuquerque, NM voice
703-697-TYPE (8973) NoVA voice
Serving customers across the United States including Washington
D.C., Northern Virginia, to California, and of course, New Mexico on
domestic and international business. Locally we provide service to
Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Roswell,
Farmington, Clovis, Hobbs, Alamogordo, Gallup, and other cities in
Updated 24 Mar 2015
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Disclaimer about information on this site.
TIPS PAGE 1 • TIPS PAGE 2
This page describes various information Type-thing Services has
compiled about dictation, transcription, and related Internet, Web,
and technology topics. We want you to know what we know about
creating better recordings and other information that will help you
produce the transcripts you need for your efforts.
About recording quality
Transcribing essential, but poor-quality dictation
Options for transcription
About cost to transcribe
Why not use computer dictation, speech-to-text programs?
Transcription and Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
Is 24-hour Turnaround Possible or Reliable?
These are tips primarily for those dictating or recording audio. We also have Tips for Correct Transcription.
Information on this page is the opinion of Type-thing Services and is not certified in any way to be accurate, free from
error, or applicable for your particular use. If you have other questions or suggestions for other material, please let us
About recording quality
How can you ensure the best transcription for your business? Finding a
good transcriptionist is one answer; however, effort to transcribe a tape,
the overall quality of the transcript, and the cost of producing the transcript
is dependent on the quality of the audio file or tape that is generated.
By producing a good recording, you may be able to reduce the cost of your
transcription, increase accuracy of transcription and reduce the number of
"indiscernible" sections on your transcript. At Type-thing Services , we've
compiled a list of transcription DOs and DON'Ts that may be of help.
Things to do
Things to avoid
Speak clearly. Speak at good level volume.
Speak in a rushed or hurried voice or mumble. Speak
Have people speak one at a time.
Have people talk at once and interrupt each other
For digital or tape recorders, record on fast speed or high
quality setting. This makes a clearer recording but uses
more memory or tape.
Record on slow speed or low quality, which uses less
memory or tape but makes a "muddier" sounding
recording which takes longer to transcribe possibly
resulting in transcription errors.
Record in a quiet environment. Be aware of background
noise from others, air conditioning, fans, music, and other
Record in an environment with lots of background noise
like a restaurant, subway, near fans and vents, or place
where others are talking or making noise.
In groups of two or more, make sure each person can be
heard equally well. Use recording system with multiple
microphones in large groups to ensure you can hear each
In groups of two or more, allow some people to be heard
well while others are barely audible or not audible at all.
Use a microphone near the speaker. If the speaker will
move around, use a wired or wireless lapel microphone.
Use a stationary microphone and let the speaker move
around, creating hard to hear sections on the dictation.
Only have one microphone or recorder? If possible, have
all persons speaking the same distance from the recorder.
If that is not possible, place it nearest to the most important
part of the conversation or point it in that direction.
Place the microphone or recorder near the interviewer so
that the recording barely captures the most important part -
During question/answer sessions, have people come to a
house microphone or bring a wireless microphone to them
before they ask their question. Alternatively, have the
person answering questions repeat the question so it is
captured on the recorded audio.
During question/answer sessions, take no measures to
record the question. You'll only obtain transcribed answers
but be uncertain about the question asked.
Use good quality equipment made for the number of
people you are recording. Alternatively, if good equipment
is not available, use multiple digital or tape recording
devices around the room (we will have to listen to each to
fill in gaps from the others).
Use poorly maintained, low-quality equipment. Use
equipment that was designed for recording one person to
record a group of people.
Keep recorder going (turned on and recording) well before
Use the "auto-vox" feature that chops off the beginning of
In large groups, have each person state their name before
talking if they need to be accurately identified.
Alternatively, have a note taker make notes each time a
person talks including their name and the first few words
that they say. Provide agenda.
Provide no records of a complex recording environment,
making it difficult to separate out speakers or threads of
Provide lists of speakers, agendas for meetings, and other
references as available to us so that we can create better
annotated, ordered transcripts from your audio.
Provide nothing but the audio so that you have to edit the
speaker identification and order of your transcripts.
