Discover the key disparities between digital and traditional transcription. Speed, cost, accuracy—find the best option for your business now .

To use a human transcriptionist, or not to use a human transcriptionist?

When it comes to picking between traditional and digital transcribing, that’s really the question you’re asking.

All kinds of factors might go into your final decision—cost, speed, and accuracy, to name a few. That’s why we put together this easy comparison guide for businesses searching for the best transcription services.

Here’s what you need to know about digital transcription software vs. traditional transcription before deciding which one to use for your business.

What's the Difference Between Digital Transcription and Traditional Transcription?

Any kind of transcription involves the conversion of spoken language into written text. Traditionally, this task has been executed by human transcribers who painstakingly listen to audio recordings or video files and transcribe the content manually with incredible accuracy.

In contrast, digital transcripts leverage automated software or artificial intelligence (AI) to swiftly transform spoken words into text. This automated approach offers a faster and often more cost-effective solution, but it comes with its own set of challenges—particularly in terms of accuracy.

Traditional Transcription

Digital Transcription

●       Involves human transcribers who meticulously transcribe audio or video content.

●       Offers high accuracy due to human understanding of context, accents, and complex language.

●       Includes formatting and revisions for readability and compliance.

●       Can be time-consuming and more expensive than digital transcription

●       Employs automated software or AI for rapid transcription.

●       Ideal for large volumes of content and quick turnarounds.

●       Accuracy can fluctuate, especially with challenging accents, fast speech, specialized terminology, or poor audio quality.

●       Data may be stored on third-party servers that are unsecured—not ideal for sensitive audio files.

Traditional vs Digital Transcription Services: Comparing the Essentials

One of the primary distinctions between digital and traditional transcription lies in their accuracy levels and cost structures.

Costs & Accuracy: Traditional Transcription

Traditional transcription relies on human transcribers who meticulously transcribe audio or video content. This approach guarantees high accuracy but can take more time and is more expensive.

But the money is worth it for businesses who need more time to edit transcripts for accuracy or formatting.

Traditional transcription relies on human expertise to decipher context, manage overlapping speech, and interpret complex language and accents, leaving you with no need to edit problematic areas on your own.

The best part? If your industry requires special formatting (legal documents are notoriously stringent when it comes to this), human transcriptionists can take care of that, too.

Costs & Accuracy: Digital Transcripts

Digital transcription, on the other hand, harnesses automated software or artificial intelligence (AI) to rapidly transcribe spoken language into text. It’s true that this method often proves to be cost-effective, especially for large volumes of content.

However, the accuracy of digital transcription software can vary, particularly when faced with challenges like heavy accents, fast speech, specialized terminology, or poor audio quality.

Why? Because artificial intelligence doesn’t understand human context. Conversation is improvisation, and so much of the information in a conversation comes from inferring between the lines.

Digital Transcription vs Traditional Transcription: Turnaround Time

Here’s the short version: they’re both fast! We’re not dealing with a difference of weeks or even days but of hours and minutes.

Turnaround Time: Traditional Transcription

You may assume that traditional transcription involves a much longer turnaround time. And if you were going to transcribe something in-house, that would be true!

In reality, the speed of completion with a transcription service like SpeakWrite can be as fast as just 3 hours. Rather than using one single transcriptionist to get the job done, professional transcription services can leverage entire teams of professionals to work on your audio at once.

So, while digital transcription software is undeniably faster, the wait time for human transcription isn’t all that much longer.

Turnaround Time: Digital Transcription

Digital transcripts are driven by AI automation, so they offer a significantly faster turnaround. It excels in handling extensive content efficiently and can usually provide a draft in just minutes.

If you’re in a pinch and need a document to manage a time crunch, then sure, this option is great. You’ll have a working transcription of your audio at impressive speed.

