Did you ever play with invisible ink as a kid?
If you did, you probably thought invisible ink was pretty cool stuff.
You’d write a secret message on a piece of paper with a “special” pen. Of course, no one could see the words. The words were invisible.
But hold that invisible ink under an ultraviolet light and, “Voila!”
The words magically appeared.
Your invisible words became visible.
The ultraviolet light “decoded” your words.
Listening to information is one thing – remembering it accurately is quite another. Hmm, remembering it word for word? How is that possible?
Ta-da! Transcripts to the rescue!
Transcripts are like a “decoder.”
Transcripts turn your “invisible” spoken words (from your conversations and interviews) into “visible” words on paper.
A transcript is simply a written record of your audio/video conversation. The audio from the interview is converted to text, word-by-word, so you know exactly what was said. Knowing exactly what was said is important as you start editing.
Why are transcriptions important in editing?
Transcriptions are important in editing for three reasons. Transcripts:
- Eliminate guesswork.
- Save time.
- Speed up client approval.
1) Transcripts eliminate the guesswork out of what was said.
Imagine this scenario.
Your interview guest is on a roll answering a question. As they’re talking, you’re feverishly scribbling down notes so you don’t forget what they’re saying. Think it’s possible to write down everything they say? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a risk.
Your listening suffers
Even if you could take accurate notes, chances are pretty good you’ll miss cues to ask important follow-up questions. You’ll be too focused on taking notes. You’ll zip right to the next question on your list. And there’s a good chance your guest will feel like they’re talking to themselves while you’re taking notes.
Now imagine a different scenario
Imagine you knew ahead of time that your interviewee’s exact words would appear on paper.
Imagine how your frame of mind might be different during the conversation:
You can listen with 100% of your energy.
- You can keep consistent eye contact (if you’re on video).
- You can ask interesting follow-up questions because you’re fully engaged.
Quite a difference, right?
Knowing that everything is captured on paper for later reference frees you up to be fully engaged and in the moment with your guest. (And your guest will see, hear and feel the difference!)
2) Transcripts save time.
If time is money, you’ll almost certainly have someone transcribe the conversation. Transcribing an interview can be a slow process. Instead of spending your time transcribing an interview, you could be off getting other things accomplished. Having someone else transcribe your material frees you up to keep your projects moving forward– like your billing, for instance!
There’s also a side benefit in having someone transcribe your material. You won’t become tired and stale of hearing the interview over and over– this helps you keep a fresh perspective on your project.
3) Transcripts can speed up client approval.
Let’s say you’re interviewing someone for a multimedia project (heck, or even a print project).
Instead of using rough notes from a conversation (and crossing your fingers hoping everything is okay), why not use the exact quotes? The exact quotes will also help you create a script, outline, etc. in the order you and your client desire before you dive into the audio/video editing process.
Need a different quote than your original plans called for?
No problem– you can quickly find another one and send if off for approval.
Need approval of your script ahead of time before you begin writing or editing? Again, no problem. The quotes you intend to use can be copied to a new document and sent to your client for approval. This sure beats having to re-edit the project!
Two options for transcribing
Most likely, you’ll have two options when it comes to deciding where to have your interview transcribed:
Some companies use transcriptions often enough they have their own internal transcription department. Many times, employees don’t even know their organization has such a service. If you’re not sure whether your company has a transcription department, it may be worth taking a few minutes to see if they do.
More often than not, you’ll send your interview out to a service for transcribing. (Google “transcriptions + city” to find services near you.)
There are three things to do before sending your audio for transcribing:
Get an estimate for how much it will cost to transcribe your interview.
Some services are extremely fast while others take longer. Ask how long it will take to get your document finished. If it’s a bigger project than “normal” or you need it rushed, it’s helpful for the transcriber to know that ahead of time, too.
Be clear on the format you want your transcription transcribed in. Chances are it will be a Word document. Just double-check to avoid any surprises. (If you want time code just make sure the transcriber supports time code.)
One thing to find out before you begin taping is determining if your video recorder records uses time code. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. But if it does, then you might naturally be wondering …
What is time code?
In the land of video, you may have heard the term “time code.” An entire chapter can be written on time code and how some software can sync your transcripts to the video. That chapter is outside the scope of this book but it’s worth taking a minute here to let you know what time code is (in case you bump into later) and how it can be used to speed up the editing process.
(This is the only technical part of the book. It will be brief so hang in there!)
Time code is a hidden electronic code that references hours, minutes and seconds (and frames) on the video
An editing system that can read time code (or numbers with the hour, minutes, seconds and frames) can help you define exactly where your sound bite is located on the tape to the second (and even to the frame, if you want to be that precise).
(Note: Not all cameras have time code; some do, some don’t. If you don’t have time code, don’t worry– you can still use a time stamp. Keep reading!)
