Market Research

The Rise of the Machines

The Rise of the Machines 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

If you’re fond of ’80s movies, chances are you’ve seen what they envisioned the 2010s to look like: full of hovercrafts, futuristic cities, and murderous robot machines. For better or worse, none of those things have become commonplace yet, but we are making strides in the technology department. The self-driving car will soon be commercially available, and our lives are very much devoted to smartphones and the Internet.

Speech Recognition

But why are we so behind on speech recognition? This is a hugely debated topic in the transcription and translation industries, as many don’t want their jobs to become obsolete. Though while that is a worry, the ability for a machine to accurately transcribe or translate will provide cheap access to many who need language services, which would be a huge step forward.

The problem is that language is so, so difficult (especially English) in so many ways. It may seem like speech recognition should be easy to develop, but just think about an elderly person having a conversation with a pre-teen. Even if they’re both speaking English, it can sometimes feel like conversations between two different worlds due to how quickly language evolves, context, and speaking styles.

Machines have this same problem. While we are extremely close to machines being able to understand monotonous, clear English spoken by a single speaker, problems arise when you have recordings with groups of people (which is what we specialize in).

Where Machines Fail

Here’s an example: a market research company is holding a 10-person focus group with folks who do speak English but aren’t native speakers. The group is comprised of teenagers from the rural south. So that’s 10 people, many talking over each other at certain points, who don’t speak English well, use regional dialect, and also use many newly-created words. That’s hard enough for a human to transcribe. But for machines, at this time, it’s not possible to achieve anywhere near 100% accuracy.

In the future, this will likely be solved in some technical way that my non-scientific brain cannot fathom. When it does, Atomic Scribe will evolve, just as language does. For now, it’s best to use human-powered services if you’re looking for accuracy. The rise of the machines will have to wait just a little bit longer.

What Is Transcription and Why Is It So Important?

What Is Transcription and Why Is It So Important? 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

What? Transcription is converting a recorded video or audio track into a written format, such as a Word document. Most companies offer verbatim transcription, where every single thing uttered is written down, including “uh,” “um,” and other such filler words. Clean edited verbatim takes out those filler words to ensure a smoother transcript.

Who? Transcription may sound easy initially, but anyone who has sat down to do a transcript realizes quickly that transcription takes a lot of time, energy and skill.

That’s why professional transcriptionists who have trained in the field for years are so important. Transcriptionists not only are trained to be able to make out difficult audio, but they also must have an impressive knowledge of grammar. Additionally, they must know how to research terms that they hear to find correct matches for spelling and context, like if an interviewee casually mentions an acronym or a prescription drug name. Incorrectly transcribing a term can confuse the speaker’s intent, which is a big problem.


Why? Now to the big question: why is transcription necessary? Is it just an extra cost? Well, no. Transcripts can be used for so many different purposes that it would take too much time to list them all.

But the fact is transcripts are often faster to read than the time it takes to listen to audio or video. It’s also easier to distribute to other people, like clients or coworkers. The text can show up in Google searches, unlike audio or video. The Deaf or hard-of-hearing need transcripts to experience content, and many other people just prefer reading to listening.

We work with companies and individuals in the legal, entertainment, market research, police, government, radio, church, and other fields to make their content easily accessible to all, because that is the main point of transcripts. It’s a one-time cost for content that you can keep forever and use in multiple ways. Make sure you take advantage of transcription services so you don’t miss out.

5 Ways Focus Group Moderators Can Improve Transcripts

5 Ways Focus Group Moderators Can Improve Transcripts 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

A focus group moderator’s job is not easy, but neither is a transcriptionist’s. It can be very difficult to capture everything that is said in a long discussion with as many as a dozen people speaking. But, working together, here are some tips for moderators on how to help make their focus group transcripts as high quality as they can be.

Identify Group Participants. Many focus groups are built around a theme. For example, a company could want a focus group on breastfeeding, which means the participants would likely be women within a certain age range. Unfortunately that also means that it’s possible many of the group participants will have similar-sounding voices, and that can make speaker identification problematic.

A focus group moderator can help the transcriptionist be more accurate in their identification by simply using participants’ first names frequently. A “Thank you, [Participant],” or “[Participant], what do you think?” is all that’s necessary. And even if a moderator doesn’t identify a participant after every response, doing so frequently at least gives the transcriptionist lengths of audio they can use to compare non-identified portions with, which is incredibly helpful.

Test Background Noise. Before a group arrives, record a minute of audio in the room the group will take place in (and speaking while sitting in the seat farthest from the recorder is also advised). When you play it back, notice if there are any background noises that could be hindering the audio. There are sounds that may be quiet in person but loud on the recording, such as a running air conditioner or hallway chatter. A quick test run will help you figure out where best to position the recorder, or give you time to figure out if there is a way to lessen any background noise.


Cut Out Crosstalk. The whole point of a focus group is to get a discussion going, and moderators never want to discourage participants from speaking their honest thoughts. That said, sometimes a moderator has to take charge and stop side conversations or multiple people speaking at once in order to keep the audio intelligible.

But moderators can fall victim to crosstalk as well. It’s natural during a conversation to use filler words (“Okay,” “Mm-hmm,” “Yeah”) when a participant is speaking to let them know you’re listening. Instead, it’s best to nod if it’s possible so that nothing blocks out the respondent’s speech.

Bring a Back-up Recorder. There is not much worse than moderating a great focus group and then checking the recorder only to find it didn’t record or that the audio is damaged. That’s why we always recommend using at least two recorders in every group. Even if your facility offers to record your group, also use a second device (such as a free recording app on your phone) as well to ensure you have a back-up. Better safe than sorry!

Summarize Quiet Answers. Unfortunately some moderators learn the hard way that no matter what you do, some participants are just quiet or difficult to understand when the recording is played back. It’s a big help to a transcriptionist if the moderator quickly sums up what the hard-to-hear participant has just said. The moderator can do this by framing what has just been said as a question to the group. Example: “So, [Participant] thinks [Summarize Participant’s Answer]. What do you think?” It also gives participants something directly to respond to.

Be A Partner

We’re all here to help the end client get everything from a focus group that they can, which means we’re partners in this. So talk to your project manager. Give them a template, if you have one that you prefer. Don’t be shy about asking for changes. Just as a moderator needs honest feedback from group participants, so too does a transcription partner need to know any changes that need to be made to ensure the highest quality possible.