I don't do a lot of transcription, but when I do, I've found having the right tools makes the process much more enjoyable. First off, I recommend reading the article "How I Stopped Dreading and Learned to Love Transcription" (Bird, 2005).

In the right mental state for transcription, I found I didn't dread it, but that I was really slow. It would take me about 6-hours to transcribe a 1-hour focus group. After looking into tools to make the job easier, I found two that have cut my transcription time in half, and made the process more fun too.

First I use ExpressScribe (free Mac and PC) to control the speed of the playback. I can set a keyboard sequence to cause the playback to pause or rewind 10 seconds. 

Second, I use Dragon Dictate (I'm on a Mac, it is Dragon Naturally Speaking on PC) to transcribe the text. If you are buying it, I highly recommend the physical shipment, as you get a good quality headset that is designed to work well with Dragon. 

The trick to this is not to input the audio into Dragon, which gets mixed reviews for effectiveness, but rather to re-speak the transcribed text. I listen to the audio file in my headphones, then repeat exactly what is said into the microphone at a pace that is optimal for Dragon Dictate. The pace is slightly slower than normal talking, but not much. The more important part is to pace your words, speak clearly, and speak your punctuation. Dragon then types it out. I proofread as I go along, and correct any errors. There is something fun about watching the words you speak appear on the screen in front of you.

One interesting benefit with this technique is that if I don't understand the accent of the person speaking, I just mimic the sounds into the microphone. Often, Dragon can actually figure out what is said, even when I can't!

So now, when I need to transcribe focus groups or interviews, it only takes me 3-hours per 1-hour source, and I find it rather fun. In addition, the act of re-speaking the words has a transformative power on my data. I feel the emotions of those that I interview in a much more intimate way that I would if I had just typed in their words.




Bird, C. M. (2005). How I Stopped Dreading and Learned to Love Transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(2), 226-248. doi:10.1177/1077800404273413

4 Replies to “Transcribing”

    1. Haven’t tried Transcription Buddy because I’m on a Mac and it appears to be PC only. ExpressScribe lets me setup hot keys to do whatever I want, so I don’t find an “auto pause” as useful. I can just stop playback at the end of each sentence by hitting my “stop” keystroke. It doesn’t exactly what I need it to do and its free! What more could I ask for.

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