To produce perfect transcripts of interviews and focus groups, you need:
suitable audio transcription equipment
accurate touch-typing skills
excellent hearing and listening skills
excellent knowledge of spelling and punctuation
follow the On Time Typing 3-point plan for perfect transcripts.
You need an audio transcription program. I've been using Olympus DSS Player Pro for many years and always recommend that program to aspiring audio transcriptionists. I also recommend you buy it from ABC Dictation (in Sydney) because they have excellent customer service. In the past I have used other programs; the best of these was FTR (For The Record).
Unless you're buying Olympus DSS Player Pro or FTR, make sure you do a bit of research to make sure the program you're considering has a good reputation. Make sure it's compatible with all the usual file formats so that different types of audio files can simply be imported into the software, rather than first having to convert them into compatible formats.
The Olympus DSS Player Pro comes with a very good quality set of headphones and footpedal. Watch out for those audio transcription programs that are offered for 'free download' on the internet. And an audio transcription program is not much good to anyone without a compatible footpedal, not to mention a set of good headphones and I think you'll find that once you've downloaded the software, you'll then need to purchase a set of headphones, and a footpedal that's compatible with that transcription program.
Just in case anyone is thinking of attempting to transcribe some recordings without buying the right equipment, take it from me: don't do it. Long ago, before I was a transcriptionist, I'd recorded a couple of oral histories and needed them typed up. I did this by placing the recorder by my side and pressing 'play', 'rewind', 'play' etc. as I typed; an extremely time consuming and laborious process. I had to go through the transcripts several times to get them accurate and by the time I had finished I vowed 'never again!' A bit later on, I had more interviews to transcribe but this time I went out and bought an audio transcription program (which, by the way, set me on the path to becoming an audio transcriptionist). So my advice to anyone who needs to transcribe something, whether it's their own audio recordings or someone else's, is this: either get the right equipment, or pay someone else to do it for you.
Although you don't need to be able to type at 100 words per minute, a working transcriptionist needs to be able to type at least 80 words per minute with pretty good accuracy.
You need to be able to touch-type; that is, type without glancing down at the keys. Whilst you're listening to what is being said in the recording (via your earphones) you need to be simultaneously typing what is being said and, at the same time, reading what you are typing on the computer screen and correcting mistakes (such as misheard words) as you go.
And you need to be accurate. If you make a few mistakes as you type that's not the end of the worlds as long as you have a good eye for detail so that you can spot any inaccuracies that do occur, such as typos, missing or extra spaces, and fix them as you type.
Your hearing needs to be excellent. You need to be good at hearing not only when people are talking to one another (which usually includes some interruption) but also when there are other conversations going on in the background, and you are trying to transcribe the people's discussion in the foreground. You need to be able to transcribe accurately when there are air conditioners or car engines or other machines humming or roaring away in the background.
In addition, you need to be able to listen, and I mean really listen so that you understand what people are saying because you have to comprehend the meaning and context of people's comments in order to accurately transcribe what they are saying. You also need to be able to understand what people are saying when they don't speak English well or speak with a very strong accent and to do this, you need a bit of experience in talking to or transcribing people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The purpose of correct spelling and punctuation is to make the meaning of the text as clear as possible.
As spelling and punctuation are written, not verbal, tools, your job as transcriptionist is not only to accurately transcribe the words that are spoken; it's also to make sure all the spelling is correct and that the text is punctuated 1) to accurately reflect the statements and intent of the person speaking, and 2) so that the text is as easy to read and understand as possible. With the right punctuation and presentation, even rambling focus group conversations involving multiple interruptions and red-herring comments can be presented as clear, easy-to-read transcripts.
Note: you should always type exactly what is said, even when people use incorrect grammar, so that the transcript accurately reflects the comments that have been made. A transcriptionist should only correct the wording of transcripts where 1) they are transcribing dictation (which usually needs some editing), or 2) they have been asked to edit the transcripts to improve clarity.
I will be discussing the 3-point plan for producing perfect transcripts in a future article.
Sally-Anne Watson Kane has over 20 years' experience recording research interviews and oral histories; transcribing audio recordings of interviews, focus groups, meetings, seminars and other events; and editing and proofreading transcripts.
Keep posted for future articles about how to record interviews/focus groups and produce accurate transcripts.