Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · Writing

11 Secrets to Transcribe Audio to Text

In today’s modern world of technology, you’d think that transcribing an audio file into text would be a cinch, a no-brainer. The computer would do all the work for you, and you’d sit back and sip on a cool drink and relax—not so! Transcribing audio to text is quite squirrely at best. I just finished transcribing 37 interviews—well over 40 hours of conversation with Marshall Flippo for his biography. Some one hour interviews took over seven hours to transcribe because of various issues. I’d like to share my frustrations, my pain and my process.

I have arthritis in my thumbs and right index finger so the transcription became a painful chore. I had lots of suggestions from welling mean friends along the way to help me, and I tried them all:

  • Have it professionally transcribed
    • I searched out several sites on the Internet where it could be done technically.
    • I hired a professional transcriber.
  • Google Docs has an audio to text capability, so I ran a couple interviews through it.
  • Microsoft Word has an audio to text capability. Again, I ran a couple interviews through it.
  • My voice came out loud and clear on the audio and worked perfectly on Google Docs & Microsoft Word, so I listened to Flippo then repeated back to these two programs—time consuming for sure.

I tried all of these obvious solutions, but Flippo’s soft spoken Texas drawl was impossible for a professional or a machine to understand. So, in the end, I transcribed over 258,000 words when I finished.

Now I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I’d like to share it with you.

What did I learn in the process?

  1. BACK UP OF AUDIOS: At the end of each interview, IMMEDIATELY, I exported the interview to DropBox. I also backed up my Marshall Flippo folder on DropBox and my laptop on a thumbdrive on a weekly basis. Lastly, I have asbackup program on my laptop that makes backups throughout the day.
  2. I bought Voice Recorder for an iPad. (FREE; Don’t remember what the upgrade price is) http://www.tapmedia.co.uk/voicerecorder-support.htm
    1. It would do a cursory transcription of the first 10 minutes. I used that on interviews from caller friends who told me stories about Flippo, but again it wouldn’t work on his soft voice.
  3. I bought ExpressScribe software for a Mac. ($40) https://www.nch.com.au/scribe/index.html
    1. ExpressScribe plays the audio and has a simple word processor to type the transcription in, all in one app.
    2. Whenever I stopped the audio, it rewound a few seconds to make it easy to find where I was.
    3. In the midst of this project, I had eye surgery on my right eye, so I had trouble seeing font size 10 in the word processor in ExpressScribe, so I learned to magnify the window on my Mac which was an easy fix: Hold down 2 Keys: Fn & Control and using 2 fingers on the track pad, move it up to zoom in and move down to zoom out.
  4. Any time I stopped transcribing, I copied and pasted text from ExpressScribe into Scrivener’s.
    1. In Scrivener’s, I created “Comments” on anything I didn’t understand in the transcription to return to later.
  5. When I finished each transcription, I exported the notes into a file in DropBox.
  6. Watch your laughter, responses and talking over the speaker. We truly had an ongoing conversation over the 37 hours. Flippo told a story; I laughed. I responded to his humor and his stories, but in my enthusiasm, I guffawed right over his next statement. Or we talked over each other. His words being the most important and the softest disappeared with mine being secondary and the loudest. Think about your laughter, responses and habitual talking habits beforehand to control them during the interview.
  7. Add Nuances—Whenever Flippo giggled, I put (Giggles), so when I was writing the biography later I would make sure to add is giggles and laughter to the story. He sang some of his responses, so I noted that. Be sure and note anything you hear in the transcription that you will want to add to the book later. Listen to his cadence, his pronunciation—his personality in voice and make note of it in the transcription.
  8. Hard to Understand Sections—Most of my audio was great, but there were times I had trouble understanding Flippo.
    1. Rewound and slowed the audio play down to 75% or increased it to 105%. Often this helped.
    2. In my transcription documents, I timestamped any spots that are hard to understand so I could easily return.
  9. Each time I stopped transcribing, I marked where we stopped in my notes of that interview with a timestamp.
  10. Organize your interviews beforehand by themes or topics.
    1. A friend told me before I started that Flippo would try to hijack the interviews, and he did quite often.  I didn’t organize all the interviews with a theme, and after transcribing, I realized I had made my job harder in the next step of putting the interviews into chapters.
    2. Granted the organic fluidity of conversation was important, and he told lots of stories he wouldn’t have if I’d been super-rigid about this, but some organization would have helped in the long run.
  11. BIG PLUS—I realized early into the transcribing process that it was to my advantage to hear Flippo’s voice again, go over the details again and submerge myself in his voice and personality in a different way. When I was recording him, I took notes and focused on capturing as much on paper as I could. In transcribing, I had the luxury of listening to him, his voice, and the nuances and made note of them in a different ways.
Flippo and me at CALLERLAB 2018 in Albuquerque

The work is done—whew! I love the interaction Flippo and I enjoyed in the interviews. The transcription, by far, has been the hardest part of this project. Now, I’m ready to actually write the book which is exciting and rewarding.

I hope my suggestions help you in transcribing any interviews you do.

Check out my web site at https://www.laradasbooks.com

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