In the morning I checked both the “transcription jobs” and “editing jobs” boards and each had a few listings. The company provides their own in-house style guide to enable you to build towards producing a clear final transcript which minimizes time and maximizes clarity for the end reader. I figured that being new to the system and having some editing/proofreading experience (in the forms of print and web copy editor, and ESL (English As A Second Language) writing course teacher in Asia) it would be more feasible to start by choosing some editing projects first in order to get a better sense of what the transcribers were putting out. This turned out to be a good decision for a few reasons.
Firstly, when you are new to transcription you have not yet learned the most fundamental elements of the process of evaluating potential projects in relation to your abilities. You need to work on many different audio/video files over time to develop of sense of how all of the elements of an audio or video recording interact to determine the complexity level of a project. These factors include : audio recording quality, degree of accents of speakers, speed of speaker’s speech, background noise, “crosstalk” (which is when more than one person speak simultaneously), repetition, filler language (the “ums”, “oh”, “you know”, etc.) and the list goes on and on. Here is a good blog post I found as I began researching and developing my transcription skills :
The blog of the above post is one of the first resources I found as I started my research this week into the transcription career. I found the site through a Google search for “transcription training course”. The free information which this blog offers covers all of the essential issues for someone starting out, and is an excellent springboard for further research. In addition, while there is plenty of free information available through the blog posts themselves, this site also offers a range of paid practice file packages. Practice files are good for anyone who is inexperienced and doesn’t have clients who can pay for their transcription work. In my case, and for the growing number of people who are able to connect with the growing number of companies who hire relatively inexperienced “newbie” transcribers, these practice files may be the most ideal way to build quality experience. You need to make a choice as to whether or not it would be valuable enough to actually pay money to access these practice files, or whether you could just as easily practice transcribing your favorite podcast. once you gain enough transcription and web experience you can transcribe some of your favorite podcasts (with permission, of course) and simply post them as blog posts, such as the “Free Transcript Project” transcripts on THIS blog :
which I have gradually developed over time. I will explain this project in more detail in future posts.
With these kind of blogs, my strategy is to read one post per day so that I have time to integrate the knowledge into my routine and as to not overwhelm myself with information. In addition to this blog I have started spending an hour a day searching for additional online resources to begin building my transcription/editing skills as I now begin steadily working on projects for the new company – basically a self designed apprenticeship of sorts.
Getting back to the subject of the online system, I see an interesting 90 minute interview audio file and have a listen. It is a job interview for a social services organization and since my university education is in social science it piques my interest. I click play on the file and listen to several minutes of the recording to get the general idea of the content. This is one of the first and most important lessons to learn about transcription/editing. That is, if you can find audio/video files which you find interesting it makes a HUGE difference (in terms of motivation, learning interesting information, and making the transcription process less tedious) as opposed to those files which you do not resonate well with. Especially when you are dealing with longer files (for instance, this 90 minute file as opposed to a 30 minute file) this becomes ever more important. When you transcribe or edit a file you enter into the world of that content for however long the project lasts. In some cases the content even “gets into you” – like any other content you absorb in your daily life (through television, radio, books, etc.). Sometimes you will find yourself thinking about that content (for better or worse) long after you have completed and successfully submitted it. So, the sooner you realize the importance of carefully choosing projects (of course, depending on how much flexibility you have to do so, including for instance your income and time requirements and other factors) the better off you will be and the more efficiently you will complete the project in a professional manner. Choosing the wrong project can lead to frustration or ultimately the inability to finish the project properly or by the deadline. Finished a project late may very well cause you to have wasted time on that project (where you could have invested that time in an appropriate project that you could have completed) and/or surrendering some or all contracted payment. On the other hand, it CAN be a healthy challenge to occasionally work on less-than-ideal files, as it helps you train your endurance capacity,which is a valuable asset to transcription work in general. There WILL be times, EVEN if you are working on an ongoing project which resonates well with you, where some periods of this more challenging audio will arise. The more training you have in enduring this. and the more coping skills you develop, the easier it will be to get through these rough spots and continue enjoying the more rewarding content within the project.
