What is Audio Transcription?

Audio Transcription is the process of converting speech from an audiovisual source to a written text format. The input audio could be from any source and might contain both words and non-words audio information.

The audio transcription process thus always demands some form of audio input and produces the corresponding textual information as output. Transcription can be done either manually or with the help of speech recognition software.

Etymology

The term ‘Audio transcription’ is a combination of two words: audio and transcription. Audio is particularly used to refer to recorded sound or sound signal transmissions and is derived from the Latin word, ‘audire’, which means ‘to hear’.

Transcription is derived from another Latin word ‘transcribere’, which means to copy, write, or transfer writing.

Combining these two words archives the meaning of transferring audio to a written form which is exactly what audio transcription means.

What is not an Audio Transcription?

Audio transcription could sometimes be mistaken as either translation or as transliteration. It is important to note the difference between these three closely related terms.

Tip:

Modern speech recognition systems need human input in the form of datasets.

Audio Datasets & Voice Datasets

Translation vs. Transcription

The difference between translation and transcription is quite straightforward.

While audio transcription converts audio to a written format, translation changes input audio or text to a different language. Translation involves two languages, whereas transcription is strictly limited to the source language.

Another notable difference is that transcription applies only to speech or audio content, whereas translation is applied to written and spoken content.

Transliteration vs. Transcription

Transliteration is the process of converting written information from one script to another. But transcription converts speech into writing. But there are some instances when transcription and transliteration could be mistaken to be the same. For instance, when you try to transcribe audio spoken in a foreign language to a script of a different language, it might seem like both transcription and transliteration are being carried out. But there is a sharp difference between the two processes.

Transcription converts the speech into either English or a foreign language, and the output has actual words from the corresponding language. Whereas in transliteration, the output will be in the script you choose but might not make sense in the language it is written. It is like writing Russian using the Latin script. 

Here is an example that demonstrates the differences between these three processes:

  • Translation:

Consider an input word, ‘Hello’

Translation to French: Bonjour

  • Transliteration:

Input word: नमस्ते

Transliterating to English: namaste

  • Transcription:

Unlike transliteration and translation, transcription is only applied when audio input is involved.

History of Audio Transcription

Transcription was used as a form of documentation as early as 3400 BCE. Important information, such as history, stories, law, and accounting details, were recorded by scribes onto various written media such as tablets, papyrus scrolls, and more. The ancient hieroglyphics found in the Egyptian pyramids and tombs are all a form of audio transcription where the information recited by someone was recorded by a scribe.

Transcription was also used by religious leaders and scholars to pass down oral traditions and scientific findings to the next generation. Transcription existed and flourished across various civilizations all over the globe as a way to pass information down from one generation to another. The job of a scribe requires extensive education and practice to master their scripting skills.

With the invention of the printing press in 1439, transcription services started to evolve. People could access printed texts more, and the role of scribes was solely relegated to creating first copies or recording audio information. Many scribes adapted shorthand techniques to note down oral information at a rapid pace. This change in transcription practices gave rise to stenography which is still in use today.

The next big step in transcription came with the invention of the typewriter in 1867, followed by computers with their word processing applications, which made transcription much faster and more efficient.

And currently, advanced AI applications have also made it possible to transcribe audio information automatically without needing a human scribe. 

Types of Audio Transcriptions

Audio transcription could be classified into various types depending on various factors. Based on when the audio is transcribed, you can classify it as either live audio or recorded audio transcription

Live Audio Transcription

As mentioned earlier, historically, audio transcription was used to transcribe real-time human speech to text. This means the scribe actively listened to and wrote the speech in real-time, just as the speech was made. This kind of live audio transcription is still carried out during several events and occasions, such as during court proceedings, classroom lectures while writing down meeting minutes, and so on.

Recorded Audio Transcription

During a recorded audio transcription, the scribe uses a recorded audio or audiovisual file to listen to and transcribe the content into text format. While both analog and digital recordings can be used, nowadays, audio is mostly shared in the form of digital files.

Based on the method used, it can be termed manual or automated audio transcription.

  • Manual

Manual audio transcription is carried out by a human scribe who actively listens to the audio or audiovisual content and transcribes it into a textual format.

The scribe could use different techniques and tools to transcribe the audio. But it involves their active participation and careful dissemination of the input audio.

