Tips on How to Transcribe an Interview From a Real Journalist

I’ve transcribed thousands of interviews. Here’s what I do to transcribe them faster.
Matthew Ritchie
October 27, 2023
11 minute read

I’ve transcribed thousands of interviews in my life. 

During university, I paid for school (and, let’s be real, mostly beer) by transcribing hundreds of discovery calls for a legal transcription company.

In my early 20s, I became a journalist and interviewed countless musicians, artists, film directors, and actors, first at a local paper and later at Canada’s biggest music magazine

It was honestly the worst part of both jobs.

Transcribing interviews is a chore. But it’s a necessity when you’re quoting people for an article or legal case.

Accuracy is important. And for years, the best way to guarantee that was manual, time-consuming, back-straining work (a single hour of audio can take the average person three to five hours to transcribe—yikes).

Thankfully, technology has advanced a lot. But a lot of people (myself included when I first started as a professional transcriber and writer) don’t know how to transcribe an interview.

It’s simpler than you might think.

Tips on How to Transcribe an Interview From a Former Journalist

What is transcribing?

Transcribing is the process of turning spoken words from audio or video into written text. This is useful for businesses, the legal and medical fields, or for personal reasons. It includes typing out (manually or with software) what's said in court, during interviews, or from voice recordings.

How to prepare to do a transcription of an interview

Whether you’re an amateur journalist preparing for your first big interview, a content marketer working on a customer case study, or a hiring manager speaking with a prospective employee, here’s how to write a transcript of an interview.

Step 1: Determine the Purpose

Why are you transcribing an interview? Are you a journalist? A legal transcriber? Is it for personal use or research? Are you going to share the transcript with someone? Are you going to publish it somewhere else?

Answering these questions will help you determine the format of your transcript.

  • Verbatim transcriptions are when you write down every word (this is most common in legal settings or when you need a 100% accurate record of a conversation)
  • Intelligent verbatim transcriptions are similar to verbatim transcriptions, but you don’t have to include every “umm” or “ahhh”—the goal is to capture what was said but make it readable to another person or audience (don’t be afraid to fix grammar here, unless it changes the meaning or delivery of the speaker)
  • Edited transcriptions still capture what was said, but sometimes the information is summarized for easy consumption—think of a job interview transcribed by a hiring manager and shared with a CEO who doesn’t need to read a full transcript

Step 2: Use Tools to Speed Up the Process

These days, AI meeting assistants (sometimes called AI note-taking apps) like Bloks can transcribe interviews over Zoom or other video conferencing software with human-level accuracy.

But if you prefer to do it manually, you’ll need a computer, a word processor (Google Docs or Microsoft Word), headphones to playback the interview (use noise-canceling headphones to help you focus), and hardware or software to play the recording. 

Step 3: Set Aside the Right Amount of Time

Transcription software can transcribe an interview in minutes. But if you’re doing it manually, you’ll want to set aside at least an hour or more to transcribe your interview, depending on how long it is and how many speakers are involved.

How to transcribe an interview

Before you’re even at the transcription phase, there are a few things you can do in the actual interview itself to set you up for success.

First, check that your recording equipment is working. (Use a high-quality device to capture the call—the mic on your iPhone or Macbook should do.) 

Do a quick test to ensure everything is working, and have a backup in case anything goes wrong. (As a journalist, I’d normally record interviews on my iPhone and a handheld Sony IC recorder just in case, but now I use Bloks and the voice memos app on my phone.)

Next, choose a quiet location to reduce any background noise. 

If your interviewee mumbles or speaks too fast, gently encourage them to speak up for the recorder and a bit more clearly, if possible. 

And if something they say isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask them for clarification—it’ll prevent you from second-guessing or calling them back after the fact.

Once you’re ready to transcribe your interview, here’s what to keep in mind:

1. Listen carefully

If you’re transcribing your interview manually, you don’t want to miss anything important. Turn up the volume of the recording, and don’t be afraid to rewind the interview or slow it down to make sure you catch everything that’s being said.

2. Transcribe verbatim (if necessary)

If you’re doing a verbatim or intelligent verbatim transcript, you want to type out every word that’s being said (you can always edit it for grammar later if you need to).

Again, if you miss anything or are unclear about what’s being said, rewind the recording. If it gets to be too much, take a break and come back to your transcription later—transcribing is a marathon, not a sprint.

3. Start with a draft

Professional transcribers will often do a first pass and then listen a second time to make sure they didn’t miss or misconstrue anything. (When I was a legal transcriber, sometimes I’d even listen back three or four times, and I almost always caught something I hadn’t noticed before.) Make edits as you go to save time.

4. Format the transcript

This is one of the most important parts, especially if your interview transcript is being used as an official record or shared with someone else.

Here’s an example of how to format an interview transcript:

  • Include a title
  • Note the date and time of the interview
  • List the names of all interviewees (include their job roles and titles, if applicable)
  • Write a brief introduction to provide context for the interview
  • Use a readable font like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman (11-12 point font size is the standard) and use single or 1.5 line spacing
  • Identify speakers with labels (use initials after the first mention of their name) and bold or italicize the font to make it stand out

Aside from the basic interview transcription formatting above, here are a few more tips that will help make your transcript clearer and more legible:

  • Brackets [ ] indicate notes and words that aren’t present on the recording and are added to the transcript (usually for clarification)
  • Use an em dash (—) to indicate a hanging phrase resulting from an incomplete sentence, a parenthetic expression or statement, an interruption by another speaker, a statement that resumes after an interruption, or a pause from a speaker
  • Refrain from using an ellipsis (...) because that usually indicates information has been left out or omitted
  • Delete “ahh”s, “umm”s, “like”s, and “you know”s unless it’s a verbatim transcript
  • Put nonverbal sounds or events in parenthesis—e.g., (laughs), (cries), (looks around)
  • When you can’t understand a word or phrase, add (??) or (unintelligible) after the word (consider including a timestamp so that someone else can listen back and see if they understand it)

How to transcribe faster

Don’t have hours to spend transcribing interviews? Here are a few more tips that should help you transcribe interviews faster:

Tip #1: Use software

Use Bloks to transcribe and summarize your interview. Unlike other transcription software, it’s entirely bot-free and works with any videoconferencing software. 

Just download it, and it will automatically transcribe your next call.

Download Bloks for free.

Tip #2: Type faster

This is obvious, but the faster you type, the faster you can transcribe. The more you transcribe, the faster you’ll get.

Need help? Here’s how productivity expert Ali Abdaal trained himself to type 156 words per minute 👀

Tip #3: Transcribe words phonetically

If you can’t understand a word or phrase, type it out phonetically and revisit it later instead of rewinding your interview endlessly.

Tip #4: Use a template

Create or download a template that pre-populates fields like the title, list of attendees, date, and interview purpose so that it’s easier to fill out your transcript and begin transcribing.

Tip #5: Keep a glossary

If the interview includes industry-specific terms, acronyms, or jargon, have a glossary handy in case you need to look anything up. (I found this particularly useful as a legal transcriber because I hadn't heard most of the terms before.)

And that’s it! Now you know how to transcribe an interview.

If you want your next interview transcribed for you, download Bloks. For more tips and tricks, visit our blog.

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.