Day 13 : The Art and Science of Research in Transcription Work

computer and books for transcription research

Feel Free to Choose A Sub-Section of this Post
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1. Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues
2. Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development
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Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues

Research is a very important element of the transcription process. Concepts, terms, and words often arise in audio and video files which are within the realm of specialized knowledge and can often only be deciphered through adequate research tactics. In addition, accuracy (in the form of the highest percentage of properly deciphered words in the recording) is often vital in terms of keeping clients content and continuing to use your services, or in the realm of more serious transcription work (legal and medical) errors can have serious (sometimes fatal) consequences to those people and/or organizations who are the subject of the content.

Transcriptionists often specialize in specific areas of subject matter (whether it be the more formal legal and medical transcription, or all other sources of audio/video which deal with jargon-dense knowledge such as computer technology, business projects, adventure sports, eclectic hobbies, debates on current controversial issues, etc.). The ability to research quickly and effectively can help you land a transcription job, keep it, and benefit from the knowledge of the subject matter contained in the recordings.

The good news is that research (especially the type done by utilizing the plethora of powerful and quickly-accessible online resources and tools) is a skill which can be developed (to as advanced a level as you desire). Advanced research skill is a valuable asset which can be applied to many areas of your intellectual, social and occupational endeavors. It increases your speed and efficiency at transcribing, as you will be better able to decipher technical words spoken in the files. This, of course, leads to faster completion of projects and thus the ability to do more projects in less time and earn more income. Advanced research skills also enable you to dig deeper into a subject, while also being able to determine the quality of the source of information.

In addition, along with some additional powerful free software tools, such as the free Evernote organization application – for collecting, organizing and processing your research – you can develop more long-term research projects which may culminate in publication of your knowledge in the form of blogging, book and ebook writing, podcasting, etc.

There are a few levels of research which apply most directly to the actual transcription task which I will cover in this post. I have already written a comprehensive post about the free WordWeb program, and will also be writing additional future posts about specific software programs (such as Evernote) which will expand on the general research strategies and concepts examined here. I will link those new posts as they are published (which should be within just the next few weeks).

The first level (or step) in the transcription research process begins when you encounter words or terms in an audio/video file which are either indecipherable (due to various factors such as : poor audio quality, strong speaker accent, foreign dialect, etc.) or are highly technical/specific to the subject of the audio. To illustrate this in the more extreme form, the reason why medical transcription work requires years of formal training and experience is due to the enormous vocabulary of medical terminology you must possess in order to adequately transcribe the files commonly worked on. While as a general transcriptionist you are more free to simply decline to work on a file which is overloaded with jargon, there are often times when you actually DESIRE to work on such files because the subject is interesting, but you are intimidated due to your lack of adequate specialized vocabulary. In addition, since most files (especially ones you accept from the online boards) have a deadline within hours of acceptance, if your research skills are not up to par you won’t have the time to do the minimum research needed to complete the file on time. This is where the ability to conduct fast and efficient research becomes important. If you can quickly get up to an ADEQUATE level of vocabulary and/or knowledge related to the subject to get through the file via your speedy research skills, you will be able to accept the file, complete it, get paid for it, and perhaps work on additional files related to that specific subject. Many online transcription companies have regular clients who produce podcasts on specialized subjects. If you can get through one of the episodes, you can then find that podcast online, listen to some additional episodes to get a better feel for the style and content, and apply your research skills to expand your vocabulary on the subject. You will then be more able to take on the next episode of that podcast which becomes available through the transcription company job board. It’s usually a rewarding experience to work on multiple episodes of a production, in addition to the fact that your transcription speed becomes faster with each episode as you are more familiar with the people, terms, etc.

The first tool I utilize from my transcription arsenal is WordWeb. When I come upon a word which is indecipherable, or whose definition, spelling and/or pronunciation is unfamiliar I first hit [CTRL + (right click)] to pull up the word (and/or related or rough estimates of the word). I have discussed the features and uses of WordWeb in its own post, so please refer here for more detailed directions. However, from the perspective of research, WordWeb is your first-line weapon in dealing with new words, terms, concepts, and subjects which arise in your transcription adventures. For instance, if you are working on an audio file related to a new book which will be published in the near future, and in the audio file you are able to use one or more WordWeb features to decipher the name of the author (and hopefully also the name of the book and other books and info related to the book and/or author) you can then follow up with the next step/level in the research process – which is to use the various online research tools (ex. search engines (Google), Wikipedia, personal web and/or social media sites of the author, etc.) to dig deeper into the subject.

