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Manual vs Automated Transcription. Which Is Better?

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo
Posted in Zoom Sep 9 · 10 Sep, 2015
Manual vs Automated Transcription. Which Is Better?

Whole or hole, dear or deer, night or knight? Imagine you have got a blue ribbon record – you will undoubtedly want to get it transcribed impeccably. Automatic transcription services would definitely recognize these words. Wait, which words do you mean? Will you be happy to read that “sails” are dropping or the point guard stole the “bawl”? Audio transcription software is anything but friendly to homophones. On top of that, it is antisocial in its own way: no multiple speakers and no foreign accents, please!

Pros and Cons of Automated and Manual Transcription

Advances in technology over the last decade brought about new possibilities when it comes to transcription. Clients can now pick between automated transcription and manual transcription. While the two terms may sound very similar at first, each option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Automated Transcription

These solutions use software and algorithms to convert audio to text. Essentially, it’s speech recognition software, so its efficiency depends mainly on the dataset size. Using automated transcription is usually cheaper and faster since the process is done automatically. In most cases, you can get a finished transcript in minutes even if you have hours of content.

However, it has its downsides. Most importantly, the transcript quality and accuracy can’t match manual transcription. Even the most impressive solutions make mistakes, especially with low-quality audio, recordings of multiple speakers or lots of background noise, etc. Automatic transcription software also struggles with accents, dialects, mumbling, and fast speakers. In these situations, the software has no other option but to go with the best guess.

One of the easiest ways to tell if a machine made a transcript is by looking for errors in homophones - words that have the same pronunciation but different spelling and meaning. Most automated transcription solutions use sentence structure to “predict” the word that probably comes next. This often results in weird errors such as mixing up “to,” “too,” and “two,” for example.

Let’s say one of the speakers in your recording is complimenting another. A human transcriber would know they’re saying, “Your hair looks gorgeous.” With a machine transcript, you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up with “Your hare looks gorgeous.”

With significantly lower accuracy rates (89% in perfect conditions), clients have to proofread the finished transcript and clean up the mess or hire human proofreaders to do it. This step significantly raises the cost and the time necessary to get an accurate transcript, but it’s a crucial part of the process, especially in professional settings.

Manual Transcription

On the other hand, manual transcription is a service where humans (not machines or software) go through audio or video and create a transcript. Manual or human-based transcription has several key benefits. The most important one is high (if not perfect) accuracy. Errors are eliminated, and intricate context variations are all taken into account to achieve the highest possible accuracy of the transcript.

This is particularly important in the medical or legal field, as well as other industries where accuracy is critical. Other operations such as media companies that produce subtitles and closed captions can also confirm this simple truth - nothing beats humans when it comes to accuracy.

On top of that, a professional transcriber can format your transcript however you want it. If you want your transcript to include every utterance, stutter, and false start, you got it. Would you prefer to skip grammar errors and things like “um”, “uh”, “oh”, or “ah”? Do you only need one side of the conversation transcribed? That’s an option too. A professional transcriber can also include timestamps in the text to make navigation easier.

Manual transcription is not without cons, however. The two key disadvantages are cost and delivery speed. The cost of a transcript can vary depending on the service you choose, audio length, verbatim vs. non-verbatim transcription, etc. While you may spend more on human-based transcription, you’ll save time and resources on editing and proofreading the finished transcript.

The second downside would be the delivery speed. Since we’re talking about human work, it takes time. If you have hours of content and a single transcriber to go through it, be prepared to wait. Professional transcription services like GoTranscript speed things up by splitting the audio or video into smaller chunks for different transcribers. Once they’re done, a merger gets these chunks and puts them together while also making sure everything is in its place. That way you get your transcript within the deadline even if you have a massive amount of content.

A Choice That Matters


Regardless of why you need your content transcribed, keeping these key differences in mind will help you choose the option that works better for your specific needs. Keep in mind that this choice will affect your business operations or workflow, as well as the intended purpose of the finished transcript. Everyone prefers high-quality results “out of the box”, so if you’re looking for excellence without compromise, the choice is pretty clear. Call us old-fashioned, but we strongly believe manual transcription services will always stay one step ahead.