Several weeks ago I transcribed an hour-long interview in a hurry (working on an article deadline) and started wondering, is there not something better than a word processor for doing this? Someone, somewhere must have thought of writing an application designed specially for transcribing interviews. After a little research I came across Transcriva. I downloaded the free trial and took it for a spin and was immediately impressed. After spending some time working with it, I deicided to make the purchase.
Transcriva transforms the process of transcribing interviews from a tedious chore into a graceful process with an efficient chat-like interface using keyboard shortcuts that is especially powerful when transcribing an interview with multiple speakers.
Any audio file format that QuickTime supports will work with Transcriva, so if you’re working with video you’ll have to export audio files of your interviews to use this application. It does not support the display of video and video time code, however, I don’t see this as a problem for most interview transcription tasks (it’s not too hard to map the times back to the video if you match the audio export with the start of the video at zero minutes). I would venture a guess that if this relatively new program is well received by the documentary community the developers might consider QuickTime video support and time code in a future version.
The audio interface provides two important features: adjustable playback speed and backtrack-on-pause. By adjusting the playback speed you can more easily accommodate either slow or fast talkers to your own pace of typing. Backtrack-on-pause makes it easy to pick up where you left off before you paused the playback, by automatically going back a fixed interval (adjustable between half of a second to three seconds). Being able to restart the audio and play back a piece before you paused eliminates guesswork and makes for faster, more accurate transcription.
All of the critical controls are keyboard-driven including starting and stopping the audio, starting new segments, changing speakers, etc. Since everything can be done with keystrokes rather than reaching for the mouse, I found this made the process easier, quicker, and more fluid, compared to what I’ve done for years, which is to use BBEdit and the QuickTime Player or sometimes doing it directly in Final Cut Pro.
Every time you start a new segment, Transcriva keeps track of the position within the audio file that you started the segment in. When you play back, the Follow-Along feature keeps the transcript synchronized with the audio clip during playback, highlighting the corresponding text section as the audio plays. A text search feature is included, making it a breeze to find specific phrases and unlike a traditional transcript, you can go ahead and listen to the audio surrounding the text. This makes it possible to go through the clip quickly and write sketchy notes, and go back and fill in the whole text if you need it.
When you are done transcribing, you can export the transcript as a plain text or rich text (RTF) file that you can be opened with any standard word processor (e.g., AppleWorks, Pages, TextEdit, Word) or page layout tool (e.g., InDesign, PageMaker, QuarkXPress).
A license for Transcriva is $19.99 (USD) and you can download a highly functional trial version before you buy in order to make sure it’s what you’re looking for. Unfortunately for Windows users who support the Microsoft monopoly, this is a Macintosh only application.
Visit the Transcriva product page for more details and a link to download the application. Bartas Technologies released Transcriva 1.0 in April of 2005. The current version, 1.0.4, released in July, adds support for Spotlight and Tiger and fixes several minor bugs. Transcriva requires a PowerPC G4 or better running Mac OS X 10.3 or later.
Overall this is a powerful and effective tool, I found that with very little practice I was transcribing an interview more quickly and efficiently than ever before. It’s a pleasure to come across a simple and elegant solution to a problem, especially when it’s such a good value for the money. So far I’ve tested it and transcribed one interview with it and have not run into any problems. The one thing I wish the developer would add is support to display a QuickTime movie, since most of the transcription I do is of interviews for the documentary films I’m wokring on.