Expectations vs Reality in the Transcription Industry

The sudden boom of remote work during the pandemic has led to massive shifts in the workforce dynamic. Interest in work-from-home jobs is at an all-time high. Forbes’ “Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2023” article claims that 98% of employees interviewed by Buffer.com prefer to work remotely at least some time. Transcription is near the forefront of this movement with its pure remote setup, flexible schedules, and scalable workloads. Businesses are scrambling to get transcription services due to its multitude of benefits, further boosting the industry. 

However, it’s essential to temper assumptions with a dose of truth. Or, as the movie 500 Days of Summer aptly puts it, we need to compare expectations vs reality. Clients may be signing up for year-long contracts with some transcription providers expecting one thing only to be shocked to find that’s not how it goes. So, let us clear up some common misconceptions.

Analyzing Expectations and Reality In Transcription

I’ve been around the transcription industry for a while now and even longer in publishing. I saw how the digital evolution changed how we do things—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Transcription is not new, however, many industries are only now starting to use it. That’s why it’s essential to set expectations with clients before partnering with them—and we will do that right now. 

Expectation: An hour-long recording will take an hour to transcribe.

This seems pretty obvious. It’s just typing what you’re hearing! One plus one equals two, and nothing could be easier! So, if you send out an hour-long lecture, it should take an hour to convert it to text, right? 

Reality: It takes three to four times longer to transcribe audio. 

I don’t recall who told me this, however, I still think they owe me an apology. I quickly learned that transcribing audio generally takes three times or even longer than the file’s length. And that’s assuming the audio recording is butter-smooth, done in the best circumstances, with no issues. Unfortunately, communication is a messy thing. Various components and factors in the source audio file can affect the transcription time and make it even longer to transcribe. 

Multiple speakers, for one thing, can make it difficult to determine who’s who and when they’re speaking. You can mostly see these in a podcast or other entertainment content, which are notorious for this since they often feature several people with overlapping conversations. 

There’s also the issue of accent and dialect. To illustrate, there are over 30 major English dialects in the U.S. It can make it hard for transcriptionists to transcribe content with unfamiliar accents, even if they come from the same state or general area. Then there’s how fast people talk. The average speed of speech in the U.S. States is 5.09 syllables per second (sps) or 100-130 words per minute (wpm). 

There are also several proofreading and error-checking rounds once the transcript is done. Once I complete the transcript, I listen to it again to check if everything is correct and then pass it on to a second Quality Assurance editor in my office, who will do the same. A second party that has not been working on the transcript is crucial because their fresh eyes may find mistakes I have missed. All of this is essential to maintain our 99% accuracy guarantee. 

Expectation: All transcriptionists need to do is type fast. 

When others think of transcriptionists, they often imagine expert typists pounding away on keyboards at eye-watering speeds, creating the impression that being fast is the only thing that matters in the job. And since they’re experts, that means they do type fast. Hence, transcription should be cheap and fast.

Reality: Speed and accuracy are non-negotiable.            

Let’s be real: typing fast is a good skill since we use smart devices daily. Congratulations if you’re among the few people who can transcribe 100-wpm voice recordings in a minute! For the rest of us mortals, though, we need a reasonable amount of time to transcribe accurately.

In transcription, it’s not about how fast you type, it’s how well you listen and how fast you type. Sure, I can type fast, covering a lot of lines in a short time, and this is also how mistakes happen. There have been countless times when our transcriptionists have been flying through a recording and needed to go back to fix phrases that were said or words that were spelled wrong. 

I’ve also dealt with transcriptionists who could type almost as fast as automated transcription. However, their results are often full of errors and ultimately useless. Yes, there are deadlines, and sometimes, it’s easy to overlook the accuracy aspect of transcription. However, learning to balance working quickly and working with accuracy is something we’ve learned to embrace when doing transcription work.

This is something that clients need to be aware of. Some of them look at our rush 24-hour turnaround time and say, “That’s too long,” and then notice how much it costs, and they say, “That’s too expensive.” In reality, 24 hours is relatively fast for manual transcription, and much work is required to convert audio to a polished and accurate written text file. 