If saving files to MP3 files on your hand held recorder or
computer, use the Constant Bit Rate (CBR) format rather
than the Variable Bit Rate (VBR) format.
Saving MP3 files with Variable Bit Rate (VBR) will not
allow them to be transcribed directly because foot pedal
backspacing does not work for transcriptionists. We will
need to convert VBR MP3 files to CBR format.
Not all of these hints apply to every situation. A single-person transcription rarely has any of these possible problems.
Sometimes you cannot avoid background noise or conversations where people interrupt and talk over one another. A good
transcriptionist can help some of these situations; however, they cannot perform miracles. When you are recording
important information, especially for group discussions, it pays to invest in a good conference microphone set and
Type-thing Services can work with you or the facility in which you will record your audio to make sure it is the best it can
be for transcription. Contact us for more help!
Transcribing essential, but poor-quality dictation
In some cases you may wish to transcribe poor-quality dictation because the
content is essential. Type-thing Services will review each case individually to let
you know what we can do to provide the best quality transcription possible. Poor-
quality dictation includes those which is noisy, muffled, simultaneous overlapping
conversations, and two or more speakers recorded at greatly different volumes. In
some cases we are able to digitize and enhance the audio to remove noise or clarify
the speakers. See information on this page about digital audio files .
In such cases we will work to understand how many "indiscernible" sections are
permissible. This work is billed at an hourly rate depending on the services
needed. Rush service for poor-quality tapes, if available, is billed at rates higher than normal rush because of the large
effort and likely transcriber fatigue involved.
In large jobs where we encounter a poor-quality tape, we will often choose to not transcribe the particular tape until the
customer is contacted for guidance. In rare instances we may refuse to transcribe very poor audio because of the likely low
quality of the resulting transcription or fatigue on the transcriptionist.
Options for transcription
There are several considerations for customizing your transcripts. Here are a few common options you can discuss with
Type-thing Services normally marks parts of the transcription which cannot be heard or are
uncertain as "[indiscernible]." We will typically go back three times to try to understand
such conversation after which we mark "[indiscernible]" the words we could not hear. Type-
thing Services does this as a compromise in order to reduce your transcription costs. If
transcription of these hard-to-hear sections is of importance to you, we can spend more time
with the section or by reviewing the tape a second time.
Note that we do not use the term "Inaudible," which means you can't hear anything. We can
hear; we just can't make it out the words; hence, indiscernible is the correct usage.
Under extreme cases where hard-to-hear dictation must be recovered, we can digitize and
filter the audio to obtain the best possible material for transcription. For example, we can
subtract out the local background noise in the recording so voices can be heard. However,
this requires an additional charge for recovering the speech audio.
Let us know what you need so your transcript is useful for your purposes.
Verbatim or edited:
Includes false starts, repeated words, stutters.
Does not include "ums," "ahs."
Does not correct grammar.
Conversion of spoken English to written English.
Correction of grammar.
Does not include false starts, repeated words, or
Does not include "ums," "ahs.
Your choice of verbatim transcription or edited to written English is a choice that depends
on your use of the transcript. See "Grammar" below. You'll find many definitions of
"verbatim" and "edited" transcripts, so we'll define what we mean here.
Type-thing Services will not guess the words that may have been said in a hard-to-hear
section of your audio. We will use context of the conversation to help understand these
sections, but we will not guess at what has been said.
If requested, we can correct grammar as we transcribe. This is an extension of "Verbatim or
Edited" noted above. Quite often spoken English does not work well in written form or the
speaker may have certain grammatical errors in addition to "ums" and "ahs" which are often
used in speech. Let us know if you wish to have transcription that is verbatim or corrected
for grammar. This choice is often dependent upon the final use of the transcription.
Please let us know if the layout format of your transcription is important to you. If you're not
sure about this, we can suggest several formats based upon the number of speakers and
purpose of the final transcription. Options include paper printout margins and how multiple
speakers are identified. Most options will not affect the cost of transcription. We will
identify extra costs upon your request for special formatting.