Can you see time code?
Yes you can. You probably have seen time code but didn’t know it was called time code. Time code is usually seen on the bottom of your screen as a series of numbers quickly flashing. The Hollywood slate that “claps” before each scene is filmed has time code– those are the numbers quickly flashing by on the clapper.
When you send your tape out for transcribing, the transcriber can see those flashing numbers (if you send the interview with video). If you want, you can have the transcriber insert time code every 30 seconds or every minute throughout the document (for easy reference later on).
(Note: The transcription can have time code in it but only if the transcriber is set up to transcribe with a time code reader. If they don’t have time code reading equipment and you want time code, you might be able to send the transcriber a format with time code visible on the screen, commonly called a “burn-in.” Just ask them ahead of time.)
If the transcriber has the capability to use time code, they can assign a time code number to every answer from your interviewee.
Why bother having time code number for every answer your guest gives?
Let’s say you have your transcription in front of your and it doesn’t have time code or any time stamp throughout the interview.
Let’s say you would like to use a sound bit on page four, paragraph six. Could you quickly find it on your tape? Is it two minutes into the interview? Four minutes? Seven minutes? You don’t know where it is on the tape. That means you and/or the editor have to spend time searching for the sound bite.
Inserting time code for every answer avoids this messy search
Having a time code number associated with every answer tells you exactly where every sound bite is located. No more fumbling around during the editing process trying to locate specific sound bites.
What if your camera doesn’t use time code, like the Flip camera?
If your camera doesn’t record time code, there’s no need to worry. Instead of time code, you can use minutes and seconds. It won’t be as accurate as time code, but it’ll be accurate enough to help you locate the sound bites you need. Time code is a highly accurate measuring system; every frame of video has a corresponding number. Even without time code, your time stamp reference will be still be accurate to make your editing sessions run smoothly.
What do you send to the transcriber?
In most cases, you can send an audio file (MP3’s are typical) of your interview to your transcriber. (Just check ahead of time as to what files are preferred.)
The audio can be copied from the audio on the video or you can use a small digital voice recorder placed near the guest. As the interview is about to begin, start your recorder.
Um’s and ah’s
What about “um’s” and “ah’s?” Do you want them transcribed? Do you even need them transcribed?
There’s no easy “yes” or “no” answer to this question. If you have them transcribed, you won’t be surprised when you’re editing the interview. If you don’t have them transcribed and you think the interview is exactly like the words on the paper, you might be in for a surprise. (I always like every word transcribed so I know exactly what was said.)
Should you have your questions transcribed?
You can also decide whether or not to have your questions transcribed. (I never saw the value in it so I only asked for answers only.) Again, it’s your call.
It’s tempting to save money and not get transcripts
Perhaps the conversation will be short. You’ll remember what the other person says, right? Can’t you just work from memory and perhaps a few brief notes? Maybe. Maybe not. How sensitive is the material you’re working on? How sensitive is the person you’re interviewing? Would using a few different words here and there make much difference? Just ask anyone who’s been misquoted. That should give you the answer.
Don’t get me wrong. You can certainly transcribe the interview yourself. Just know ahead of time you could spend quite a bit of your time transcribing instead of doing something else.
Some professional transcribers use the “four times” rule of thumb
If an interview is an hour long, some transcribers estimate it will take them up to four transcribing hours to transcribe. Some say it could be as little as three hours. It could be as high as six hours if the audio is really tough to understand, uses scientific or medical language, etc.
If it takes a pro four hours to transcribe an interview with pro equipment, you can almost be sure it’ll take you quite a bit longer.
The choice is yours
You can send your interview to a service or transcribe it yourself. Either way, it’s a smart move to have your interview transcribed. If you send the interview out to a service, having a pro handle your transcripts is worth every penny in the long run.
If you decide not to transcribe the interview, remember:
- Your time is valuable (what are your not accomplishing if you do the transcription yourself?)
- Any inaccuracies in your notes could cost you time later on in the editing process.
Hey, you many not be a kid any more decoding invisible messages
But you can still have your own secret decoder: transcripts.
C’mon– it’s time to pack up your director’s chair once again.
Let’s head off to the final section and learn how to take all these different sound bites and edit them into a compelling message.
Thomas Clifford is an award-winning communications specialist and blogger. Tom’s copywriting simplifies complex business ideas so prospects and customers “get it.”
Clifford spent 25 years producing 500+ films as a branding/marketing documentary producer for Fortune 500’s to non-profits. Tom’s informal, conversational style of interviewing people enabled him to capture jargon-free marketing messages– igniting audiences into action.
Tom has been featured in several books including the new release, “How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business.” Clifford also co-authored (with other bloggers) three “Age of Conversation” books and has written dozens of articles as an “Expert Blogger” for FastCompany.com.