Automatic Transcription Vs Manual Transcription: Which Should You Choose? (2019)

Updated on December 27th, 2019

Speech-to-Text Technology has been getting better than ever over the years.

But as someone who needs to transcribe an audio file into text, you might be wondering:

Should I use automatic transcription? Or should I just transcribe it manually myself? Are the solutions out there good enough for my audio / video?

If you're unsure whether you should go with automatic or manual transcription, we'll go over the pros and cons of each to help you make the right decision for your situation.

The Benefits of Automatic Transcription

Let's go over why someone would go with automatic transcription.

First, it's fast and easy. The various automatic transcription software out there make it super simple to get started with transcribing your audio and video files. Plenty of filetypes are supported, such as converting mp3 to text, wav to text, and more.

All you have to do is upload your audio file, let the speech-to-text technology work it's magic, then get the automated transcription back, ready for you to edit.

Shameless plug time! Vocalmatic has a text editor that enables you to perfect your transcripts!

The second benefit of automatic transcription is that it's relatively inexpensive. Instead of paying for someone to transcribe an audio file (paying for people's time can get costly!), you can rely on software to help get you a head start on your transcription task.

The Downsides to Automatic Transcription

The biggest issue with automatic transcription is the transcript that is initially returned will not be perfect. This means that you will have to do some work yourself to get an accurate transcript of the audio file.

Another downside is that the quality of the transcript will depend a lot on the quality of the audio recording. Some things that could affect the quality of the automatic transcription are:

  • Multiple speakers on the audio recording, talking over one another
  • The people in the recording are far from the microphone
  • People in the recording are talking too fast
  • There is too much background noise
  • The audio quality is not clear
  • There are multiple languages involved
  • And many more...

As you can see, there are many things that can make it hard to automatically transcribe an audio file. The only saving grace is that you might be able to control for creation quality and that speech recognition technology is continually improving!

Read more on how to improve automatic transcription accuracy.

How Has Automatic Transcription Improved?

Even with all the downsides to automated transcription, the good thing is there are plenty of improvements and features of the technology that are constantly being released.

A notable feature is something called Phrase Hints. With this feature, you're now able to let the software know the context of the audio. You can give it a phrase that might be said a lot in the audio recording to help with getting it transcribed properly.

This is a pretty big improvement because this means more specialized audio recordings can now be understood by speech recognition technology.

Speaker Diarization is a feature that allows the machine to differentiate between multiple speakers. The problem of being able to tell who is saying what automatically is now being solved!

Automatic Punctuation is yet another feature that allows the automatic transcription software to return a transcript that has punctuation. Imagine the time saved when the machine can return your transcript with the punctuation as well!

And finally, automated transcription software is now able to handle noisier environments. This means that the recording wouldn't need any other additional noise cancelling as that would be built right in. The reason this is great is because it will definitely help with improving the accuracy of the automated transcription.

There's one caveat to all these features. They will come with their errors, but researchers and the companies behind the speech recognition technologies are always improving!

Is Automatic Transcription For You?

This will depend on what your end goal of the transcript is. Many of our users have said they found that using automatic transcription software helped them save time with transcribing. Others have said the benefit they got was from being able to easily reference different parts of the audio file.

If you are a professional working with audio content, using automatic transcription to get a transcript might be a good idea for a first draft.

If you are a student and you need to convert your lecture recording into text, or if you have qualitative interviews that you need to transcribe, going with automatic transcription could help get you there faster. This is of course assuming that the audio recording isn't that bad from a quality perspective.

At the end of the day, it will be up to you to decide if you have the resources to go with automatic transcription and if it's right for what your end goal with the transcription is.

Why you might want to go with Transcribing Manually Instead

The main reason why you would want to go with transcribing manually is that you can save money! However, with that, you should also consider that you will be spending a good amount of time on transcribing the audio file yourself.

If you had other work to do or if you had a deadline, manually transcribing your audio file might be a big time-sink. On average, it takes 1 hour to transcribe 15 minutes of an audio file. This means it can take up to 4 hours to transcribe an audio file that is an hour long!

Unless you're not on a tight deadline, transcribing manually would be he most cost effective way to transcribe an audio file. Albeit, probably the most frustrating one!

Which Should You Choose?

The main considerations when choosing how to transcribe you audio files depend on how much time you have and how much money you have to spend on this.

If you have some money to spend on transcribing, I'd recommend using automatic transcription to help cut down on the time it takes to turn your audio into text. Controlling for the audio creation quality, you can get some good results right off the bat.

However, if you know that the type of audio files you are dealing with might be lower quality, manual transcription might be the most cost-effective way to get them converted into text.

Another option that you might go with if you had money is transcription services. These are a bit expensive, but they can guarantee accurate transcripts. How these companies work is they employ humans to transcribe your audio and usually have a turn around time of a few days.


In this blog post, we went over various reasons why you should go with automatic transcription vs manual transcription and vice versa. We went into detail about the improvements that automated transcription systems have been seeing over the years, thanks to continual improvement and research.

To summarize, the approach you take would mostly depend on the resources at your disposal (time and/or money) and your end goals with the transcription.

Thanks for reading and good luck transcribing!

Tom Zaragoza

Tom Zaragoza

I created Vocalmatic - an Automatic Transcription Platform. Lover of books and an impulsive domain name buyer. I also write here:

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