How we provide transcription to you is also an option. We can provide printouts, electronic
files on disk, email your files, or post them to our web site so that you can download them
from the Internet (in a way others cannot access). When providing electronic files, there are
numerous file formats that we can provide. Type-thing Services uses the Microsoft Office
suite of products; however, we can provide formats such as Open Office, Wordperfect,
Macintosh files, text files, and many others. In addition, today's word processor programs
are usually able to read in many different formats, so file format is usually not a problem.
About cost to transcribe
Determining your likely cost for transcription can be confusing.
You may be faced with costs based upon amount of material
($/word, $/page, $/line, etc.), time to transcribe ($/transcriptionist-
hour, $/minute-audio), piece rate ($/tape, $/CD), or bid by the job
as requested by the customer. Different vendors may not provide
the same costing method. Technical content, amount of editing,
and quality of recording are also factors for a transcriptionist.
Type-thing Services will consider all of these methods and help
you understand what will work best for you; however, we may
only bid a job in a particular method depending on the material to
be transcribed and the consistency of the material on the tapes or
See our rates page for Type-thing Services' specific rate structure.
Here is some information about cost to transcribe that you may
wish to consider.
Audio length & time to transcribe
How long does it take to transcribe a tape or file? Typically it can take from two to six times the length of the audio to
transcribe. This large range depends on the type of material, how fast people talk, clarity of the audio, number of
speakers, clarity of the speakers. Most of the work that Type-thing Services has performed has taken 1.5 to three times the
length of the audio. Single-speaker or interview transcription with clear audio takes the least amount of time.
This information may be useful if you choose to pay your transcriptionist per hour of labor. If you choose to do this,
realize that a seasoned transcriptionist that is a fast typist will produce more per hour of labor.
Audio length & transcript pages
A rough conversion between pages and time is one standard page per minute of single-speaker audio. A standard page for
most transcription companies is 22 lines of 65 mono-spaced characters across. Type-thing currently provides 25 lines per
page, which saves you about 12 percent on your transcription bill. Single speaker presentations or interviews may often
be less than one page per minute. Group dialogues or fast-paced dialogue is usually more than one page per minute of
The cost to transcribe is also dependent on the amount of technical knowledge or editing required for transcription.
Medical transcription typically costs a bit more because of the additional skill, tools, and references needed to ensure an
accurate and usable transcript or medical note. Why is this? Because a knowledgeable transcriber will produce a higher-
quality transcript that requires less of your valuable time to edit or correct.
In a business transcript, the cost will be higher if the customer requires extensive grammatical corrections. Costs may
also be related to the amount of time required to service your staff with inquiries, special requests, and "stat" or rapid
While legal transcripts of interviews are often transcribed like business transcription ($/min), court proceedings tend to
have a wide variability in transcribed content. Therefore we prefer to charge in $/page for this because it better reflects
the actual work and amount of transcription involved.
Verbatim transcript & edited transcript
Often times this is a hidden cost or savings! Many types of documents (reports, letters) are edited as Type-thing Services
transcribes, so you're not receiving a verbatim transcript. You're obtaining a finished product or a document that requires
less editing. This saves you money because you are not charged for the words, lines, or pages that are edited out of your
transcript. You are also receiving editing in the cost of the transcript. Of course, you may want verbatim transcripts for
some applications (interviews, legal proceedings, classes, podcasts, etc.), and Type-thing Services can provide these.
Note that some transcription companies only provide you a verbatim transcript. In this case you're paying a lot more for
what you're getting. Why? You're paying for content in your transcript that will be eventually edited out. You also have
to pay an editor or edit yourself, which is an additional cost. Since Type-thing Services transcriptionists have secretarial
skills, they save you these costs.
See Options for Transcription section above for more about this topic.
Cost per line or word
When considering $/word versus $/line, make sure you know the definition of a line. Usually a line has nothing to do with
how many lines you have in your format or printout. It is often defined as a certain number of characters (usually 65)
across (which assumes a mono-type font). Type-thing Services typically provides a $/line cost for some medical
transcription and $/page cost for interviews because this has been standard in the industry; however, we can convert our
estimates to other measures if requested.
