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Transcription Services Through The Decades

By 28th November 2019January 27th, 2020No Comments
Transcription Services

With the assimilation of technology and Artificial Intelligence into all areas of our lives, we take a look back through the history of the transcription services sector, from its humble beginnings in the 80s through to what the future may hold.

The 80s

Tapes and typewriters

The professional transcription services industry emerged in the mid 80s, when busy market research execs, having historically hauled huge reel to reel tape recorders around the country to record their focus groups and interviews, celebrated the advent of the pocket sized “compact cassette tape recorder”, [Sony Walkman, anyone?!], from which notes and audio transcripts could be made.

These audio cassette tapes were sent out to a lone transcriber, who produced a transcript with the aid of a typewriter, laboriously playing the tape back by hand and then typing word for word, or as they progressed through the 80s, using a foot pedal and a Sanyo C90 Compact Cassette Player.

Tapes were sent and transcripts were returned via the postage system and unless registered post was used, there were lots of fingers crossed of these reaching their desired destination, there was no GDPR back then!

The 90s

In November 1990, Microsoft Office was born.  This, together with the proliferation of home and small office PCs, drove the transcription services industry into a more professional realm and the sector began to widen its reach, from market research to academic transcription, medical transcription, legal – which had always been a mainstay but kept largely inhouse, medical research transcription and even transcription of meetings, presentations and conferences.

The services of Royal Mail were crucial to the transcriber of the early 90s, Guaranteed and Special Delivery meant that if you reached the post office by 5.30pm on a weekday, the client would receive their hefty parcels the following morning, an average 90 minute focus group would produce a 30-40 page transcript, with 1.5 spacing and Times New Roman being the order of the day.

But the world as we knew it was about to change.  The invention of the World Wide Web [www] in the early 90s enabled dial-up internet access and website hosting to explode into use, and the way transcription services were delivered changed forever.

The 2000s

Broadband and Digital Recorders

And so the humble cassette tape was replaced by the digital recorder, which revolutionised the way researchers – and transcription services companies – could now go about their business, and with a first of its kind transcription software now available, the industry continued to move with the times.

Professional transcription agencies were now established and expanding, offering websites with the facility for clients to upload their audio files, to be downloaded and a professional transcript produced.

Email and the introduction of broadband in the early 2000s allowed turnaround times to increase rapidly and at this stage, more nuanced and expert level transcription services were introduced, from verbatim transcription to intelligent verbatim and summary transcripts, all with the aim of providing its diverse client base with exactly what they needed.

2010 to the present

Methods of conducting research have evolved and the evolution of transcription software has kept pace with it, from face to face Skype interviews over the internet to audio transcription from mobile phones, pod casts, live streaming, the majority of social media sound-bytes these days contain subtitles and closed captioning, and so the requirement for transcription services continues unabated.

Security and confidentiality of personal data – which voice files are classed as within the Data Protection Act –are now paramount.  Transcription services providers must comply to GDPR legislation and ensure their practices keep clients’ material safe.   Well established providers will have Cyber Essentials accreditation and high quality transcription companies will ensure their transcribers are DBS checked.

The Future?

So what’s the future for the human transcription services industry?

ASR transcription companies and the new Transcribe option in Microsoft Word, means being able to eliminate the human transcriber from the food chain and therefore reduce costs drastically.

But ASR struggles to reach accuracy rates higher than 80%, even under ideal recording conditions and it looks, well, horrendous.  Researchers have to put in some additional effort to tidy up and make sense of what is produced and as we know, time costs money and so a false economy beckons.

Value Add

Human transcription companies will continue to find ways to offer a value add to transcription services.

Intelligent verbatim transcription requires active human listening skills, to filter out those ums, ers and stumbles that can make a transcript so turgid and difficult to read.

Strict verbatim transcription does the opposite, helping the academic researcher analyse those long pauses, laughs and sighs.

And summary transcription, where the transcriber is given a brief beforehand so they capture the salient points of any discussion can, for now, only be offered by a human.

Add in deciphering strong regional accents, anonymising and stripping out personal identifiers, incorporating discussion guides into transcripts, and one is left in no doubt that for now, human transcription services still have a place in the market.


Transcribe It is the UK’s longest established transcription services provider.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your transcription requirements …

Please give us a call on 01992 445411 and we’ll discuss how we can help you with your UK transcription needs.

Alternatively, you can email us your audio transcription enquiry at and we’ll be in touch with a quote!