General Transcription Rules Every Transcriber Must Know

Transcribing audio or video files comes with a set of challenges. Each type of transcription has its own set of guidelines that every transcriber (new and old) must adhere to. Sometimes, in their desire to make a perfect (or near-perfect) transcript, they tend to forget the basic rules.

Transcribers who are just getting started should first learn the basic rules that can be applied to any type of transcription style.

If you are a transcriber, forget about verbatim, non-verbatim, filler words, and other transcription jargons for now.

What you need to learn and remember are the basic rules that will guide you through your transcription work.

Regardless of your skill level or expertise, you need to build a strong foundation in transcription so that it would be easier to follow specific rules of the transcription projects.

As you probably know, not all projects are the same. Each of them has specific requirements and conditions. Before you wade through those confusing and sometimes contradicting rules, you must first understand the very basic rules of transcription.

Every transcription company has its own additional rules but when it comes to the basics, transcription companies tend to agree on the basics.

As a transcriber, you must adhere to the company guidelines and meet the minimum requirements. Otherwise, your work will be rejected.

Imagine spending hours transcribing an hour-long audio file only to be rejected? That is devastating and we don’t want that to happen to any of our transcribers. Your time is important and we want you to meet the requirements and get paid for your hard work.

But sometimes, there are a number of mistakes in a transcript that render the work unusable. This is what we call “not client-ready”.

When a transcript is not client-ready, it means that there is a lack of understanding of the style guide as well as the basic rules. Add carelessness and lack of attention to details and you got yourself a disaster waiting to happen.

Transcripts that are not usable, will either be sent back to you for a redo or be assigned to other transcribers. It’s up to the project leader to decide on this. In any case, it’s not a position you want to be in.

To help you develop a strong foundation in transcription work, here are the basic rules that every transcriber must follow:

1. Transcribe what you hear as they are spoken.

Accuracy is extremely important in transcription. Type only the words, phrases, and sentences that are spoken in the audio file you are transcribing. Even if there are grammatical errors, you must fight the urge to correct them.

2. Never omit words or phrases that you don’t understand.

There’s a tendency to omit words that are difficult to understand. There are tags to be used when words or phrases are unintelligible or inaudible. Instead of omitting, use the correct tags accordingly.

3. The default language is American English unless stated otherwise.

Most audio files are in US English so the rules of US English grammar must be followed. This includes applying proper capitalization, spelling, and punctuation.

Sometimes there are files in British English or Australian English. If this is the case, the spelling of some words will be different.

For example:

Colour (British) vs. Color (American)

Fibre (British) vs. Fiber (American)

Analyse (British) vs. Analyze (American)

It will all depend on the requirements. Always ask before you start working so that you don’t make mistakes in spelling.

4. Do not use phonetics or shortcuts.

While it may be easier and faster to shorten words like using “u” for ‘you” while you are transcribing, they should not be used. You must use the actual words in their correct spelling.

5. Do not paraphrase.

Transcribe what is spoken. You are not doing a book summary or a synopsis. The point of transcription is to be accurate and complete. Once you paraphrase, the cardinal rule is broken. Don’t rearrange the words or simplify them.

6. Do not correct the speaker’s grammar.

Even if there are glaring mistakes in the speaker’s grammar, resist the urge to correct them. Just type the sentences as they are spoken.

7. Don’t add information in the transcripts.

Some transcribers leave notes or comments in the transcript. Other than the required tags, refrain from adding unnecessary information. This will not help the editor. It’s added work to delete them from the transcript. If you have questions, send them using the right channels.

8. Strict verbatim includes every word and sound from the speaker.

When you are assigned a strict verbatim transcription, you have to include the speaker’s every word and utterance. All the filler words, false starts, repetitions, self-corrections, verbal tics, and non-speech sounds must be included. It’s a lot of work and it’s time-consuming, but somebody has got to do it. Strict verbatim is all about accuracy and completeness. Readability is not the main requirement.

9. Follow the transcription format.

Transcription companies follow a general transcription format. There are rules on how to write the time, date, numbers, currency, country codes, and telephone numbers. They must be followed unless the client prefers a different format. If the client sends a specific format, this will supersede the company’s general transcription format. Always ask for clarification if you are unsure.

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