So after listening to ten to twenty minutes of the recording I decided that the subject was interesting, the speech was clear enough to manage, and that I would likely be able to make it through the 90 minutes of editing. I had the instinctive sense that I would not be able to transcribe such a long file at the time (and this was a prudent and accurate judgement), but editing it seemed to be feasible. Unfortunately, when the editing jobs are listed on the board before you accept them you don’t have access to the actual text transcription which, of course, would enable you to see the quality of the transcription. If the transcriber has done a decent job then your editing work will be relatively easy. However, since many of the transcribers who work freelance for these entry-level operations are relatively inexperienced (or possibly non-native English speakers from overseas) you can never be truly sure what to expect. I decided to give it a shot. Luckily, the system allows you to “unassign” a project any time after you’ve accepted and started on it. Although you lose any possible compensation if you abort the mission, you are at least able to get out of it without subjecting yourself to too much agony. It is also good for the company as it allows another freelancer to take on the project and ultimately get it done before the deadline set with the customer.
So, I finally follow through and accept the project. Once you accept a project you are unable to select other simultaneous ones, which is actually good because it allows you to focus and get it done properly. Once accepted, you move on to the individual project page where the file is available for play online and download, and the transcription is posted in an in-line editor on the page. At this point if you have transcription software (like “Express Scribe”) you can download the audio file and copy/paste the transcription text into the text editor of the software or other word processor. I find it ideal to download both the audio file and transcription text and work on them in Express Scribe Pro, since the software has many special, helpful features, and if the internet connection is lost for some reason there is no problem.
Once the file is imported into Express Scribe I decide to have a full listen through the entire 90 minute recording. I have learned this important technique through my print editing experience. It is essentially a way of “priming” yourself to work on the recording. Often you need to hear the context of speech before it makes sense. There are also times when it may help to hear something which is said later in the speech in order to understand something said earlier. Although the deadline of the edit is nine hours away I feel it is worth having a full listen – especially since this is the first formal attempt at audio editing for this company. This first listen is ESPECIALLY enjoyable if the content is interesting, since you are not distracted by simultaneously looking at the text as you listen.
Luckily the content of the recording was interesting and after the full listen I had a good general idea of what is said in the interview. It WAS therefore a good investment of time to spend 90 minutes on the full listen. As I was listening I was also taking quick, sporadic looks at the transcription text to get a feel for the quality of the transcription. In this case the transcriber had done a very good job. When I finished listening I felt confident that I would be able to complete the project and submit an adequate final product within the deadline.
I was now ready to begin the proper task of working through the edit of the transcript. I had learned through previous freelance work that it is very important to time your activities. Using a timer allows you to judge your capabilities and progress and pace yourself so that you can complete the project in a timely and minimally stressful manner. So the first thing I did was open the (excellent and free) Toggle time tracking software program on my desktop, enter “edit transcription” as a “new task” and click “start”. I was now up and running with the editing task.
The edit process was straightforward. The transcriber had transcribed most words correctly and since this was a “for clarity” and “without time codes” type of edit my main role was to make sure that the transcription text was accurate enough in reference to the audio speech so that the end consumer (the reader of the transcript) would get the key information which had originally been expressed through the speech during the interview. In other words, the goal is to clean everything up so that it is most easily digestible (yet accurate) to the end user.
More importantly is that fact that by being able to compare the audio speech with the text I was able to get some hands-on experience as to how the transcriptionist applies the company’s style guide elements to the audio. This is something which would not have been possible if I had started by choosing transcription jobs first. As you work through edits on different projects done by different transcribers you develop a better sense of the range of ways of dealing with the common issues which arise in the process, and so it is highly advisable to include editing work as a fundamental element of your overall work as a transcriber. In fact, after completing this edit I decided it would be best to focus on the editing primarily for a while and then take on some of the easier (shorter and less complicated) transcription jobs in an effort to ease into things as I simultaneously educated myself through various transcription resources and communities available widely and freely throughout the internet.
I submitted the edited file well before deadline, ultimately enjoyed listening to the audio interview, got some quality experience and information, and made ~ $20 USD of much-need money in the process. Another productive day to add to the record.