Step-by-step guide to help you quickly and easily transcribe interviews for investigations, legal cases, podcasts, and more.

Reliable and accurate interview transcription is a valuable tool to have in your arsenal. But if you’re new to the process, transcribing interviews can be a frustrating and time-consuming process.

So to make the process faster and easier, we put together this ultimate guide to show you how to write an interview transcript.

What is interview transcription?

Interview transcription refers to the process of creating a readable text file from the raw audio of a recorded interview. It’s often necessary to have an interview “typed out” so its contents can be accessed more easily.

Interview transcriptions are often used in investigative settings, whether part of a law enforcement investigation or an insurance claim. However, they may also be used by researchers, documentarians, or businesses.

What is interview transcription?

Interview transcription refers to the process of creating a readable text file from the raw audio of a recorded interview. It’s often necessary to have an interview “typed out” so its contents can be accessed more easily.

Interview transcriptions are often used in investigative settings, whether part of a law enforcement investigation or an insurance claim. However, they may also be used by researchers, documentarians, or businesses.

What are the benefits of interview transcription?

While audio files are much more easily accessible in 2023 than they were in the days of tapes and CDs, interview transcription offers a number of benefits across several use cases.

Here are some of the benefits of transcribing interviews:

Capture accuracy

Transcription offers easy file storage. A printed interview can easily live among the rest of your files, unlike a recording which needs a digital home. And even if you prefer digital file storage, an interview transcript in PDF format is generally more user-friendly than an audio or video file.

Go all-in

Transcribing a recorded interview takes the added burden of notetaking off the interviewer. You can focus entirely on the conversation at hand without multitasking. Plus, you’re less likely to make a mistake while capturing quotes and ideas from your interviewees. Transcription preserves

More shareable content

Interviews are often full of valuable content and insights. Transcribing an interview will help you to use that content more widely by making the transcript shareable and accessible in different formats. That way, it’s easier for collaborators and teams to access the same version of the transcription quickly and accurately.

Gain useful insights

Interview transcription can provide a wealth of data for analysis. Transcribing an interview allows you to go back through the transcript and extract important ideas, quotes, or topics from it. In addition, your transcript can be handy if you want to compare different interviews against each other or draw information from multiple responses.

Save time and hassle

Transcribing an interview is often much faster and more efficient than sorting through a long audio file. Instead of listening to the entire recording, you can look at a transcript and find the part you need in seconds. Ultimately, you’ll save lots of time that would otherwise be wasted trying to locate important information within a long audio file.

How to transcribe an interview: step-by-step guide

Manually transcribing an interview is time-consuming. If you’re pressed for time, consider enlisting the help of a professional transcriptionist. Professional transcription services like SpeakWrite can have your transcription back to you in as little as three hours.

But if you prefer to transcribe the interview yourself, here are five steps to help you do it right.

1.      Prepare for success before the interview starts.

Before you start recording your interview, make sure to get the basics right. Record the interview in a quiet environment with minimal background noise so that the audio file is clear and easy to understand.

Use high-quality recording equipment to get the best audio. Using a nice digital recorder will ensure that the audio is clear and easy to understand when you go to transcribe it. You can also use your phone in a pinch– just make sure to turn it on “Do Not Disturb” in case you get any tags, texts, DMs, or anything else that could go ding during your conversation.

Finally, prepare questions that will elicit rich, thought-provoking answers from your interviewee and eliminate awkward pauses and stutters—an engaging interview will make for easier and faster transcription.

2.     Choose an appropriate type of transcription.

When we speak, we give lots of non-verbal cues and rely heavily on situational context to understand each other. Most people don’t talk as if giving a speech, meaning utterances like “ums” and “uhs” are often present in interviews.

Consider what the interview will be used for to decide the level of detail to include. A police interview, for example, will likely require a higher level of verbal detail than a podcast interview.

There are three types of transcription to choose from:

Verbatim transcription

A verbatim interview includes every single word and utterance of each speaker—filler words like “um,” “uh,” and “like” will be present in the transcript. Laughter, pauses, throat clearing, and other sounds—anything that occurs as part of a natural speech pattern—are also included. For investigative interviews, verbatim transcripts are often preferred.

Example of a verbatim transcript:

“I was sitting there at the traffic light at, uh, at Main and First. I was goin’ South on Main. It must have been, oh, I dunno… five thirty or six p.m.? Yeah, because the sun was goin’ down. Anyways, the light had just turned red and I stopped, but the, uh, the guy in the next lane over….the left lane… he just kept goin’. And the other car, it was goin’ east on First. He didn’t even have time to stop. The other car, the one that ran the light, rammed right into him.”

Intelligent verbatim transcription

An intelligent verbatim interview includes every word but excludes filler works and utterances. In situations where the speaker’s meaning is more important than how they spoke—for example, in a business setting—intelligent verbatim is the preferred transcription method. It’s the most common type of interview transcription, as it’s easier to read and transcribe.

