Best Practice in the World of Transcription?
February 14, 2012 3:58 AM   Subscribe

I have 5 hours of an audio (MP4) interview. I need to transcribe it as quickly as possible into a Word document. I don't have a foot pedal and can't get one quickly. Got any suggestions on how to speed this up?

I accepted this job without realising that the 95 year old interview subject is damned sprightly and talks 100 miles to the minute. I assumed she would be old and slow and doddery like the 95 year olds I know, and I would be able to touch-type at her talking speed, and I was very very wrong.

I work from home, don't have a foot pedal and can't get one quickly.

I initially thought I could have two laptops setup side-by-side, and play the audio on one while typing on the other. That has proved to be less than hopeless. I spend more time rewinding - to catch what I just missed while I was reaching for the pause button - than I spend typing.

I'm at the stage of contemplating taping the (audio laptop) mouse to the floor so I can toe-tap to pause and play as required.

(Googling took me to Expresscribe, but it doesn't appear to support MP4's.)

Any suggestions, hacks, hints, tips would be very welcome.

PS: my employer knows I don't have a foot pedal, he's happy for me to plod along with whichever method works best. The interview is with his grandmother so he's more concerned with accuracy than speed. But I am being paid by the hour, and I don't want to rip him off.
posted by malibustacey9999 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite (mp4 -> mp3 depending upon privacy concerns) plus expressscribe free plus borrow someone's XBox controller for the switch. Your mouse idea might work just as well.

I think some of the free audio players (Audacity) might have variable speed playback too, so you could just slow it down to your typing speed?
posted by cromagnon at 4:10 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What are you using to play the mp4? Have you searched for how to adjust playback speeds of that program without getting the crazy benzo voice?

Are there keyboard options for pause and play that are easier to hit than the mouse while you type?
posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:12 AM on February 14, 2012

I use iTunes with the play/pause controls on a Macbook, which sounds cludgy but I've transcribed hundreds of hours pretty painlessly. I also miniaturise the controls for iTunes so I can drag the timeline back or forward. If your keyboard doesn't have controls, something like iTunes Hotkey (there must be something more recent!) should allow you to set up simple keyboard options like Trivia Newton John suggests.

Just to note, though, I've found transcription time estimates are usually 4x the length of the recording (adjusted for recording quality and clarity of speech, but including time for editing and polishing), and that's with experience. If you're expecting it to take less than 20 hours, don't be too hard on yourself if it's impossible.
posted by carbide at 4:24 AM on February 14, 2012

Send it to Speakwrite. This is what they do.
posted by megatherium at 4:31 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Windows I assume?

Would it help if it were converted from MP4 to something else? That should be doable in Audacity.
posted by epo at 4:32 AM on February 14, 2012

I would second changing speed with audacity. The beauty is that the software preserves the pitch, so that you don't have to listen to giants.
posted by Yavsy at 5:05 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Transcriva is a good option for Mac, I'd suggest downloading switch and changing the file type first of all.
posted by FatRabbit at 5:05 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Express scribe pro is about $29 and supports all kinds of format - have a look on their website. I use it all the time for professional transcribing and it works a treat. Good luck!
posted by LyzzyBee at 5:06 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: I'm looking for the same kinds of hacks you are. In the meantime, I basically just play it straight through and type whatever I can, pausing sometimes when the recording gets ahead of me and then starting again wherever I can dive in. When I finish, I start right back at the beginning, filling in the gaps. When I get pretty close to done with one section, I might finish that chunk and mentally check it off so the part I have left to polish gets smaller and smaller.

They can put a man on the moon, but they can't transcribe automatically. Gaaaah.
posted by Madamina at 6:04 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use Transcriva on a mac, as suggested by FatRabbit above. Here is what I like about it:
--Easy Customization of ketboard shortcuts for everything, this means I can start/stop/rewind a second all without ever touching the mouse
--Takes on pretty much any audio and video format
--Speed controls built into the interface. I usually don't want to slow down an entire recording, but sometimes it is useful. With trancriva, I can do it on the fly.
--easy export to rtf or txt

By the way, if you are on a PC it looks like LyzzyBee's suggestion of Express Scribe Pro is the equivalent Windows version at the exact same price point.
posted by 2ghouls at 6:06 AM on February 14, 2012

You don't say whether you're working on a Mac or PC, but I've had good success with f4 doing this. It will play mp4 and allows you to speed up or slow down the audio. Also hotkeys to speed up the pause, play, back up and replay functions.
posted by bardophile at 6:35 AM on February 14, 2012

Pay someone to do it.
posted by caek at 7:12 AM on February 14, 2012

When I last did this 5 years ago, I used Winamp and some hotkeys that let me jump the audio back about 5 seconds without losing focus on the window where I was typing. Not having to leave the keyboard to reach for the mouse was key to getting this done with reasonable speed.
posted by mmascolino at 7:30 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was working off a video source once. My solution was to play the video in VLC and set up a couple of hotkeys that I could trigger: from outside VLC one to play/pause and one to rewind by 5 seconds (you can set several rewind increments in VLC if you poke around enough). I think that I used Quicksilver as the app that intercepted hotkeys, but it's been a while.
posted by adamrice at 7:30 AM on February 14, 2012

I nth using Express Scribe and setting up the hotkeys for easy playback, rewind, slowed playback, and that awesome automatic play-pause-rewind a little bit feature. I think you can convert the mp4 to mp3 in iTunes first so it's compatible. I'm a terrible transcriber/typist and it helped a LOT.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

(oh, but if you can afford it, yes, I'd definitely look into the cheap services mentioned above. I've been told casting words is even pretty decent for medical/scientific language)
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:05 AM on February 14, 2012

Could you get a multimedia keyboard with the play and pause buttons built in and play the audio on the computer you are typing on. I play music in the background of mine all day and reaching up over the number keys to hit the buttons becomes second nature pretty fast. You can get them cheap enough, or you might be able to set up some hot keys in the Fkey row.
posted by wwax at 8:58 AM on February 14, 2012

If you're on a Mac, Scrivener has a feature that allows you to add an MP3 to the research folder and then play it back in the same window and use hotkeys to control playback. Here's a tutorial video. It's also an awesome writing and organisational app in general. Recommended.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:38 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I had a look at some of the solutions suggested, then I opened Media Player to see if simply adjusting the playback speed would do the trick. And indeed it does! I reduced the speed from 1 to .5 and it is perfect. The speech is still very clear but just the right speed for me to touchtype without frequently getting left behind.

For the few times I am left behind, I'm adopting Madamina's trick of just continuing on (leaving a gap), and then I'll fill in the missing bits when I replay and proofread.

Slowing the playback speed simply didn't occur to me. And I'm the one who tells her kids to think laterally when they have a problem. Maybe I should practice what I preach.

I'm hoping to pick up more transcription work, so I may well use the other suggestions in the future. Many thanks to you all.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:09 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

One final tip - there is a shortcut that works in any Mac app. Hit Cmd-Opt-Left arrow to skip back 5 seconds in whatever is playing. This works a treat for quickly skipping back when you miss something.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:23 PM on February 15, 2012

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