  • Automated

Automated audio transcriptions are carried out with the help of an automated software tool without active participation by a scribe. We can easily convert audio files to corresponding textual data using advanced technology such as AI-based speech-to-text conversion applications. Many online services and software tools provide both live and recorded audio transcriptions. These tools provide quicker solutions but may not always have the same accuracy as the manual transcription process.

Based on the type of processing carried out while transcription, it can be classified into the following types:

  • Verbatim transcription

Verbatim transcription is the strictest type of transcription where everything the speaker says is all transcribed, including non-words, fillers, and any other type of sounds made by the speaker. It includes verbal and non-verbal communication in the audio, including the background noises. Verbatim transcription, more accurate about the context and surrounding information, is used in complex scenarios such as legal work, movies, commercials, etc.

  • Edited transcription

Edited transcription is a lenient form of verbatim transcription where the words spoken are all preserved just as the speakers speak. But unnecessary non-verbal information and non-words are edited to make for a cleaner and easy-to-read transcript. It is the most commonly used form of transcription and is applied in many cases, such as publishing conference recordings, public speeches, seminars, and so on.

  • Intelligent transcription

Intelligent transcription focuses on delivering the meaning behind the audio content and thus allows the transcribers more flexibility. Transcribers may edit or rephrase sentences to make the transition more readable, concise, and easy to follow. Repetitive sentences, redundant words, irrelevant content, and bad grammar in the original speech may all be rectified or removed in the output transcript.

This type of transcription is used in cases where legibility is preferred, such as transcribing a business meeting, classroom lectures, interviews, and so on. The resulting documents are easy to understand and share among the stakeholders.

  • Phonetic transcription

A phonetic transcription is a specialized form of transcription where the transcription notes how the speech is delivered. Pronunciation, intonation, tone of the content, and the various sounds included in the audio are all annotated in the transcript.

Hence phonetic transcriptions may require additional information to decipher the transcript and are carried out by experienced scribes who can infer the subtle differences in sounds and are skilled in the phonetic alphabets. This type of transcription is often used for analysis purposes in academic or expert linguistic projects.

Benefits and Advantages of Audio Transcription

Audio transcription is used in a wide range of industries and domains. It is majorly used as a form of documentation and thus finds use in legal work, healthcare, businesses, academic research, and learning.

Here are some of the benefits of utilizing audio transcription:

  • Improved accessibility

By providing textual information that can serve as an alternative to the hearing disabled, audio transcription allows for easier information dissemination and universal access.

  • Improved clarity of information

Audio transcriptions can help improve communication and understanding by providing a written recording of the audio content. Confusing terms and mispronunciation issues can all be thus avoided. Intelligent and edited transcriptions can also remove unnecessary noise and provide cleaner information that is easy to digest and share.

  • Easy storage

Audio files can be bulky and thus cost more to store and share. With audio transcriptions, the information can be shared quickly and occupies less storage space.

  • Improved information analysis

Written information is easier to analyze and draw inferences from when compared to listening to audio files over and over. By transcribing audio files, you can easily get to the core idea and read through the content for quicker and more detailed information analysis. It also helps organize the information gathered into more meaningful data.

  • Improved accuracy

With the help of audio transcriptions, the information can be ensured to be accurate, and any vagueness that comes with inferring audio due to the various accents used, mispronunciations, trailing sentences, and so on can all be avoided.

  • Easier to edit

Any mistakes made in audio can be corrected in its intelligent transcription, whereas editing the original audio is quite difficult.

Scope, Applications, and Use Cases of Audio Transcription

Audio transcription finds use wherever audio information has to be recorded in written documentation. The demand for audio transcription is also rising with the increase in online and offline forms of business meetings, seminars, virtual events, and more. It can be useful both on a personal level as well as on an industrial scale.

For instance, a student trying to learn a lesson would find audio transcriptions an easy way to archive and document the class lectures. A writer could easily transfer their self-recordings into writing by using audio transcriptions.

Similarly, on a larger scale, businesses can use audio transcriptions to efficiently document their meetings, client consultations, inter-team communications, vendor requests, service calls, and more. Here are some industries and use cases where audio transcriptions find great use.

  • Movie industry

The movie industry uses audio transcriptions to create subtitles and captions.

  • Law enforcement

Law enforcement often uses audio transcription services to record interrogations and witness statements.

  • Court and legal work

Court reporting uses audio transcriptions to note court proceedings in detail.

  • Healthcare

Doctors and medical students use audio transcriptions to record important patient information and case details accurately.

  • Academics

Audio transcription is also used in academia for transcribing lectures and research interviews.

