Transcribing interviews


Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga

Audio recording adds more depth to reporting, but also comes with the added process of transcription. Photo by Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga on Unsplash.

Recording interviews can allow journalists to engage in real-time with interviewees without worrying about the accuracy of their notes or relying solely on memory.

Transcribing recordings, however, can take mammoth lengths of time depending on the length and complexity of the conversation. The following tips aim to make this process smoother, faster and – hopefully – more engaging.

When sitting down to transcribe an interview, there are three paths you can take:

The first is manual transcription, an often time-consuming task when considering that an hour-long interview with a typing speed of 50 to 60 words per minute takes roughly four to six hours to transcribe. 

The second is using audio-to-text applications which, although convenient, can have accuracy as low as 40 per cent when multiple speakers or languages are detected. 

The third is outsourcing transcription to an outside agency, a quick but often expensive alternative that some news organisations use.  

Manual Transcription

Despite the leaps made in technology and applications in recent years, manual transcription remains the best method for accurate quotations and complex interviews. 

Before beginning transcribing, there are steps you can follow to make the process easier. Firstly, make sure that the audio is clear. While applications like Voice Record Pro on iPhone and Android allow for great playback, Poynter recommends using recording devices such as Zoom H4n whenever possible.

After recording, it is best to listen back to the full recording before beginning. Note the length of the recording (and calculate the amount of time you will need), speakers, interesting quotations or more difficult sections. Secondly, decide if you’ll be transcribing verbatim (exactly what you hear) or non-verbatim (removing fillers and repeated words) and remain consistent throughout the document. You can also decide if you need to translate all of it, or just type up the sections with the quotes you are likely to use. You can jot down the timestamps of these sections as you listen through.

Thirdly, download transcription software that allows typing and recording without having to move your fingers from the keyboard. IndianScribes – a site that specialises in transcription tips – recommends Express Scribe, Transcription Buddy and InqScribe. Others have recommended oTranscribe which is free and online. These applications make stopping, starting and jumping to timestamps while typing quicker and easier.

While in the process of typing, make notes of time codes and place holders to look back on during the editing process. Use autocorrect and autocomplete tools to make typing quicker, for example, BC can automatically convert to BECAUSE. The “find and replace” feature can also be used after typing to convert placeholder texts for even quicker transcription, such as typing S1 during original transcription to be later converted to Speaker 1. 

Finally, listen through completely once again and proofread thoroughly. Check all placeholder words, grammar, names and timestamps.

Manual typing is a time consuming, although more accurate, option. Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash.

Audio-to-text applications

While many applications boast of transcription options, most cannot automatically punctuate or indicate pauses or tone change. However, if your interview has a single speaker doing the majority of talking at a steady rate and decent volume with clear audio automatic conversion could be a good choice.

Next web recommends the free version of, an application and website that allows users to upload an audio file to be translated into text in a matter of minutes. detects different speakers and splits up into paragraphs with timestamps for easy editing and review. The website allows users to easily search through the transcript for keywords and allows up to 600 minutes of audio a month under the free subscription. The US-based Press Club Institute has also recommended as one of its top three transcription tools. 

Other online applications include the industry-specific SpeechText.Al which boasts ‘close to human accuracy’, WayWithWords, Trint and Google Docs Voice option – which offers transcription but only during real-time recording.


Paid Transcription

Transcription services can be a quick and easy alternative to the above methods, however they can often be unreliable. It is recommended that, if you choose to pay for transcription, you consider the accuracy, price and turnaround time when choosing your service.


Also remember that it is always worth taking some notes during your interview, as a back-up, in case there is a problem with the recording. And, if you are working to tight deadlines you can take note of the timestamps of the great quotes while the interview is in progress to speed up your post interview work.