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When using transcription for professional purposes, the need for accuracy is paramount. Although automated transcription software has come a long way, it still doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of mission critical industries such as Law Enforcement, Medicine and the Law.

However not all transcribers are made equal, and there are small grammatical and punctuation errors which can completely change the meaning of what an interviewee said.

A simple mistake of thinking “can’t not” is “cannot” changes the sentence completely. Even the Dalai Lama has fallen afoul of transcription errors, with one transcript confusing “forget it” with something entirely unholy.

So what are the two main causes of transcription errors?

Slang, Culture and Jargon

Even a highly skilled transcriber may have trouble if they run into unfamiliar words, but things get even worse when they are transcribing something that is not even in their native tongue. For accurate transcription its important that the transcriber not only has an understanding of the language, but also the context in which language is used.

It would be unfair to expect an outsourced transcriber in India to understand and correctly transcribe Australian such as “No worries”, “I reckon”, “that’d be right”, “flat out” and “give it a crack” . However too many Australian businesses still rely on outsourced transcription, despite the risks.

When it comes to medical and legal transcription, things can get even harder. The MediLexon dictionary lists over 100,000 terms, and the Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary lists over 25,000 legal definitions!

To accurately transcribe these you need a highly trained transcriber who can not only write down what they hear, but also the ability to think critically about the context of the situation.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s important that they feel comfortable to lean on their team members, or look up references and ask for help when they aren’t 100% sure of the accuracy, especially when it is a critical phrase or paragraph.

Poor Audio Quality

In a perfect world, all recorded audio would be crisp and perfect. But in the real world a multitude of factors can influence the ability of a transcriber to accurately transfer the spoken word to text.

Key causes of poor audio quality include:

  • Background noise – if you have had a phone conversation with someone walking along a busy road, you understand why background noise can make it hard to understand. This can include anything from traffic to ringing telephones, alarms or even air conditioners.
  • Muffled dictation –  poor quality microphones, or incorrect use of directional microphones can leave an audio with a muffled “underwater” sound, reducing the amount of information a transcriber can hear.
  • Overlapping conversations – woudn’t it be nice if you could follow everyone at the dinner table at once. At the dinner table, we use visual cues of a moving mouth to help separate one voice from the “noise”.  Without the visual aid, transcribers must use their experience and critical thinking to accurately transcribe the conversation.
  • Different Volumes – in group discussions, we will often have some people closer to the microphone than others, which can lead to greatly differing volume and clarity.

Although there are many steps you can take to mitigate poor audio quality, such as a quiet setting and high-quality recording equipment, we know that that’s not always possible.

However a combination of a great quality headset and modern transcription software that can change the speed, pitch and often programmatically remove background noise, you can still get an accurate representation of the conversation.

Although this technology helps greatly, there is no substitute for someone who truly understands whatever conversation they are transcribing inside and out. That’s why at APT we focus on high quality, no-nonsense transcription by using only 100% in-house staff with years of experience in the industry.

We may never fully get rid of the [inaudible] but with a combination of technology and experience, we can make sure that the incidence is greatly reduced.