This second level of research is more complex and allows you to obtain a vast amount of information on the subject. An excellent book which examines the depths of the online research world is titled “The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher” (sample copy) and I will be publishing a detailed review of this book in the near future. Although limiting your research techniques to the powerful services which are offered by Google (their search engine being just one of an array of helpful applications) you can fulfill most of your research needs, there is an extensive range of additional services and web applications which will enable you to take your research as far as you want to go with it.These include : web directories, portals, audio and video directories, academic research portals, and many others. I will elaborate on these in the future, but for now I can tell you, with confidence, that for essentially EVERY degree of research most transcriptionists (including those of use who engage in complementary pursuits, such as blogging) desire/need to do, most of it can be achieved using a handful of the basic (let’s call it “second level”) tools currently available and developed to a highly user-friendly level at this point.

The best way to explain this is probably to give you a nice little practical – but slightly fictitious – example, in order to not break any confidentiality agreements which transcriptionists are bound to. Since my main interest lies in podcasting and transcription I will create an example which will clearly explain the process and how easy it is to get from the point of discovering a new podcast production to researching that production to the point that you are well familiar with it and can take your research as far as you desire.
So, let’s say you are browsing the available job board of one of the online transcription companies, and you encounter a nice podcast file on a technological topic such as the cryptocurrency industry (ex. Bitcoin). You have a sample listen to the audio file and determine it is interesting and that you would like to transcribe  it. You accept the file and begin transcribing.
Now in this episode of the fictitiously-named podcast “The Cryptocurrency Revolution” the host interviews a prominent thought-leader and activist in the cryptocurrency world, such as Adam B. Levine. Now, as this is the first time you have heard of this person you start jotting down some notes as you (and/or after you) complete the transcript. Some of the most effective pieces of information to record are : the web site(s) and/or social media profiles of the guest, the names and details of their main work projects (especially podcasts and videos) and occupations, any personal details which especially resonate with you, any organizations and important people they are working with, etc. With just this kind of information – which is commonly made available in the general podcast format – you have enough data to do all the research you will need.
Once you have completed and submitted the transcription you can begin your follow up research on this newly discovered person. A good place to start is entering the person’s name in Google. This will give you a good general list of various resources (and types of resources) to get you started branching out. Since some people have fairly common names, it is often best to first check out their web site where they will have links to their specific (and official) social media profiles (as it is often difficult to pin someone down by manually entering their name in each social media search engine).
At this point I tend to follow through with the following general strategy. First, I create a new “notebook” in Evernote with this person’s name as the title. I then create a new “note” with a title such as “(Person’s Name) – resources)”. I add all of the data I have collected so far since doing the original transcription, including the URLs associated with the person – which is especially helpful since Evernote makes those links active in the notes and so you can click right through to them from within the note. I then begin working through the various resources in the Evernote file (and add additional notes to the file as things progress and I find more information and resources.
Basically, to get adequately up-to-speed with a person’s overall web presence, body of work, and initiating contact with them, I use a regular basic strategy. I begin checking out a few of their social media profiles. Their LinkedIn profile often provides the most valuable information about their professional and creative aspects of their life, as well as the most important contact information. I then follow up with their Facebook and Twitter profiles, which offer a more personal and casual information about the person and their interests. If I like the info I will “follow” their Facebook and Twitter profile in order to stay up to date on what they are doing as I continue researching them.
I then proceed to YouTube, which is the second (and usually final) major research tool needed to get enough information for follow up research into the future. I enter some of the keywords related to the person from the Evernote file. If this person is very active, the search query will return more than enough audio and/or video files to keep me busy for a while and get the adequate info on this person. The YouTube search is especially good for finding episodes of their actual podcast/videocast which I can then follow up on, evaluate and contact the person for potential transcription collaboration in the future.
So, with this relatively basic, but powerful, search strategy I am able to quickly (often in a matter of hours) find enough information about this person who I have newly discovered via a podcast transcription project which I was paid to do, to be able to become further familiar with them and eventually contact and collaborate with them in the future.
To be even more concrete, I used this very strategy to discover the excellent and prolific work of Adam B. Levine of the “Let’s Talk Bitcoin” network – www.letstalkbitcoin.com – and as a result of this discovery I have become an active contributor to his revolutionary open source community project, including some transcription work – one full transcript of which can be found here.
I will conclude the subject of transcription research her for now. More will be written on the subject – including related resources – as it becomes relevant into the future. For now, using the above research strategy should be MORE than enough for the research needs of most of the transcriptionists reading this.

Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development

In addition to integration the highly detailed basic research strategy into my daily routine, and consistently going through the daily research routine tasks mentioned in the last post, I have also been spending a bit more serious effort practicing on the one-minute transcription files along with reading through the style guide at TranscribeMe.

What I will say about these one-minute files is that usually offer a healthy bit of challenge to force me to improve both my transcription and research skills. One of the main benefits of the short files are that you can turn them over relatively quickly and so your time, energy and schedule are not tied down by longer files. You can jump in when you have a few minutes and complete a file and the move onto other important tasks.

The more challenging aspects of the system involve the fact that since the files are limited to one minute each, you generally don’t have much context with which to decipher words, terms, concepts, etc. which would be more easily done with longer files. On a positive note, this actually forces you to practice listening even more carefully, as well as developing and implementing quicker and more powerful research skills in order to find the bits of information you need to complete the file. Since there is also a shorter deadline on the file it is more important to increase your listening and research speed in this regard.

So, at this point I am finding it productive to spend a few weeks practicing on these one-minute files while I further concentrate on my research and blogging efforts (which consume a lot of time collectively). Working on the short TranscribeMe files allows me to get some good practice and make a little survival income while I continue building my empire.

As usual, this post is another post which is growing into a book and so I will conclude here. I am also busy working on several new “Free Transcript Project” files which will be rolling out (roughly one or two per week), which offers additional practice and content for this blog. In the next “daily diary” post we will further examine the nature of the online transcription industry companies and some of the cutting edge technology which is being applied to the transcription process.

Happy Transcribing!
freelance_transcriptionist@hotmail.com

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Feel free to donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog. Donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Day 8 : The Computer-Human Hybridization Movement – Increasing Efficiency While Decreasing Unemployment

A quick Google search this morning produced the YouTube video of an excellent speech by TranscribeMe CEO Alex Dunayev at the Silicone Valley Open Doors Investment Conference in 2013.

Mr Dunayev delivers and well articulated and down-to-earth presentation which clearly details the important trends arising in the transcription industry. Some of the most important of these include : the rapid growth of the transcription market worldwide as a result of greater reach of the internet and mobile networks, how new business models (such as crowd-sourcing) are being made possible by advances in technology which are enabling the delivery of higher quality transcription services to a widening customer base. Mr. Dunayev also explains the integration of evolving speech recognition software and artificial intelligence into the transcription process, which is enabling transcription to be done in a more efficient and less costly manner, and thus provide transcription services to individuals and organizations who simply hadn’t had the budget to afford it in the past (ex. students, educational institutions, freelancers, small businesses. He also gives us a promising glimpse of the future potentials of the new transcription paradigm, including ways it will aid disadvantaged populations such as the disabled (ex. blind and deaf), researchers, creative people, etc. Judging from the response of the experts on the questioning panel, who seemed to be quite impressed, I believe that most people come away from viewing this presentation with an expanded understanding of the topic of transcription, as well as the various additional topics and organizations related to the transcription industry. In addition, it appears easy to gain a more optimistic sense that computer technology actually CAN be harnessed and utilized in a practical and humane manner to solve important real world problems (ex. human, business, academic, etc.) while at the same time being easy to implement and affordable to the general public.

In the past decade, this philosophically fragile issue of the “Rise of the Machines” has grown to apocalyptic proportions for many, as theories range from robots taking over human jobs and making us obsolete, to artificial intelligence being taken over by the computers themselves, who then turn on their human creators and initiate a global cyborg war – perhaps catalyzed by the computerized scanning and transcribing of uncensored human thoughts, leading naturally to World War III between the humans, and with supercomputer controlled neutron bomb attacks resulting in mass extinction of the human population of the planet, and allowing the robots to live in a highly organized and efficient utopia until the end of time.

