How to easily transcribe audio or video recordings into text (update)

I recently had to transcribe a number of video interviews into text. This turned out to be much more of a labor intensive project than I thought, and it quickly dawned on me that the process can be vastly improved via a few technological tweaks. This posting aims to present a step by step tutorial on how to do this most effectively.

At the heart of the problem is a simple issue: the need to change focus back and forth between program 1, such as a word processor or editor that you may be using to enter text, and program 2, the media player that you may be using using to play the audio or video. Transcribing, as I found out, involves a lot of stopping, backing up, typing, and then repeating over and over and over again.

This problem can be solved such that switching back and forth is done via hotkeys without taking your fingers off the keyboard, providing a streamlined, efficient experience. We promise an easy way to stop, back-up, and type, all via keyboard shortcuts. These may seem like very simple interventions, but having used this process myself, I guarantee that your transcribing experience will pleasantly transformed, and made much much more efficient.

We will discuss TWO ways to do this (using free software):

Method #1: Using Listen n’ Write (Windows)

This program will play your media file, provide a text editing area below it, and employ keyboard shortcuts to play, pause, jump forwards or backwards for a (user defined) number of seconds.

Listen N Write Screenshot1

The default keyboard shortcuts are: F5 (pause/play), F6 (back), and F7 (forward). The version I tested does not offer any option to change these to other keys, but they do work well enough. What you can change is the number of seconds that it automatically backs up when you pause and then press play, and the number of seconds it jumps when you click back or forward.

One interesting feature is ‘Smart Pause N Play’, which you can activate from the options menu. This causes the player to play a few seconds of audio, stop for a few seconds, and then continue again. Both the number of seconds of audio and the number of seconds during the pause can be defined by the user. Finally, your text can be saved as .TXT or .RTF (which can be opened in MS Word).

Final note: if this program does not open the media file you have, install a free codec pack on your Windows system (such as K-Lite codec pack or CCCP Codec Pack) and it most likely will play it afterwards.

PROS:

  • The fact that it automatically backs up a little bit when you resume pause (very useful)
  • ‘Smart Pause N Play’ can be very useful
  • A portable version is available, that you can extract and use and don’t have to install.

 

Method #2: Using PotPlayer or another media player which supports system wide Hotkeys

This is a free a media player for Windows that (a) happens to play every single media file format on earth without the user having to install codecs on their system, and (b) can be controlled via system-wide hotkeys (or global hotkeys). These mean that users can control their media playback no matter where you are or what app is in focus, giving user control over playing, pausing, inching back or forward a few seconds, etc. without having to switch focus from the other application being used to type.

Note that you will need a word processor or text editor. If you want a good free word processor I recommend LibreOffice.

Other media players that support global hotkeys: VLC media player and Splayer (these were mentioned in the comments, I am sure there are others not mentioned here).

Step by step instructions (PotPlayer):

Step1: download and install PotPlayer here. The default install and audio output settings should be fine. It may suggest that you update your DirectX to a more recent version; this is optional but recommended if you’re not in too much of a hurry.

Step2: Set up PotPlayer keyboard shortcuts:

Launch the program, right click preferences on the main interface (or simply press F5), then, in the left sidebar, navigate to General and click on ‘Shortcuts’. The screen should look like the screenshot below. Next click the “add” button to add a shortcut.

PotPlayer Preferences1a

Next, in this screen, do three things (1) check “Focus of any window (global) may control”, (2) click into the focus “Shortcuts” field then press (Ctrl+Down), and (3) scroll down to “Playback” and highlight “Play/pause”. Then click “OK”.

PotPlayer Preferences2a

Next create another shortcut, similar to the one above, but use “Ctrl+Left” for your shortcut and scroll down to “Jump (to)” then “5 Sec Backward”. Then click “OK” see screenshot below.

PotPlayer Preferences3a

Create one last shortcut. Use “Ctrl+Right”, scroll down to “Jump (to)” then “5 Sec Forward”. Then click “OK” see screenshot below.

PotPlayer Preferences4a

Your newly created shortcuts should look like the screenshot below. If so, click “OK” to exit out of the preferences page; if you see any problems in any one of them click on the shortcut then click the “Modify” button to edit it.

PotPlayer Preferences5a

Notes:

  • My choice of keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+down/left/right) is a matter of preference. If you prefer other keyboard hotkeys then by all means use the ones you like.
  • In the off chance there are keyboard shortcut conflicts with other programs or the word processor program itself that you are using, try other hotkeys (e.g. Ctrl+Shift+down/left/right).

Step3: display settings

This step only applies if you you are also transcribing the timestamp location of the text as you type, in which case you would want to always have the timestamp be visible on screen.

  • Start playing your audio or video file; you can simply drag and drop the file onto the PotPlayer interface to do so.
  • Press “CTRL+T” to toggle “On top/On top while playing/Never on top”, as per your preference .
  • Press “Scroll Lock” to toggle displaying time information more prominently on top of the display (which can be a huge help). If you cannot easily find “scroll lock” on the keyboard  you can toggle this setting by right clicking the interface, then “Options”, then checking the “OSD: Show Time” entry.