When is cost per line or word a good deal? Note that some formatted documents with many short lines could cost
significantly more on a $/page, $/line, or $/minute rate rather than a $/word rate. Be careful paying a line rate for such
documents because you'll be paying a lot for empty space. In these type of documents we suggest a $/word rate. Also
note that Type-thing Services often edits documents as they are typed for business and medical transcription. This
process significantly reduces that actual content (lines and words) so that you're not paying for a verbatim transcript that
you have to edit. This is a hidden savings at Type-thing Services and a hidden cost in verbatim transcripts you might find
A cost per line or word is easy to verify. Most word processors can count words or lines, which lets you audit your
Cost per minute
It is becoming more popular on discount transcription company websites to provide a $/minute rate for transcription.
Cost per minute is attractive because you can quickly determine your cost for transcription based upon the audio you have
in hand - even before you send it to the transcriptionist. Be careful of this convenience because it may actually cost you a
lot more in the end. Why is this? For instance, if your audio has a slow speaker, a flat rate per minute will likely cost you
more than a reasonable $/page rate.
Cost per minute may make more sense for verbatim transcripts than it does for work that you wanted edited on the fly by
the transcriptionist. Consider why you would want to pay for minutes of audio that are going to be edited out later.
For convenience, here are a few conversion factors you might be able to use to help make sense of cost to transcribe your
work. These numbers are average and exact numbers may be different for your documents.
Pages (standard page*) & audio length
0.5 to 0.75 pages / audio minute for slow speakers, some single-speaker presentations
1 page / audio minute for single speaker regular dictation
2 to 4 pages / audio minute for multiple speakers or fast-paced dialogue
Lines per page (standard page*)
22 lines / page (normal)
25 lines / page (Type-thing - 12 percent savings)
Hours labor to transcribe audio
Usually 1.5 work hours per audio hour to 3 work hours per audio hour
Up to 6 work hours per audio hour for difficult audio (that requires listening multiple times)
Words per line (standard line of 65 characters including spaces)
About 8 to 9 average words per line depending on number of blank lines in document
Characters per word
About 5.5 to 6 characters/word on average, depends on word complexity
65 characters (including spaces) per line (usually 12-point mono-spaced font)
22 lines per page (Type-thing uses 25 lines per page - 12 percent savings)
Rush or expedited transcription
Another factor in cost to transcribe is turn-around on a rush basis. While Type-thing Services can offer standard rates for
some rush or 24- to 48-hour turn around work, that is reserved for limited volume from regular or high-volume
customers. When you have an urgent unscheduled effort that is a rush, the cost for transcription increase over regular
fees. Type-thing Services offers rush service in hours to days depending on your need and our capacity. See our rates
page for standard costs.
Be careful of transcription companies that offer unlimited rush job work because you're taking a gamble. Your work has a
strong possibility of being sent overseas and transcript quality may be inferior. We've seen this happen to many
customers that come to us after having disappointing results. If you want to try this approach, send the companies
something when you're really not in a rush just to test out their quality.
Finding the best cost to transcribe
What can you do to make up your mind? Contact Type-thing Services, and we'll let you know the best way to cost your
project given the type of audio and your objectives. If you'd like to compare across vendors, you can always provide a
sample of audio and possibly finished transcript to each and ask each vendor how much that item would cost to transcribe
given a particular volume of work.
Why not use computer dictation, speech-to-text programs?
Sometimes we are asked why a person considering transcription should not simply use
one of the new and improving programs/systems for computers that type while you talk
or convert dictation to transcripts. These programs recognize your speech as you talk
into a microphone and type what you say into a document. They are becoming more
popular with the advent of speech recognition replacing typing on cell phones and
automated voicemail or teleconference transcripts.
The promise is that one would save much money in transcription costs. In fact, a
number companies have sprung up and have marketed specific systems for the medical
and legal communities, particularly around Electronic Medical Records (EMR). In
addition, you will find that some EMR providers put digital dictation through a speech
recognition system before it is given to a transcriptionists in a role called a "speech
Our quick answer:
Most individual professionals should not yet use speech-to-text. Not only are
these programs not yet accurate enough, you must spend more time on three
things: (1) You usually must talk slower and spend time training the system.
(2) You have to correct the errors the program makes. (3) You have to be
your own secretary - correcting the errors you make, know proper grammar,
spelling, formatting, etc. Most times spoken English is not as it will be
written. Transcriptionists take care of this for you.