Most informed and sensible people realize that any technology is merely a tool, and that it is the APPLICATION of that technology which determines its ethical value. Examples now abound of new applications of technology able to solve REAL problems for REAL people which have never been possible in the past. For instance, as supercomputing technology becomes faster and more powerful it is being used to analyze data in the field of medicine to gain better understanding of genetic factors in disease, the nature of epidemics, etc. Smartphone apps are being developed which facilitate a growing range of medical treatment processes, often conducted by the individual in the comfort of their own home. To give a few of examples, there are now operational apps which measure and remind diabetics to check their blood sugar level at scheduled times which are making it much easier to control this chronic disease *and various others). New apps which track disease epidemics are allowing public health officials to better protect human populations from outbreaks, and to eliminate outbreaks when they occur as a result of the ability to obtain data related to the epidemic faster. Stem cell technology is showing the promise of regenerating dysfunctional body parts and even restoring various important neurological functions in the body (ex. vision, movement, paralysis). From these few examples most people would probably agree that there are significant potential benefits to the development of these advanced technologies. The fundamental issue thus becomes ensuring that the applications of this higher technology are directed at solving REAL problems for REAL people, with the main goal of improving the lives of people throughout the world.

Along this line of reasoning, I believe that the transcription related technology, service and employment system which TranscribeMe is developing is an ideal example of the proper use of the emerging advanced technologies. It is also an excellent example of how it is completely feasible to integrate computer technology and human capital to ultimately increase OVERALL benefits for the humans who are served by these technologies. For instance, the TranscribeMe crowd sourcing production platform contributes two main benefits to the operation. It enables greater efficiency and faster turnover of the end product (transcription) to the customer, while at the same time fulfilling more of the needs of the transcribers to be able to work anytime, anywhere and more flexibly as they general work on quick (roughly one minute) segments of speech. In addition, since Mr. Dunayev explains that there are just certain limits to what computers can achieve in regard to processing human speech, we see that the computers have a very valuable role to play in the more logistical and technical aspects of the transcription process (ex. splicing audio files into ~ one minute micro-chunks, distributing the micro-chunks to the most suitable members of the transcriber crowd based on demographic data stored in the system, etc). In other words, the computer is acting in a similar way to the timer on a dishwasher or coffee machine. It COMPLEMENTS the human labor.  The computer performs the more menial tasks of scheduling and organization while the skills of the human are used for those elements of the workflow which are beyond the natural realm of the computers. It is the same case for digital music production. Sure, digital musical instruments can do many amazing things which human musicians generally can’t do on their own (ex. synthesizing sounds which don’t actually exist in nature, optimizing music and sounds after they have been recording via advanced digital audio editing software, etc.). Before these technologies were available to humans they had less creative options to work with sound and produce the amazing works that they can now. However, digitized music will NEVER be able to truly mimic the unique human quality which is brought forth through music.

There are certainly some rather ethically unsettling developments playing out in various pursuits which have a strong effect on humans, all other lifeforms on earth and the environment. Some more down-to-earth examples can include : the detrimental effect of information overload on the human brain, the often intrusive nature of Smartphone technology by which people become addicted and neglect more important issues in their lives, the sedentary lifestyle many people have descended into as a result of the technology making it less necessary to be physically active, etc. While each of the above examples can be partially alleviated through the application of proper behavioral (and other) psychology strategies, the bottom line is that humanity is facing a growing challenge of trying to strike a healthy balance of utilizing these helpful new technologies as opposed to allowing the technologies to exploit THEM.

This is why the kind of technology application which TranscribeMe has developed offers much hope in the sense of being evidence of the ability to design technology in keeping with the ultimate practical needs of the humans who actually use the product in their real lives. The computers are not the end consumers of a product like the TranscribeMe transcription. They are the TOOL which enables the end product to be produced in the best form and in the most efficient manner possible. Ultimately, it is the HUMANS who benefit from the fruits of the technology which TranscribeMe has developed. That is, BOTH the end consumer (who receives a very high quality (accurate) transcript in an increasingly short amount of time and at an increasingly affordable price) AND the worldwide crowd of transcribers who benefit from a decreased risk of under or unemployment, job flexibility, high quality training and career advancement opportunities. In the end, the TranscribeMe system is very people-friendly.

At the SAME time, the TranscribeMe system is also computer-friendly. That is, as explained in the presentation, the artificial intelligence of the transcription software actually learns how to better process a specific (repeat) customer’s projects based on all of the data collected from past projects. Therefore, the computers themselves are also evolving and benefiting through the performance of their intended actions (through the combination of big data processing and artificial intelligence).

In the end, a very positive feedback and production loop arises as the computers’ evolving artificial intelligence increases the productivity of the process and thus completes the transcription for repeat customers FASTER. This then frees up resources to be able to process more customers, which increases revenue, which then enables the company to invest more profits into growth and marketing, hire more transcribers (and other necessary workers) and thus stimulate employment and the general economy. Again, this line of reasoning shows clearly how this system delivers REAL benefit to the lives of REAL humans.