Example of an intelligent transcript:

“I was sitting at the traffic light at Main and First. I was going South on Main. It must have been five thirty or six p.m. because the sun was going down. The light had just turned red and I stopped, but the guy in the next lane over, the left lane, he just kept going. And the other car was going east on First. He didn’t even have time to stop. The other car, the one that ran the light, rammed right into him.”

Edited transcription

Edited interviews prioritize accuracy and readability. They’re most commonly used in publications such as newspapers, websites, and magazines, where formality is preferable over accuracy.

Example of an edited transcript:

“I was going South on Main and stopped at the traffic light at First Street. The light had just turned red. The car in the lane next to me just kept going and ran right into the other car, which was going east on First.”

3.      Listen, chunk, and type out the rough draft.

Before you start typing, listen to the recording once all the way through. Make a note of any audio that’s difficult to understand or any other issues you might need to clarify.

Once you’ve given the whole thing a preliminary listen, it’s time to break it down into manageable chunks so you can quickly transcribe each part of the conversation. Working in smaller segments allows you to pay closer attention to the conversation, capture more details, and easily take breaks without losing your place in the recording.

On your second listen, type out as much as you can as you listen. Pause, rewind, and re-listen as needed. It’s helpful to use shorthand and abbreviate wherever possible—the idea is to get as much on the page as possible. Don’t worry about correcting typos or adding formatting at this point—you’ll fix those issues later.

4.     Edit the rough draft.

Some people rush this stage of the transcription process, but editing should instead be a time to slow down and zoom in on your transcript. Listen for a third time, this time adding anything you may have missed, correcting typos, and fleshing out abbreviated or shorthand text. Read over your transcript and ensure it accurately reflects the content of the recording.

Pay attention to details like specific words used, accents and speech patterns, mispronunciations, and other verbal nuances. Also, don’t forget to include any laughter, pauses, or other sounds that may be important for context.

5.     Edit for formatting conventions

Using interview formatting conventions provides much-needed clarity and ensures the usability of your transcript. In addition, if you’re creating a document for court, there may be special formatting requirements for your state, so be sure to use them.

  • Speaker identification – Identify each speaker by capitalizing their name in brackets. You may anonymize their name if necessary.
  • Timestamps – Use timestamps to match the transcribed content to the audio. You may use brackets, regular parentheses, or colons to denote time stamps.
  • Paragraphing – Use paragraphs and indentations to help distinguish between sections of conversation so the transcript is easier to read and navigate.
  • Spacing – Make sure words and sentences are appropriately spaced and punctuated. The easier it is to read, the more useful the transcript will be.
  • Margins – Keep consistent margins throughout the transcript.

Once you’ve learned the basics of interview transcription, the process should go quite smoothly. While time-consuming, transcribing an interview isn’t complicated. Generally speaking, transcribing an interview takes about four times as long as the length of the audio. So a one-hour interview, for example, takes about four hours to transcribe.

Can I use AI to transcribe my interview?

Since interviews usually involve more than one speaker, it can be challenging for basic AI transcription software to process. Ditto for distorted or low-quality audio.

Depending on the type of interview, there may be interruptions and interjections, which pose an added challenge for automatic transcription. Of course, if the interview is to be used for official purposes, the transcription must be a faithful representation of the audio.

So it makes sense that many businesses, legal teams, and law enforcement officers play it safe by manually transcribing audio. In this article, we’ll explore how to transcribe interviews accurately and efficiently so you can move on to the more important tasks.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the easiest way to transcribe an interview?

A professional transcription service is the easiest way to get an interview transcribed quickly and accurately. However, there are AI transcription services that many users find helpful for fast transcription. Note that AI transcription typically requires heavy editing and formatting.

How do you summarize an interview transcript?

To summarize an interview transcript, simply read the transcribed interview carefully while taking note of the essential details. Then, write up a summary of the interview contents. You can leave out minor details or irrelevant information. Consider hiring a professional writer to assist in creating a detailed and well-written interview summary.

How long does it take to transcribe an interview?

The amount of time it takes to write an interview transcript depends on a number of factors, including the length of the interview recording, your experience level, and the speed at which you type. Generally speaking, interview transcription takes about four times as long as the length of the interview.

Be patient with yourself.

Now that you understand how interview transcription works, you’ll be well-prepared to start transcribing interviews yourself. It might take a while to learn how to write a transcript of an interview, but it gets easier as you gain experience. Take regular breaks and be patient with yourself.

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Of course, if you don’t have the time or typing skills to manually transcribe an interview, consider enlisting the help of a professional transcription service such as Speakwrite. Our transcription services offer properly formatted interview transcriptions in as little as three hours.

Our transcripts are formatted perfectly, so they’re ready to use upon delivery. Whether you’re creating an official report or just want to review a conversation yourself, SpeakWrite has you covered. Get started with a free trial today and see how easy it is to get your interviews transcribed quickly and accurately.