Reality creeps in where large organizations are requiring staff, due to hope of lowering costs, to utilize speech
recognition systems. Often this is tied to a move towards electronic medical records where the EMR
company bundles speech recognition as an "extra added value." This is a ticking timebomb where errors in
the transcription may cause problems in medical care. Type-thing can provide Speech Recognition Editing
to assist in this process.
The longer answer is that choices should be a matter of cost and convenience. If the total cost to the dictator or
organization is less using such text-to-speech systems, then they should use them. Our experience is that these systems
are not yet sophisticated enough to pay for themselves, and may actually cost professionals and hospitals more due to
their ongoing time investment. There is no doubt that in the future these systems will be excellent, but for practical
dictation, these systems have a long way to go. In a number of cases the hasty move to an immature technology lines the
technology company pockets at the expense of the medical community. We have seen and learned of examples where
professionals take more time with this technology and see less patients as well as have lower quality notes. Here's what
Type-thing Services does not use speech recognition for its transcription work. Why? Because even if the accuracy of
the process was fairly high (and it never is - we explore it periodically), we would have to listen to the whole audio to
verify the transcript was correct. On top of that, we would have to edit your spoken word to something fitting for your
needs. We often do that on the fly while listening to dictation. All of this editing a recognition transcript can take longer
than just doing it from scratch.
You might also be interested in a well-referenced article "Rest in Peas: The Unrecognized Death of Speech Recognition,"
by Robert Fortner, that argues there are multiple barriers for good-accuracy speech-to-text systems. The show that
accuracy has not improved in speech recognition software since about the year 1999. For limited uses like dialing a cell
phone it might work, but for transcripts there are problems.
Studies have shown that speech recognition plus human editors are less efficient than a traditional transcriptionist. (e.g.,
"Speech Recognition as a Transcription Aid: A Randomized Comparison With Standard Transcription," J Am Med Inform
Assoc. 2003 Jan-Feb; 10(1): 85–93.) That document concludes "speech recognition did not improve the productivity of
secretaries or transcriptionists." In fact, this study said there was a loss in that speech recognition reduced efficiencies of
medical transcription to 87 percent of a transcriptionist alone! On the other hand, technology is likely to improve. But
When making a decision consider the following points:
Costs more overall
Why should a highly-paid professional spend time sitting in front of a computer editing their text, continually
retraining the program for new words and names? Time is money and, at least today, text-to-speech programs seem
to take time away from the professional. Some systems allow you to talk into a dictation machine; however, you
must still worry about the points below.
One option being used is to employ a "speech recognition editor" or "voice recognition editor" to listen to the audio
while editing the text from the speech recognition system. Type-thing can provide a speech recognition editing
service as needed; however, the value of the recognition engine is dubious. If the engine is not excellent and the
dictator cooperative, it can take as much or more time to edit the text as transcribing the original audio.
You must talk clearly and enunciate each word. The programs are getting better, but you cannot slur your speech,
talk extremely fast, etc. The surrounding must be quiet, not a noisy room, lobby, or car. Multiple people cannot be
talking around you or in the dictation.
Do you speak like you write? Quality transcription is more than speech recognition!
Transcription involves punctuation, grammar, and formatting at the least. Spoken English is vastly different from
written English. You may be surprised at how unstructured spoken English appears when typed. When requested,
we regularly correct our clients spoken English into professionally appearing written transcripts. With speech-to-
text programs, you will have to train yourself to speak in written English form. Some EMR systems require the
medical professional to call out punctuation! This is not the only problem. Many of our clients do not always
speak in an ordered linear format from beginning to end. Part way through a dictation, they will remember
something that should be inserted elsewhere in the final product. With a human transcriptionist, you only have to
give direction and the content for this to be accommodated. With a speech-to-text program, you end up spending
Are you a secretary?
Once you have your transcript in the computer, do you know all the rules of
grammar, spelling, formatting, etc.? If you do, great. Now waste your
valuable time performing such an administrative function. Is your staff
going to edit the transcript? If so, great. Do they have good secretarial skills
that will produce letters, reports, and documents that present the
professionalism you need?
