How to get your notes transcribed

Need your handwritten notes or audio files in a usable, shareable format? Find out the best way to get them transcribed.
Mar 31, 2020 • 6 minute read
Zohaab Ishrat @zohaab85
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for How to get your notes transcribed

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Getting notes or audio transcribed doesn't have to be a tedious task

Are you tired of taking notes in meetings? Do you take notes and then have trouble deciphering them later? Or, do you just need your notes in a usable, shareable format? 

Transcribing notes is a tedious process, and it takes you away from other, more important tasks. So let's look at some of your options for getting your notes transcribed without having to do it yourself. After all, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Can't someone else do it?"

The importance of transcription

Services and apps are available to make your work easy and save time. Let’s say that you write a 2,000 word essay in 3–4 hours. Researching for the essay probably takes at least double the amount of time of actually writing it. After all that research, how do you collate all your disparate notes into something you can actually use to write your essay.

Or, let's say you record the audio or video from an important business meeting. Trust us. There's a 0% chance that everyone will remember everything said in that meeting. And, through a mathematical paradox we can't quite explain, there's actually less than a 0% chance they'll go back and listen to the audio or watch the video.

But, transcribe those notes into text and everyone has an easy reference point to remember all the action items you agreed on.

Those aren't the only use cases for getting audio, video or written notes transcribed into text. Let's look at some of the other reasons you might need transcription.

  • Some people find it difficult to focus on the audio. They prefer text.

  • Audio and video files take more space storage than a text file.

  • A text file will generally be easier to share then the audio or video file.

  • Text files are easier to download than audio or video files.

  • Editing audio and video files takes more effort and time than editing text files.

  • Last but not the least, our personal favorite, skimming. You know? The thing you're probably doing to this article right now? Text files are skimmable. Audio and video? Not so much.

  • If you have written notes, transcription turns them into a permanent, shareable file. And you don't have to worry about anyone — yourself included — being stymied by your handwriting.

  • Transcription services can also collate written notes and put them in a logical order.

How to get notes or files transcribed

There are some pretty nifty tech tools out there to help you transcribe audio or video. They come in a range of costs, and also a range of reliability.

Google Voice Assistant

Google Assistant isn't just for finding a nearby coffee shop or a restaurant. It's a lot more useful than meets the eye. 

Some of you might already know about Google’s Voice Assistant but some might not be aware of its transcription feature. Just go to Google Docs, go to Settings and choose the Voice Typing option. 

Voice Typing automatically starts transcribing. You can even play audio and let Google do its thing. The best thing about it is that it's completely free of cost. You can even add punctuation, but for that you have to understand the specific command to give.  

There are a couple drawbacks here. First, Google Voice Assistant isn't always 100% accurate. Anyone who's tried in vain to use Voice Assistant to call a friend with a complicated name can tell you that. Last year, Google rolled out a premium version of its speech-to-text API with data logging that would report back to Google in an effort to hone the tool's accuracy, so it's getting there. But, in general, you can expect some errors.

Second, it doesn't work for handwritten notes, obviously. For that, you'll need Google Handwriting Input, which is an Android-only app. It translates handwriting on your device's screen into digitized text, but that also requires you to use your device to take notes. Not ideal if you're an ink and paper kinda person.

Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictation is available for both smartphones and PC. It offers different versions such as Dragon Professional and Dragon Legal. 

Dragon Dictation has a paid subscription mobile app that goes for $22 USD per month, or $220 billed annually. Its PC versions range in price from $239 for the home version to $479 for the individual professional version. The company also offers an enterprise version.

There's a reason this is one of the most famous among many transcribing tools.It works three times faster than typing, and it has an accuracy of about 99%, which is, frankly, incredible. 

With Dragon Dictation, you transcribe emails, assignments, legal notes and even medical notes. All you have to do is get used to its speech typing speed and then you can easily do your thing. Another plus is that you can add its toolbar in your browser or anywhere on your screen. But its voice recognition method is very slow as you will have to keep pressing the speech type button.

Obviously, Dragon is only well-suited for people or companies who need to use dictation services on a regular basis. And, again, it won't transcribe written notes into text. You'll have to read them aloud.

Evernote 

Evernote's speech-to-text capabilities rely solely on your device's abilities. That's because it doesn't actually use its own speech-to-text tool. It just accesses the speech-to-text tool on your device, which you also have to enable in order to use the feature on Evernote. So you can expect its accuracy to be on par with your device.

One nice feature of Evernote, though, is that you can save audio files. But you can't turn those audio files into text. Everernote's real advantage is that you can snap a picture of handwritten notes and turn them into digital, searchable text. It's not error-proof, of course, but it does have the advantage of being free.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft's OneNote does much the same thing as Evernote's handwriting feature. You can snap a picture of handwritten notes and OneNote will convert them into a Word doc. But, it won't transcribe audio. You can record audio notes, but you'll need another tool to transcribe them. You'll also need an Office 365 subscription.

Speechmatics

This is also a very smart software that allows you to transcribe notes from voice. Speechmatics provides machine learning solutions and converts speech into text. Like other software, it also has an automatic speech recognition facility which allows it to recognize speech in audio, videos and even live speech. It also has a feature that enables it to transcribe notes in any accent. Some of the other applications don't recognize accents other than the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Speechmatics also has media captioning and manages keyword triggers. 

Getting your work transcribed by a freelancer

We know, we know! We just got done telling you about all these awesome transcription tools. But, here's the thing: none of these are perfect, and none of them handle both audio and handwritten transcriptions well. Moreover, the most advanced and accurate speech-to-text tools cost a pretty penny. That's not ideal if you just need ad hoc transcription.

Moreover, adding punctuation in these programs is a bit of a hassle. It's just not natural. We tried with Speechmatics and we got one long run-on sentence and a lot of missed words.

Then, no matter how much automation we adopt there are always certain tasks that must be done manually. Similarly, those apps can only transcribe the language that is programmed into them, but there are names of places and people that are not very common. Those apps will not recognize those words.    

Now let's look at the bright side. An actual human can transcribe your audio, video or handwritten notes, and they can do it for a fraction of the price of paying for a subscription to one of the tools we mentioned earlier. And, they can do it with much more accuracy than the free tools we mentioned.

Manual transcriptions also have the ability to convert large files into texts, whereas apps often can't work for bigger files.

If you are looking for quality text with maximum accuracy, then hiring a freelancer to do your work is the best option. 

Best of all, you only pay for what you actually have to transcribe. You don't have to buy a subscription or a license for a piece of software you're unlikely to get a lot of use from. If transcribing speech or handwritten notes into text is a function that's core to your business, paying for software tools can make a lot of sense. But if it's an occasional task that needs to be done, it's much more cost effective to use a freelance transcription service.

Final words 

Transcription is a necessary task, but that doesn't mean it's the best use of your time. Automated services are getting better and better, but they still lack the nuance of the human touch. And the accuracy that human touch brings to your transcription can make all the difference.

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