However, the speed comes at a cost to quality—you’ll likely need to invest time into formatting and editing your transcription when you go this route. Here’s what will happen:

  • You’ll get your digital transcript delivered to your inbox and think, “Wow, that was so fast and affordable!”
  • But your excitement will soon dissipate when you look at your document and think, “Oh, this is a mess. I have to do some transcription editing before I can use this at work. Hopefully, it doesn’t take long!”
  • Three hours later, you’ve fixed dozens of typos, corrected missing punctuation errors, and formatted everything so it’s readable—you’re also wondering why you just paid for a document you then had to spend hours correcting!

If you’re using transcriptions in a professional context, digital transcription that relies entirely on artificial intelligence or speech-to-text and speech recognition software will only disappoint.

Do Both Types Of Transcription Offer Customization and Formatting Options?

Traditional transcription services often provide a higher degree of customization when it comes to formatting. Here’s what you can typically expect:

  • Custom Templates: Traditional services allow you to upload custom templates or style guides to ensure that the transcript adheres to your organization’s specific formatting requirements. This can be crucial for industries with strict document formatting standards, such as legal or academic sectors.
  • Personalized Formatting: With traditional transcription, you have the flexibility to request personalized formatting preferences, such as font styles, spacing, headers, and footers. This ensures that the transcript is accurate and matches your brand or professional standards.

On the other hand, digital transcription services may have limitations in terms of customization and formatting options.

  • Standard Formatting: Digital transcription software will often provide transcripts in standard formatting, which may not align with your organization’s specific requirements. While the content is transcribed accurately, you may need to invest additional time in formatting the document to meet your standards.
  • Limited Template Support: Unlike traditional services, digital transcription services may not support the uploading of custom templates or style guides. This means you might have less control over the final document’s layout and appearance.

What About Security and Confidentiality?

When choosing between digital and traditional transcription services, ensuring the security and confidentiality of your data is vital. Digital transcription services often store their client audio and information in third-party clouds or servers overseas—scary!

That means that anyone—including foreign government agencies or corporations—could have access to your conversations. So, while the lure of instant transcriptions with speech-to-text services may seem tempting, you’re risking quite a bit when it comes to your security.

On the other hand, traditional and secure transcription services are managed by real people here in the United States. For instance, SpeakWrite handles security and confidentiality for our clients in the following ways:

  • Our public systems run on the secure Microsoft Azure Government Cloud, following industry best practices.
  • Your files are transmitted, stored, and returned over encrypted channels for end-to-end security.
  • Only authorized, background-checked personnel with signed confidentiality agreements have access to your data. Jobs are randomly assigned to typists, and your contact information remains confidential.
  • You can opt for secure link delivery for added protection.
  • We keep your data in top-tier data centers in the United States, ensuring data security and compliance.

Is The Process Of Transcription The Same For Both Digital and Traditional Transcription?

Regardless of whether you opt for digital or traditional transcription, the process generally encompasses the same steps.

  1. Recording: Spoken content is captured in audio or video format. The better the quality of your recording device, the better your transcription. This is true whether you use digital or human transcription services.
  2. Uploading: The recorded file is submitted to the transcription service. This part is also the same—you’ll upload your audio in an acceptable audio format to get the job started.
  3. Transcription: Content is converted into written text, either by human transcribers or automated software. Humans will take the time to format your transcription so that it’s polished, professional, and easy to read. Professionals will also use special transcription equipment, including foot pedals and transcription software, to create the most accurate transcriptions while reducing the total transcription time.
  4. Review and Editing: Professional manual transcriptions are reviewed and edited to ensure accuracy. Most digital transcription services offer this option in addition to automatic speech recognition, but you have to pay large additional fees.
  5. Delivery: The final transcript is delivered to your inbox. This is another step where working with a company run by real humans is ideal. If anything is wrong, you can reach out to customer service to make it right.

Is Digital Transcription As Accurate As Traditional Transcription?

Digital transcription isn’t as accurate as humans yet, as it leverages automated software and AI, which don’t follow conversations the same way a human can. So, while it offers faster turnaround times and is well-suited for handling large volumes, the trade-off lies in accuracy.