What is even more promising is that, as Mr. Dunayev details in the presentation, TranscribeMe has begun planning and implementing some very powerful collaborative projects with other companies and industries which can benefit from the integration of TranscribMe’s crowd sourced, computer-hybrid transcription technology with the their own applications. One example of this is the collaboration between TranscribeMe and NVivo, one of the leading research platforms for data analysis. A significant component of research of most kinds (ex. marketing research, qualitative social science studies, focus groups, etc.) involves collecting data in a form which is suitable for, and optimized by, quality transcription. Proper transcription of data enhances the ability to organize, manage and analyze data with the end result being better quality research, and maximum application of the output of that research.

This integration of TranscribeMe technology into a growing number of appropriate and related applications is positioning TranscribeMe technology to serve as a powerful tool whose function is to convert audio speech into the most potentially accurate text which can then be imported into other applications which use text data as one of the primary inputs. In line with the old saying, “Garbage in… garbage out.” the TranscribeMe technology is minimizing the amount of garbage going IN, and thus acting as a major force for improving the quality of all research which uses real speech data from any source (audio, video, etc.).

I realize that this post has grown extremely long. When I become interested in a subject the words just spewing out of me and it is better to just go with it. It is a natural tendency. A blessing and a curse of sorts. I’ll admit that I have a “writing problem”, in the sense that I often can’t write fast enough. This is, of course, is worsened by my “drinking problem”, where I can’t drink fast enough. Then again, that all depends on the type of drink (ex. beer, coffee, etc.). The reader is, of course, free to take what they want and leave the rest.

But I digress.

Having said all of this, I do TRULY believe that the issue of the proper integration of technology with human nature is one of the most important of our time. Plus, it only seems to be becoming MORE important, and at an ACCELERATING rate as the evolution of the technology itself is accelerating in a non-linear progression. I also think it is important for anyone who has an interest in, and/or wants to work in, the transcription field to learn about this issue, think about and consider the ways (both positive and negative) in which it effects their everyday lives. When I look at developments like TranscribeMe it makes me very hopeful that we are at CAPABLE of developing ethical collaborative integrated applications which utilize the power of advancing technology with the ultimate purpose of improving the human condition.

Getting back to the transcription training issue, in this post I haven’t yet specifically discussed much related to my progress. I have now passed the TranscribeMe application and started on the training phase before being cleared to work on projects. In a way, however, as I mentioned in the last post that one part of my research as I proceed through the transcription world is to watch videos related to the different topics, companies, industry people, etc. Therefore, this whole blog post essentially describes a valuable part of the research process. That is, the process of becoming more familiar with the transcription company I am now working for, getting to know more about how they operate their business, learning about what the company has planned for growth and development into the future, etc. In the same way that an investor does serious research on the “fundamentals” of a prospective company before making the decision to invest in it, it is similarly important to research a company you intend to WORK for to ensure that the philosophy and goals of the company are in line with yours to an adequate degree. After all, when you work for a company you are dedicating quite a bit of your energy and time into the endeavor. Thus it is essential to do your homework in order to make the most informed and prudent decision based on the specific nature of your situation. In addition, what is so great about living in the “information age” is that there is just so much information available if we know where and how to look. That is one of the functions of this blog, of course. One of the main goals here is to teach you (by example) a productive strategy of navigating through the transcription world (and the worlds connected to it) with the ultimate goal of helping you to make the best decisions possible which will help you achieve your goals and maintain a healthy level of continuous growth and prosperity – on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.

As for the TranscribeMe training, I have been working through the training modules while simultaneously reading through the style guide. I should be done with the training by tomorrow and then will attempt the final exam for the training. If/when I pass the exam the administrators will then contact me within a few days and provide me with my login information so that I can access the system, start becoming familiar with how things work, and spend some time browsing the internal social media network in order to begin networking and connecting with some of my new co-workers, etc. I also have plenty of research content to keep me busy both before and after I gain formal entrance into the system and start working on transcribing some of the one minute (or less) length audio files. My main focus, however, is to proceed slowly, steadily and methodically, in order to take it all in at a healthy pace while also enjoying the process of growth and discovery.

I hope you have gained something valuable from the information in this rather long post. In the next post I will further discuss some of my insights on the training and research processes, and do some more analysis of other interesting aspects of the TranscribeMe operation.

TranscriptJunky@gmail.com
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