Step4: start transcribing

  • Launch your word processor, text editor, or whatever you will use to type
  • Press “Ctrl+down” to start and stop the media file playback at any time
  • Start transcribing
  • Press “Ctrl+left” to back up 5 seconds
  • Press “Ctrl+right” to go ahead 5 seconds

PROS: The beauty of this system is:

  1. It works. You will now be able to keep your fingers on the keyboard AND start, stop, and move backwards or forwards without ever leaving or switching from your text editor or word processor.
  2. The program used here will work for audio and video, and will play just about any media format that you need to play, including strange and obscure camcorder formats that other players might not play.
  3. You only have to set it up once.

Other options: ‘Express Scribe’, mentioned in the comments, no longer offers a free version so we did not feature it here (this site is ‘Freewaregenius’ after all). Another program that was mentioned, is called ‘VisualSubSync‘ . Although it provides a nice waveform view and a text editor in the bottom, it is designed as a subtitling app for videos, and does not offer keyboard hotkeys for pausing and going back, so we did not feature it above.

Do you know of any good FREE software for transcription? Let us know in the comments.


 
 
 
Samer Kurdi

Samer Kurdi

Has been reviewing software since 2006 when he started Freewaregenius.com
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  • http://www.markcahill.com.au Mark Cahill

    Alternately you can use any one of a number of voice to text programs to type the text and then edit the resulting text into a script format.

  • Pacheco

    MUCH better than this, is visualsubsync, that has transcribe features inside (and is opensource)

  • http://www.rlvision.com Dan

    My top tip:

    Use Winamp (I use a very old verions 2.x) and add a plugin that gives you global hotkeys. Assign the keys like the standard Winamp keys: Z X C V B plus arrow keys, and use the Windows key as trigger. For example, Win+C would paus the music.

    Having used this setup for many years I can only say that it is suberb at giving you control over your music while working on the computer in some other program. The keys are very convenient placed imo and lets you quickly pause or skip forward and backward.

  • jasray

    My father was a stenographer; in order to pass the test, one has to type 120 CWPM. My mother did most of the transcription.

    He would decipher the stenography and record it; both of them typed. A lot of courtroom material is medical or terminology no voice-to-text software will be trained to translate.

    Maybe the best way is to learn how to type–like a professional.

    I’ve only reached the 70 CWPM level, but it’s fast enough to meet the typical needs of transcription or taking verbatim notes at meetings.

  • Samer

    @ Mark Cahill: do you know of a good free or open source voice to text program that you recommend?

    @ Pacheco: VisualSubSync looks great. However, in my case I had to transcribe video interviews that were in a strange camcorder format (MTS) that I would have had to convert to AVI first, which would have been somewhat of a hassle.

    @ Dan: WinAmp with global hotkeys is pretty much equivalent to what I’m recommending here (the reason I am recommending PotPlayer is that it supports global hotkeys). Except WinAmp might also necessitsate converting my video to audio before I could use it

    @ jasray: I can’t imagine many people learning to type like professionals ;)
    I consider myself an ok typist, but definitely struggled with transcription, having to go backwards and forwards over and over to get it all in.

    Thanks guys for your input!

  • Jim W

    Here’s a good free transcription program:
    Express Scribe
    http://www.nch.com.au/in/ggscribe.html

  • William

    Thanks for this tip on how to transcribe videos.
    Here I want to also recommend SPlayer.
    It is a free video player that like PlotPlayer, playing everything smoothly =)
    But the beauty of this little nice program is you can easily set the system you have introduced.
    By its default settings,
    – press [space] to start/stop playing
    – press the right arrow key to go forward 5 seconds
    – press the left arrow key to go backward 5 seconds
    Official website: http://www.splayer.org/index.en.html
    This program is actually developed by a company in China. Great freeware though.
    Hope you can do a review on it.

  • http://www.rlvision.com Dan

    Off topic: Isn’t it interesting that so many video players seems to originate from China or South Korea? I wonder why that is?

  • Mirco

    Hi,

    I am subtiteling youtube stuff and since VLC uses global hotkeys and supports any kind of video and audio files, this is my choice.

    Be Well, always :)

  • http://sterlingteaches.com Sterling

    Thanks for the great instructions. I am trying to caption my videos, and find the voice to text (free software) don’t do justice and I have to spend more time correcting errors than. I look forward to using your tips mentioned here to transcribe.

    Thanks!

  • yassin

    Its not working. I have to keep on shifting from the text editor to the video program inorder to rewind/stop or play etc….. Please advise

  • Nik Tahirah

    Express Scribe is no longer free. I was prompted after two weeks that I would have to pay to continue using the software. Maybe it used to be free?

  • http://www.transcriptionpro.net Carey

    Express scribe is no longer free. The free versions will not play videos or DSS files and some other formats.

