Transcription Challenges and How to Overcome Them

August 30, 2022
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Transcription Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Like any other skill, transcription has challenges for those who want to learn it. Whether it’s meetings or interview transcripts, transcription challenges always await.

If you plan to learn how to do transcription, you should know how to describe the problems that may occur when transcribing notes written by others (or yourself).

What is a transcription challenge?

A transcription challenge is a problem in the audio recording that makes it difficult to transcribe certain lines of dialogue.

Most of the time, the quality of the audio recording can lead to transcription challenges. Sometimes, however, the challenge can also come from the type of transcription you’re pursuing. To summarize:

  • Smart verbatim transcripts require you to know which filler words to filter out and correctly identify grammatical mistakes.
  • Pure verbatim transcripts should have the proper indicators for incomplete thoughts, false starts, and filler words while adequately accommodating crosstalk.
  • Non-verbatim transcripts must contain the main idea in each line of dialogue while being as condensed as possible.

Each type of transcription contains challenges that you have to overcome for a reliable transcript. In other words, regardless of what kind of transcript you’re aiming for, there will be challenges you will face.

Why you should solve transcription challenges

Say you’ve completed your transcription without solving any of the challenges. These “challenges” are barely a problem if you can understand the transcript yourself, right? If you made the transcript for your own research purposes, perhaps you can easily ignore these challenges.

Nevertheless, it’s always best to make it a habit to know how to solve transcription challenges, especially when you take up the task of transcribing qualitative interviews for team projects where speedy collaboration is key.

Here are four reasons why you should learn how to solve transcription challenges:

  • Avoids confusion. Simply put, your colleagues may get confused with unaddressed transcription challenges. At worst, they can arrive at inaccurate conclusions during their analysis which can affect the integrity of your study.
  • Optimizes your workflow. A clean transcript allows your team to do their analysis without any hurdles from transcription challenges.
  • Shortens turnaround time. Transcription mistakes can cause delays in the research process. At worst, your team will return your transcript and ask you to make a do-over to prevent any inaccuracies.
  • Creates a more reliable future reference. It’s very likely that you’ll use the transcript again sometime in the future (e.g., content repurposing, future studies). In this case, you may forget the challenges you faced and spend more time dealing with them.

On the other hand, failing to solve these challenges can cause a lot of hassle during the research.

Successfully resolving these challenges takes a trained ear that can take years to develop. If you want to skip the challenges and go straight to the benefits, use a transcription provider like TranscriptionWing and have an expert transcriptionist make your transcripts for you.

Transcription challenges

If you want to take up transcription as a skill, it’s vital to know the challenges you’ll face during the process. Here are some of the common challenges you will face during transcription:


Speakers can sometimes interrupt each other during the discussion. It’s normal in everyday conversation, but it can be an issue during transcription as you’ll have a hard time making out what any of the speakers said.

How to overcome it: Place an asterisk at the start and end of the line of dialogue where the crosstalk begins. Finish the dialogue, then repeat the same process for the next speaker who spoke over the first speaker. If the crosstalk is continuous, continue the process until the crosstalk finishes. Wear headphones to make it easier to hear the dialogue.

Unintelligible dialogue

Sometimes, it just cannot be helped when some parts of the dialogue become inaudible. Whatever the cause is, it can be tricky and annoying to work around.

How to overcome it: Use headphones and try to listen to the dialogue as closely as possible. If you’re unable to make out the dialogue at all, try to make an educated guess at what the speaker said. Enclose your guessed statement in brackets, ending with a question mark (e.g., “Perhaps of the Library of Alexandria [would have told us more about the dominant modes of thinking?] in Ancient Greece”). Otherwise, if you’re restricted from guessing, place a marker like [unclear] on the unintelligible part. If possible, ask the interviewer for help.

False starts

False starts are a natural part of conversations. Everyone creates false starts, but does that also mean every transcript should have them?

How to overcome it: This will depend on the type of transcription you’re aiming for. You can leave this in your transcript if you’re doing a pure verbatim transcription. With a smart verbatim transcription, listen carefully to the discussion and determine if the false start is relevant to the thought process. Otherwise, omit it from your transcript.

Grammatical mistakes

One of the speakers may create grammatical mistakes during the discussion. These errors usually have little to no impact on the actual analysis, though they may affect the transcription process.

How to overcome it: It’s possible to mistake unique speech patterns for grammar errors. Similarly, with false starts, you have to identify which mistakes to filter based on your transcription type of choice. In most cases, it’s best to transcribe the dialogue as is to avoid the risk of misrepresenting the discussion.

Background noise

The audio recording may have happened in a busy area, which can have a lot of noise that may interrupt the recording. Worst-case scenario: it can make some critical parts of the dialogue inaudible.

How to overcome it: Try to finish transcribing the entire line of dialogue. Otherwise, if the noise makes it too difficult to transcribe, place a dash at the end of the last word before the dialogue becomes unintelligible. Indicate the type of noise that took place within the dialogue (e.g., “We intended to focus the project on the impact-[school alarm ringing] -impact of restricting students from using mobile devices during classroom hours”). If you’re doing a non-verbatim transcription, you can omit the noise indicator altogether and provide the main idea of the line.

Filler words

In most cases, verbal expressions like “Uh-huh” and “Um” can bloat the transcription. Likewise, filler words such as “Like,” “Yeah,” and “I don’t know, like” may also be irrelevant to your transcript.

How to overcome it: For pure verbatim transcriptions, retain all the fillers. However, you can leave them out if it bloats the transcript too much. Filter them out in smart verbatim transcriptions and non verbatim transcriptions.

Thick accents

Speakers with thick accents can be hard to understand over recordings and make transcription difficult.

How to overcome it: Try to listen very carefully to the dialogue, ideally with headphones. For best results, ask the interviewer for help on unclear dialogue.

Insensitive remarks

One of the speakers might say a thing or two that could be considered scandalous to the general audience.

How to overcome it: Discuss the remark with your team and determine if you should keep or omit the remarks. A general rule of thumb is that the statements must be relevant to the discussion. Otherwise, it’s best to leave it out. Be more vigilant about touchy remarks if you plan to provide widespread access to the transcript.

These challenges are among the most common that you may face during the transcription process. You can definitely invest a lot of hours into overcoming these challenges, but that’s the thing: it takes time to master the skill of transcription. The worst part is that transcription is most likely just a part of the bigger skill set you need to have with your main role.

How about this: have your transcript done by a professional transcriptionist from a service like TranscriptionWing. This way, you can focus on the things that you do best while you leave your transcription needs to the best.

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