  • Media and Journalism

Audio transcriptions are necessary for journalists and media persons as they have to quickly and efficiently note down oral information. Although they could achieve this with audio recordings, the same needs to be transcribed for better information dissemination.

  • Video and podcasts

Content creators use audio transcriptions to create accessible content. It also helps boost their SEO and visibility over the internet.

  • Market research

Businesses can improve their services and user experience by collecting customer feedback and transcribing them for easier understanding and analysis.

Tip:

A Guide to Audio Transcription and Speech Recognition

How to Transcribe Audio to Text – Guide

Tools and Methods

As for manual transcription, the transcriber has to listen to the audio uninterruptedly. Thus manual transcription requires a proper environment devoid of distractions and lets the scribe listen to the audio with utmost clarity. If listening to a live meeting, the scribe should ensure they get the best possible position where the speech is audible and have all the tools, be it a typewriter, their stenography notes, or the computer set up and ready to use.

In the case of recorded audio transcription, the scribe must find an appropriate work step that allows them to listen to the recorded audio.

For more challenging transcription tasks such as phonetic transcriptions and intelligent transcriptions, it is also imperative that the scribe possess the necessary qualifications and skills to transcribe the audio accurately.

For faster audio transcriptions, you may also choose to use speech-recognition software tools and online services. While these services offer a good functionality level, they might not be as accurate as a manual transcription process. Most AI-based audio transcriptions may still require a human touch to proofread and edit the transcripts as required. But these software tools also offer advantages in terms of cost and speed. They can thus be used for quick jobs that do not require strict accuracy requirements.

Challenges in Audio and Video Transcriptions

Here are a few challenges t

  • Accuracy concerns

Audio might not always have the best pronunciation and clarity you expect for a smooth transcription task. Several factors such as accent, difficult jargon, tone of speech, intonations, and so on can confuse and affect the transcript’s accuracy.

  • High demand for skilled transcribers

The transcribers should have a good hold over the language as well as the subject to be able to discern the content well. But finding transcribers with the required skill and expertise can be challenging, especially for highly niche domains.

  • Cost

Both AI-based transcription services and manual transcriptions come at a price depending on their skill level and accuracy. The more accuracy and skill required for the task, the more expensive it will be.

  • Time-consuming

The speed and accuracy of the transcription will depend on the transcriber’s skill level and efficiency. On average, a professional typist has the seed of about 70 wpm. This could mean that hour-long audio could take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours to be transcribed. And if the audio is more complex and has cross-talk, background noise, and other difficulties, the process can be even more time-consuming.

Best Practices for Audio Transcription

Transcribing can be challenging and slow, especially if you take up manual transcription. So here are some best practices that can help you optimize the audio transcription process.

  • Record high-quality audio with as much fewer disturbances as possible. If using pre-recorded audio, try minimizing the noise around your surroundings to get the best possible audio input while transcribing. The same applies to any input audio you want to transcribe using automated transcription software. It’s important to use a high-quality recording device to make the audio clear and easy to understand.
  • Ensure you have a quiet environment and clear schedule before starting an audio transcribing task.
  • Try to listen through the entire audio once before starting the typing. Do remember to pause and rollback as and when required to get clarity
  • Repeat listening to the audio to check for errors multiple times.

Future developments in audio transcription

With new developments in technology and AI-based speech-to-text software, automated transcription is expected to deliver better accuracy. As automated audio transcription is faster and cheaper, a lot of individual users and generic purpose transcription could make use of it in place of manual transcription services.

But this does not necessarily mean manual transcription could go out of use. Manual transcription continues to be the most accurate and well-suited for high-quality transcription requirements. Specialized projects such as academic research require human transcribers to gather detailed notes and intelligent verbatim transcriptions.

There are still quite a few challenges that automated transcriptions will have to overcome.

  • The sound quality should be good for a good output.
  • Cross talk reduces the accuracy rate considerably in the case of automated transcriptions.
  • Automated transcriptions also find it difficult to pick up non-words and unique terms properly.
  • The more the number of speakers involved, the more challenging it gets, and the accuracy degrades accordingly.

Conclusion

Thus, audio transcription is a process by which the recorded or live audio is transcribed to text format either by a human or a software tool.

Manual transcription is accurate and well-suited for high-quality transcription requirements. But automated transcription’s efficiency and speed make it an attractive alternative. So, a hybrid approach of using both automated and manual transcriptions could prove to be an ideal solution.