Expectation: Transcription is really easy work.

Imagine sitting at home, typing while listening to somebody drone on about a medical meeting or something similar. You don’t need to answer phone calls; you can take breaks whenever possible. So, as a client, you don’t get why it takes between 24 hours and 10 days to get your transcripts. 

Reality: It’s not as easy as it looks.            

Look, I understand. We make transcription look easy— it’s really not. 

Transcription, like any work, may get easier over time, and we have hundreds and thousands of hours of collective experience here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy all the time. Hearing and documenting what you have heard for hours is not easy. We often get half-finished documents from customers who have tried—and failed—to transcribe recordings. That’s how hard it is. 

There is also a great deal of research that goes into each transcription. Fact-checking the name of every place, person, and other terminologies to ensure that everything is correct dramatically improves accuracy, however, it takes a lot of time and effort. If you think that’s easy in today’s “everything is online” environment, consider this:

If someone mentions the name of a restaurant they went to 20 years ago that closed ten years ago, it’s my responsibility to look it up and get the correct spelling. 

These occasional stops to properly create an accurate transcript can also affect productivity, as not everyone is used to jumping from transcription to research in the blink of an eye. 

Additionally, different clients and audiences sometimes request different formats. So, after transcribing voice recordings and checking for errors, we must match existing format guidelines before sending them to the client. 

Then there are specializations. Various industries often have their own terminologies, which any transcriptionist looking to deliver accurate transcripts must be familiar with. 

The legal industry is notorious for using legalese, a form of communication with rules different from regular English, and often employs difficult, infrequently used words. To top it all off, lawyers and judges use Latin phrases in their daily tasks. 

The healthcare industry is another example with its tongue-twisting prescription drug names, abbreviations, and the infamous doctor’s handwriting for document-to-document transcription. 

Transcribers train with different specializations for years to produce transcripts accurately and efficiently, and transcription service providers like us hire only the best we can find to offer our clients the highest quality. So, again—not easy. 

Expectation: Working from home is always, always great. 

People think that working from home is great all the time. There is no need to wake up early and commute; all your tools are at home, and you can receive assignments and send your output via email or the company’s online platform (provided you have access to it). This was the solution to the pandemic, so why not continue doing it?

Reality: Working from home is not for everyone. 

Barrero, Bloom, and Davis’s paper, “The Evolution of Working from Home,” stated that nearly 13% of Americans work from home full-time, while nearly 28% enjoy a hybrid work model. The numbers are clear: Remote work is here to stay. 

Despite the apparent benefits, remote work setup is not for everyone. Therefore, transcription is not for everyone. Even if you meet the skill requirements, typing speeds, accuracy levels, and experience in different fields, working at home might not be your best choice. 

Some people—specifically those who can be productive without anyone watching and can adhere to strict guidelines—may thrive in work-from-home setups. 

However, those who like to connect with people in office environments and appreciate the presence of others—coworkers bustling about, engaging with teammates, water cooler conversations. the occasional check-in with the supervisor—will have a hard time with remote work. They’ll have to be by themselves for several hours a day, which has been found to exacerbate certain mental health conditions for some people. It can be hard to separate work from home life. 

One friend told me recently that he doesn’t like working remotely because it feels like he’s “bringing the battlefield to his home.” 

The science behind this topic is still hazy. Data is still being collected, and several studies suggest different conclusions. 

Our responsibility as a transcription service company doesn’t end with sending clients completed transcripts. We also take care of our transcriptionists. We regularly contact them to ensure everything is fine and ask if they need assistance. Like transcription, working from home may look easy on the surface, however, it also comes with challenges.

It’s All About Perspective

There are a lot of misconceptions and comments about working in the transcription industry, and I hope that my view has cleared up some of them. Again, transcription is not an easy job; clients should know how it goes on our side of the fence so proper expectations are set.

Ditto Transcripts is a Denver, Colorado-based transcription services company that provides fast, accurate, and affordable transcripts for individuals and companies of all sizes. Call (720) 287-3710 today for a free quote, and ask about our free five-day trial.

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