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September 6, 2023

How to choose between human transcription and AI transcription for your research project

Transcribing your research interviews is critical to getting the most out of your responses. But that also leads us to the question: Should I use human transcription or AI transcription and how do I decide? 

Let’s review the key differences between the transcription methods, when to use each, and tips for getting the right transcripts for your needs. That can at times come down to the level of perfection, but what is perfect transcription? Let’s start there.

What is perfect transcription?

Perfect transcription is a term people use, but in reality, the level of perfection depends on the level of audio provided. It’s basically the best possible transcript you can get from the audio you have. If you have really poor-quality audio, the transcription may not be as good as you’d like it to be.

Read next: How to improve transcription quality with better audio recordings

What is AI Transcription?

AI transcription uses speech-to-text software to transcribe audio into text automatically. 

In a nutshell, here’s how that works:

Once you’ve uploaded the audio file, the AI transcription software analyzes the audio, detects speech, and transcribes it into text through automated speech recognition (ASR). The transcript is provided quickly – sometimes within just a few moments.

AI services can transcribe audio incredibly fast. For example, a 1-hour long recording can be transcribed in just a few minutes compared to the multiple hours it would take a human. The convenience and speed of AI transcription is one of its major advantages.

However, AI technology is still imperfect. While accuracy has improved dramatically, AI transcripts are prone to mistakes like incorrect speaker labeling and mistranscribed words, especially when transcribing poor-quality audio or complex conversations with multiple speakers. 

I wouldn’t recommend AI transcription at all for more than two speakers.

Pros of AI

The biggest pro of AI here is speed. A lot of audio content can be created quickly. It can also be used in conjunction with human transcribers when they run the audio through AI first to have a foundation. 

Cons of AI 

Accuracy and lack of contextual understanding are likely the biggest cons of using AI. This can get worse when the audio quality isn’t perfect.

What is Human Transcription?

Human transcription involves a transcriber listening to an audio recording and manually typing up the transcript. Professional human transcription services use experienced transcribers who specialize in accurately capturing every word and detail. When possible, they might use an AI transcript as a starting point and then add to it and edit it.

There’s also a benefit to using transcribers that have experience in the industry for which the transcript is produced, including:

Human transcription produces exceptionally accurate results and allows for customized formatting like speaker labeling and text formatting. But, it also comes at a higher cost and takes more time than automated services.

Read next: How human transcription benefits some industries

Pros of Human Transcription

The advantages of human transcription range from accuracy to contextual understanding to avoiding privacy concerns.

Human transcribers can keep track of and label multiple speakers correctly. 

Cons of Human Transcription

In a world where everyone wants everything now, the turnaround time can be seen as a con. It certainly takes longer than machine-generated transcription.

How to decide which type of transcription to use

With the basics out of the way, let’s look at how to decide which way is best for specific situations.

When Should You Use AI Transcription?

  AI transcription shines when you need:

  • A super fast turnaround
  • Quick batch transcripts
  • Basic accuracy
  • General automated transcription
  • Initial drafts

 AI transcripts can work well for:

  • Recordings with a single clear speaker
  • Casual speech without highly technical terminology

When Should You Use Human Transcription?

  Human transcription works well to ensure:   

  • Verbatim accuracy
  • A high level of detail
  • Attention to tones, accents, etc.
  • Polished formatting
  • Confidentiality
  • Contextual understanding

Human transcription works well for:

  • Long, complex recordings like multi-speaker interviews or focus groups.
  • Audio with technical jargon or industry terminology.
  • Recordings where every word must be captured perfectly for compliance or publication purposes.
  • Challenging audio with heavy accents, poor sound quality, or background noise. 
  • Confidential legal, medical, or market research audio content.

Choose human transcription any time verbatim accuracy is an absolute must, you need transcripts perfectly formatted or require specialized expertise or confidentiality.

Should You Combine AI and Human Transcription?

Many pros find the best approach is leveraging both AI and human transcription together to balance cost, turnaround time, and accuracy.   

These strategies allow you to take advantage of AI’s speed and affordability along with the accuracy of human expertise. The ideal combination depends on your unique workflow, goals, and content types.