editing speech

If you listen carefully to a general conversation between two people for any length of time you will begin to realise that there is a lot of verbal clutter in there that we automatically filter out. There will be hesitations, ‘um’s and ‘ah’s; there will be sentences that start but don’t go anywhere and there will be changes of thought mid-sentence. The same is true for most research interviews and focus groups, although obviously not necessarily for a more polished performance such as a seminar, conference or televised interview.

For this reason a good transcriptionist will ask you what sort of transcription you need if you are looking to have a spoken audio recording transcribed into the written word. You may find that the costs differ quite significantly, depending on the type of transcription you are asking for. There are three main types of transcript:

Complete verbatim

In this case the transcriptionist will write down every single thing said, exactly as it is said, all the ‘um’s, ‘er’s, ‘you know’s. When a sentence is started three times in different ways as the speaker works out what he or she wants to say, every word will make it down onto the page as will every laugh, pause and nervous giggle.

You may think this is probably the easiest way to transcribe, but it is actually the most difficult and, in terms of charges, will cost you the most. In this case the transcriptionist is working against their natural tendency to filter out all the junk which means that it is harder work and takes longer to notice every single stutter.

I have often spoken to clients who think that this is the type of transcription that they want, but to be honest, unless you are studying the particular use of language or dialect, or if you need the transcription for legal reasons, there is little benefit to it.

Intelligent verbatim

This is actually the most common type of transcription. The transcriptionist will still include any unfinished sentences or changes of thought; the use of any idioms or colloquialisms, but leave out all the hesitations and fillers such as ‘you know what I mean?’ This makes the transcription tidier and easier to read without losing the original feel of it. It also reduces the cost of transcription quite significantly.

Edited transcription

In an edited transcription the transcriptionist really tidies the work up. All repeated words and half sentences are taken out, contractions such as ‘ain’t’ are rephrased into more grammatically correct language and convoluted sentences can be shortened or broken up into different sentences to aid ease of reading.

This style is useful where a more polished transcription is required, perhaps for the purposes of publishing the proceedings of a conference or an interview or seminar.

To give you an idea of the three styles in action:

Complete verbatim: I mean, I… um, I ain’t… no, I ain’t never tried no snowboarding. I never really ‘ad the chance, did I? You know what I mean?

Intelligent verbatim: I mean I ain’t never tried no snowboarding. I never really had the chance, did I?

Edited: I’ve never tried snowboarding, I’ve never really had the chance.

If you are thinking of getting someone to transcribe an audio recording for you, it’s worth deciding exactly what sort of transcription you need before approaching anyone to do the work for you.

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