How to Write A Transcript of Audio or Video: Transcription Writing Best Practices

Uh oh. You need to write a transcript of an audio or video recording. You may be a bit perplexed, especially if you’ve never done this before. Not to worry — we have you covered.


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In the following, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the transcription process. You’ll discover the tools you need and learn transcription writing best practices. Afterward, you’ll be able to produce a transcript that conforms to industry standards — even if you’ve never transcribed before. 

Gather the Right Tools for the Transcription Process

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Good headphones are a must for the transcription process. The best noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds eliminate background noise and let you focus on the recording.  

An Ergonomic Desk Chair

Comfort is important when you need to work at your desk for long stretches of time. A proper ergonomic chair will alleviate lower back and neck pain, helping you to stay focused.

A Foot Pedal

Foot pedals allow you to control the pace of the recording without using your hands. This makes the transcription process go more smoothly. By pressing on different parts of the pedal, you can rewind, play, and fast forward the audio or video recording.

Transcription Software

Transcription software serves a few different purposes. It can transcribe speech to text automatically, saving you the bother of transcribing a first draft. Some programs can enhance audio quality so that you’re able to catch unclear phrasings. You can also use transcription software to upload and transcribe the whole recording online. 

Know What Type of Transcription You Need

Full Verbatim

Full verbatim is the whole enchilada — “ums,” “likes,” and false starts included. In short, it’s a transcript of every utterance, just as they occurred in the original audio or video selection.

Clean Verbatim

Also known as “intelligent verbatim,” or “word for word,” clean verbatim transcription removes the verbal tics and false starts. It does not alter the order of statements or paraphrase them, just cleans them up.

Detailed Notes

Sometimes, when transcribing an interview, you’ll just need isolated highlights from the recording. Detailed notes distill a recording down to its essence without forcing the reader to digest big chunks of text.

Step by Step Guide to the Transcription Process

1. Listen before transcribing an interview or other recording.

When you listen to the audio or video first, you can identify the speakers and understand the flow of the conversation. You can also make note of terms you don’t understand. Looking things up before you transcribe a document will help with context and clarity.

2. Transcribe a first draft.

Now it’s time to start the transcription process for real. In your first draft, you don’t need to catch everything verbatim. You’ll go back and fix things on the second pass. You can use abbreviations and shortcuts to capture the gist, especially if your typing speed isn’t the greatest.

3. Edit your draft for accuracy.

Once you have a workable rough draft, it’s time to polish. Follow along with your draft while listening to the audio format. Edit to include missed words and correct phrases. You will also want to spell out abbreviations and make sure you’ve attributed conversation to the right speakers. 

You don’t need a grammar check. You will be transcribing the speakers’ exact language — grammatical or not.

4. Format the transcription.

When you’re done with the second pass, it’s time to format. The completed transcription should have a title, numbered pages, and distinct paragraphs. Avoid having big blocks of text. Readability is key.

Create paragraphs whenever there is a new speaker and/or new topic. Include time markers each time a new person speaks as well. 

Use brackets for clarity. The word [sic] indicates that a grammatical error was the speaker’s, not yours. Put nonverbal communication — i.e., laughing, sighing —  in brackets to help provide context. Finally, you should use [pause] and [inaudible] to indicate gaps in dialog and words it’s not possible to understand.

5. Finalize the transcription process.

Once you’ve formatted, listen to the audio one more time while reading the transcription just to make sure the document is as accurate and as high quality as possible.

Let Someone Else Do the Heavy Lifting

Transcription takes time, especially if you’re new to the process. The average person takes four hours to transcribe a single hour of recorded material from speech to text! 

If you don’t have that kind of bandwidth, transcription services like Rev can help. Just upload the file you want, or share a public URL. In 12 hours, you’ll receive a professionally-formatted transcript that is 99% accurate. Who’s the genius now?