    Having used Express Scribe till today as a transcriber it’s a bit frustrating…

    The above tutorial is useful for non-transcribers however it doesn’t teach anything about transcribing. Only shows how to use a particular software to transcribe. Sorry. ;)

    • Anonymous

      Do you know why express scribe is no longer free? I am taking a Medical Transcription I class through a community college. The class started mid January and goes until May. The instructor said that express scribe is free and this is the program we have to use for the class. I downloaded it to my computer and it was working fine and then all of a sudden today I can’t use it unless I buy it I guess? This is extremely frustrating.

      • Rex

        Hi Guys, Even THough Express Scribe is no longer free, I am very fortunate to have the software with its full version capability. Contact me or add me in Skype if you are interested with the software. My SKype handle is rjvillarin Thanks.

        http://ethnotech.blogspot.com

    • Rana

      Use Express scribe version 5.13. It plays video and you can time-stamp also. Cheers!!

  • Nti

    Well, in my honest opinion its a bit frustrating that you cannot customize Play with Pausing, so that you can adjust how long the pause you wanna be.

  • http://www.hitechbposervices.com/transcription.php Steve Venter

    The best option is to transcribe audio-video recordings into text format is to outsource transcription services to professional transcription company because they handle any audio-video transcription projects very easily and quick turn around time.

  • Farrel

    Love your article. You showed me so much. Thanks
    How can I copy a timestamp to my clipboard? Please answer me here or http://superuser.com/q/570109/31235

  • aharown

    You can do this with Foobar 2000 as the player also. With the SoundTouch plug in, you can even make hotkeys that speed up and slow down playback (while keeping pitch constant). Supports global hotkeys, so you can type in a word processor and control playback at the same time.
    Still, the foot pedal method might prove to be my own solution in the long run, just to reduce strain on the hands/fingers during long projects.

  • Jackob Mallo

    I am interested in getting this programme so as to enable me do good hansard editing at my work place. I would greatly appreciate assistance to this effect.

  • webfork

    There is a free, open source voice to text program called Simon Speech Recognition and Windows 7 has a voice dictation program built-in, but I would really only recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking. Even still, my tests from few years ago showed that converting from recordings was only possible if they were recorded using a good Microphone in high quality, and the speaker was being very clear. Otherwise it wasn’t very reliable.

    Very interested to hear about other folks’ experience on this.

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  • Katrinika

    I would like to transcribe some video classes I’m taking online. Would you explain, please, how to play the video online (from a dedicated site or from youtube) while using the above programs?

  • Moryak

    virustotal.com says file on http://elefantsoftware-en.weebly.com/listen-n-write.html is infected

  • Ben Jacobs

    which one of these turns videos into texts

    • lpelayo

      uSubtitle.tv

  • Ahmed Hassan

    Thanks a lot, much appreciated !

  • naz

    thanks..have started using listen n write. it works wonders. manage to double up my speed.

  • lpelayo

    Hi All, This is a free web application for transcribing and creating closed caption files for content hosted on YouTube. http://uTranscribe.TV . Additionally we have an automated speech to text version at https://uSubtitle.tv currently supporting English and Spanish.

  • AK27

    f4 audio player is a freeware convenient for transcription. Has hotkeys. I use “always on top” so that there is no need to keep switching between player and word file. There is F5 player for MAC

  • Rana

    Use express scribe version 5.13, its old but you can configure if you have a foot pedal (serial or USB). Plays both video and audio, with the ability to time-stamp. Cheers!!!

  • Partha Biswas

    Hi all

    Can anyone send the link of “transcribe audio or video recordings into text .” I need to download this. Is it freeware? Please confirm ASAP.

  • Guest

    I thought these programs type the text for you. But it seems it helps you type it. Is there a free software that you put the file in and it types all the words for you?

  • http://www.portiva.com/ Portiva Transcription Services

    Great Post. Appreciate it for sharing step by step process of transcribing audio and video into text. But according to my point of views automated software still doesn’t provide accurate results to the folks speaking fast.

  • http://translation.gmrtranscription.com/ Beth Worthy

    I think we can use these software for fast processing of work but later on human transcriber has to check the quality of transcription. We cannot rely completely on the software. second thing high quality audio or video is necessary for using these software. But one has to take help of transcription services provider if they want 100% accurate transcription.

  • Mayur

    First i though i don’t have to type a word at all but then i noticed it’s what i want. Because as i am trying to improve my listening skills and Pronunciation skills with Video Transcribe method this tools helps me the most. It saves my efforts of pausing a video, writing on my note rewinding and then hitting the play button again.
    Thanks pal, thank you very much.

    and additionally it helps you gain some typing speed which may led you a rocky in college typing events some times. :)

  • laura

    Perfect explanation! But I have problems because in step 2, I want to ad my new shorcuts but I don’t have the option, instead I have Keyboard in the same place than shortcuts and the same menu it calls hotkey and no shotcuts and I can edit but not the one I want…can you help me??

  • secretary

    Mirsk also has a good solution for people who needs to transcribe audio files. They even have android and ios app and through that you can store and transcribe all your audio files there. https://www.hostedmirsk.com/