Train, train, train...
Although these programs are getting better all the time, they are not yet like the science fiction portrayals of
computers recognizing you talk. The programs today cannot recognize speech from every person; they must be
"trained." Even after they are "trained," they will make occasional errors, and will almost always not understand
uncommon words, new words, or new names. You must train them at least once each time such words arise.
Not for groups or poor quality recordings
Even if the computer can understand one person speaking clearly, it cannot yet even attempt to untangle a transcript
of multiple speakers, sometimes talking at once, often in noisy conditions, some talking quietly, some talking
One day computer technology will allow natural speech transcription, editing, grammar checking, etc., at least for an
individual speaker, and at least for practical dictation. That day does not appear to be here. However, if you like new
technology, go out and purchase the relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf software ($100 to $400) and try it. If you are
considering one of the medical or legal systems being offered by new companies, try before you buy. We've known
several practices that have tried these systems, only to come back to a professional transcriptionist.
How do we know? Not only do we talk to a lot of people requiring transcription and considering speech-to-text programs,
we have tried this software ourselves as a way to increase our productivity. We have seen multiple medical professionals
and hospitals be duped into a technology that is not yet ready.
Transcription and Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
Electronic Medical Records are electronic, computer-based records for tracking care from medical providers. They are a
good thing--offering the promise of each person's medical record being available instantly to the providers of their
choice when they need care, as opposed to paper files that take days or weeks to transfer. There are many benefits, but
other issues exist in this transformation such as privacy concerns a number of problems around medical transcription.
Should we eliminate transcription with the advent of EMR?
The quick answer is that it seems from current press that manual data entry (from lists or by typing) of care providers
can take more time than transcription and reduce the quantity of patients that can be seen. There is no need to eliminate
transcription. Transcribers can easily provide electronic forms of transcription in any needed format. The question is
whether or not EMR manufacturers and the institutions that use them will allow that to happen--integrate independent
transcription with their EMR systems.
Some providers have taken a giant leap and move completely away from transcription. This is likely due to the EMR
system developers trying to cash in on as many "extras" as they can in the EMR process, and promise increased
efficiency along the way. Some benefits exists, but from our observation, many of these EMR providers may have little
incentive to easily accept transcription from external transcribers. One method used is a voice recognition system. This
is unlikely to work well alone, but may be better with Speech Recognition Editing. Another is a system where medical
staff have to type some information and use check boxes to fill out others. It may work in some disciplines; however, we
have seen this approach cause extreme decrease in efficiency and morale of medical practitioners forced to use this
approach. In such cases medical practitioners need to demand ways to incorporate external transcription into the EMR
system. It's not that hard.
How can Type-thing Services transcription be incorporated into EMR?
Type-thing services will work with you as needed to submit your transcription in electronic format to your EMR system.
Because EMR is new, it has been a wild west frontier environment where there are many different systems. Contact us
and we'll work with you to find out how we can customize and integrate with your EMR process or we'll tell you if it's
not possible. We are able to provide HL7 CDA (Clinical Document Architecture) format information. We can also
arrange to have secure remote access to your EMR and insert transcription directly. We can provide Speech Recognition
Editing to refine your voice recognition files.
Is 24-hour Turnaround Possible or Reliable?
While 24-hour turnaround, or 24-hour transcription, is possible and can be reliable, be
careful about what you're obtaining, especially when starting a new relationship with a
Every quality transcription company has limited staff to transcribe your materials. Type-
thing Services offers 24-hour to 48-hour turn around to regular customers for which we
can schedule or set aside transcription time for their regular work flow. In addition, we
offer such service at rush rates (hours to days with volume) to others only if we know we
can meet that customer's deadline.
From our experience, claims of unlimited 24-hour service often indicates that your
transcription is being sent overseas, which has a number of implications. See "Is off-shore transcription worth it?"
section for other opinions on that topic.
When you obtain commitment for 24-hour turn around, remember that agreement should dependent upon your regular
work volume. If you send in a week's worth of your dictation all at once, that surge may cause delays beyond the agreed
upon delivery time-frame. Call Type-thing Services to understand what turn-around is possible on your work.