Podcasts - Is Transcription a Good Idea?
Podcasts were initially used to allow people to distribute their own content or radio style shows to a wider audience. The clarity of a podcast digital recording has been ideal for a variety of media, such as school lessons, tourism audio guides, oral history interviews, radio programmes, magazines, political broadcasts, sermons, TV commentary, newspapers and even health guides.
So why do you need a podcast transcription if you have the audio? The content of audio recordings on the Internet is not readily searchable and, therefore, indexed and classified by the search engines. This renders your podcast almost invisible unless you spend time advertising it or loading the show notes with relevant keywords. Increasingly, podcasters are providing a transcript of either excerpts to be included in the show notes, or a full transcript of the podcast, which can be uploaded to the Internet alongside the audio recording. The transcript will then show up in the search engine results like any other document or website.
It could be argued that a podcast is already in an accessible format and why add to the reams of written material already on the Internet? Some people say it defeats the object of listening to a podcast and takes away the impact of the atmosphere and style of the voices. That's true, up to a point - unless you happen to be deaf, or with even slightly impaired hearing. In the same way that a whole sound file recordings industry has been created for those with sight problems, (talking books being the most obvious example), transcripts or closed captions / subtitles can make podcasts available to a more disadvantaged audience. If you can't hear clearly, then your only option is to read - and podcasters should be conscious of this. This is particularly pertinent now, since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Communications Act 2003 encourage the provision of full accessible content for all broadcasts. The sound files can help the visually impaired while subtitles or a full transcript can be very useful for the hearing impaired. Obviously, there are some podcasts such as concerts or music shows where transcription makes little sense. But there's a whole array of programmes which would be inaccessible to a lot of people without this additional written resource.
Podcast transcripts can be tweaked to ensure the search engines can find you by adding relevant hyperlinks, or you can provide an index of keywords. This makes the transcript searchable - not only by the search engines but by anybody wishing to find a particular section in a hurry. You can even break the transcript up into sections if the podcast covers different subjects. Each section can be placed on a separate web page with its own meta tags and keywords, plus a link to the podcast recording itself.
Another point to consider is that some people prefer to read content because it's quicker than listening to an audio file. There may be some podcasts where your audience may only want to listen to a small section of the entire programme. Without a transcript with time markers inserted in it, they would have to listen to the whole recording or spool back and forth in order to try to find the relevant bit. With a time-stamped transcript, they can go specifically to the point they want to listen to, or they can read the transcript for that section. This doesn't mean you're going to lose 'listeners' by doing that. By providing all the options for your audience, they'll remember which podcasts are more user friendly than others.
Reading a transcript can also be helpful if the voices on the podcast are hard to understand, such as when someone speaks at 'machine gun speed'. Trying to concentrate to catch every nuance of what they're saying can be very wearing! Having a back-up transcript can be helpful in such circumstances for those who would prefer to read rather than listen, and to perhaps clarify any bits they didn't hear clearly the first time round.
What is important is that podcasters should provide their audience with a choice. Sometimes people will prefer to listen to the entire programme and sometimes they'll choose to read a transcript; and that choice can be governed as much by the time available to them as by their personal preferences. A quality podcast supported by a transcript will always generate more interest and a bigger audience than an audio podcast on its own.
So, having decided that transcribing your podcasts is a good idea, what else do you need to consider? You need to decide what type of transcript would be suitable. In the transcription industry, there are generally three styles available: Complete Verbatim, Intelligent Verbatim and Edited Transcript.
The most popular choice for podcasts is Intelligent Verbatim. This ensures a full, accurate transcript but omits all the 'ums', 'ahs', repetitions and verbal habits people develop, such as excessive use of 'you know' and 'kind of'. These meaningless fillers add nothing to the context of the transcript and take longer to transcribe. It makes sense to cut all that out, but leave the rest exactly as spoken, to retain the overall style of the person speaking. This also makes for a much easier transcript to read, and significantly cuts down on transcription time and costs. For podcast interviews, there may be a happy medium whereby the questions can be 'tidied' up and the interviewee's responses left in full.
Complete Verbatim is a transcript of absolutely everything said, including every repetition, verbal quirk or instances where people drift off in mid comment with no logical end to a sentence. It endeavours to capture the conversational 'style' of the person, plus any dialect patterns and emotions where applicable. This obviously increases the time it takes to transcribe a podcast and it can also make for a very tedious 'read'! Most of us don't talk in completely coherent sentences, so this tends to be the least popular of the transcript style options.
A good halfway house is an Edited Transcript which is very useful for podcasts, particularly for guides and lessons where the content is critical but perhaps the style or verbal quirks of the speaker don't need to be included. Any incorrect grammar, non-standard English or mistakes are corrected and sentences are tidied up where it's sensible to do so.
Once you've decided on the type of transcript you need, it may also be useful to consider transcription times - how long it will actually take to transcribe your podcast. The professional industry standard allows one hour to transcribe 15 minutes of clearly recorded speech. It therefore takes a minimum of 4 hours to transcribe a one hour recording and sometimes as much as 6 hours depending on a number of factors. These include how clear the recording is, if an external microphone was used, the clarity and speed of the voices and the number of people speaking, how coherently they speak and whether there are any difficult accents, plus whether any background noise is intrusive or if there's any industry specific or technical terminology involved. Our sister article to this discusses in more detail what factors influence a clear podcast recording, and includes some tips to help you make a clear recording.
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