The Joylessness of Transcription

Is there anyone who enjoys transcribing interviews?

I can’t say that I do. It’s tedious and time-consuming. I do admit that listening to an interview a second time is helpful. I’ll pick up on things I didn’t notice the first time around, sort of like  watching a movie a second time and spotting something new.

Today I finished transcribing a 53-minute interview. I’ve been working at it off and on since January 22. (The project is long term, so there was no need to transcribe the interview immediately.)

My method for doing a word-for-word transcription is fairly simple. I take it a sentence at a time. That’s about all my brain and fingertips can accurately process. So, yes, it’s click on, listen, click off, type. Repeat. I like interview subjects who speak slowly. Fast talkers fluster me.  I often have to listen to sections again and again.

The full transcription of the 53-minute interview is 13 pages. I consider it a small victory. No, make that a medium victory.

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Transcription Is a Worthwhile Writing Task

The idea of transcribing a recording is often a turnoff for me. It can be a tedious and time-consuming exercise. But it’s also necessary work for some writing projects, and it’s often rewarding, too. The time spent transcribing can cut down on writing time. It aids understanding of the material and can help create a structure for a first draft.

This was the case for me on a recent project. My assignment was to ghost write a year-in-review article for a company president. My source material was an online town-hall meeting during which the president gave a state-of-the-company presentation. I also had his PowerPoint slides, as well as other background material.

I decided to transcribe his talk, which lasted about 35 minutes, a rough transcription instead of word-for-word. His presentation created a built-in outline for the article. Once I completed the transcription, I had a very raw draft of the article. I cut and polished his words, added an opening and ending, and set it aside. Later I refined the article and turned it in. My client liked it.

As it turned out, the transcription and other prep to write the article took much longer than the actual writing and editing. For the most part, the article wrote itself, a case when a full transcription was well worth the time.