While AI-driven transcription has made significant strides, it struggles with nuances such as heavy accents, rapid speech, specialized jargon, or suboptimal audio quality. To bridge this gap, many digital transcription services incorporate human review or editing into their workflow.

Of course, these human revisions generally come at an extra cost. So, at that point, you might as well just hire a professional to do the transcription for you!

Which Form Of Transcription Is Right For Your Business Needs?

Deciding which form of transcription is right for your business requires a more in-depth evaluation of your situation. That’s why we compiled this handy checklist of factors to consider before you make your choice:

  • Is your audio complex? For highly technical or specialized content, such as medical or legal documents, traditional transcription may be more accurate as it allows for a nuanced understanding of industry-specific terminology and context.
  • Does your audio have multiple speakers? If your transcription involves multiple speakers or heavy accents, human transcribers are often better at deciphering overlapping voices and nuances in speech.
  • Is the project urgent? If you need a transcript quickly, digital transcription services usually offer faster turnaround times. Some automated transcription tools can generate transcripts almost instantly. Even if you opt for digital transcription initially, allocating time for human review is crucial to ensure accuracy. This process should be factored into your timeline.
  • What kind of budget do you have? Digital transcription is generally more cost effective than traditional methods. If you have a tight budget, it might be the preferred choice. However, consider the potential costs of human review if accuracy is paramount.
  • How important is accuracy? Assess how critical accuracy is for your project. Even a small error can be problematic for legal documents or academic research, making traditional transcription a safer choice.
  • Are you dealing with sensitive information? If your content contains sensitive or confidential information, you may be more comfortable with traditional transcription, where you have greater control over who accesses the data.
  • Do you need a large volume of content? Digital transcription can handle large volumes of content efficiently. If you have an extensive archive of audio or video recordings, digital tools may be more practical.
  • Does your profession require specialized formatting? Traditional transcription allows you to request specific formatting or layout preferences, which might be essential for certain projects.
  • Does your audio include accents? If your content includes multiple languages or diverse accents, digital transcription tools may not perform equally well for all. Traditional transcriptionists with language expertise may be necessary.
  • Is confidentiality a concern? Traditional transcription is the way to go if you’re dealing with sensitive material. Digital transcription companies don’t exactly have the best reputation for protecting client data—so be careful!

Ready To Get Started With Transcription Services?

SpeakWrite is an industry leader in translation and transcription, offering 99% accuracy and speedy turnaround times. Place an order today and see how easy it is to get polished, professional transcripts when you need them!

How to Mail Your Recorded Tapes


Many clients have recorded mini or standard cassette tapes to submit to us for transcription, but would rather not use their staff and resources to input these tapes into our system. In these instances, you can have these recorded cassettes delivered to us, and we will upload them into our system for transcription for you. To use this method of submission, you must have an existing SpeakWrite account. Send recorded tapes via overnight courier or USPS to the following address:

SpeakWrite Tape Processing Center
6300 Bridgepoint Pkwy
Building 1, Suite 100
Austin, Texas 78730

(800) 828-3889
Attn: Production Manager

With each delivery, you must print out a Recorded Tape Transmittal Sheet and enclose it with the tapes to be transcribed. Your package must include properly addressed and pre-paid packaging and label for the return of your tapes, using a service that provides for delivery tracking. If this is not included, we will return your tapes to you and charge your account a $10.00 delivery fee. Immediately upon our receipt of your tapes, we will input them into the SpeakWrite system for transcription. You will receive the transcription of the taped material via the email address on your account, just as any other SpeakWrite job. Your tapes will be returned to you via the delivery method you designate 48 hours after the completion of your transcript. All work transcribed will be charged at the standard, per word rate. There is no additional charge for handling or inputting the tapes. Be sure to erase all previously recorded tapes completely before recording any new dictation in order to avoid having old work transcribed by mistake or jeopardizing the quality of the newly recorded material.