• Welcome


    Hello Turkers, work-at-home entrepreneurs, and anyone else looking for some Amy love!

    This site started as an afterthought to the Kindle book for transcribing Turkers, but it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s been a fun ride so far. I’m delighted you’ve come to visit!

    Whether you’re a Turker interested in transcription, a transcriber interested in Turking, or maybe someone who hasn’t tried either but is curious about both, the content on this site is designed to make it a useful resource for you.

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Moneymaking basics

Moneymaking Basics: Grammar isn’t everything in transcribing, Part 2

| February 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

As I started saying in Part 1 of this post, in transcribing, grammar comes second to style.

Yes, grammar is hugely important for transcribers to grasp well. But you must consider it negotiable—whenever your understanding of it conflicts with a transcription company or client’s style rules.

For the sake of your ability to continue transcribing profitably for a given company or person, their house style needs to win, any time that it goes head to head with your take (or that of any recognized language authority) on grammar. That’s right, “win,” not even “compromise.” Every time.

If parts of a company’s designated style make you grind your teeth (or want to) every time that you must follow their rules, consider the following:

  • The point of having a style guide is so that all transcripts a company produces have a consistent look. This keeps the company’s clients happy, partly because they know what to expect.
  • By setting their style in a particular way, a company is not necessarily saying that this is how they think grammar actually works, or should work, in that language. They’re just saying they want all their transcripts to have this specific look.
  • Companies don’t set their style standards to please you, but they also don’t set them to upset you. Meeting their style requirements is just part of the work, but there are some ways that you can ask about style that bugs you.

If that last point particularly interested you, here are some dos and don’ts for approaching a transcription client or company about style you think is less than ideal:


  • Scold the client about how their style isn’t grammatical;
  • Refuse to use the client’s style because you’re “taking a stand”;
  • Continue to ignore their style even after they’ve pointed out that you’re not using it; and
  • Expect to only have to bother with those parts of their style you happen to like or agree with.


  • Keep in mind that the client’s choice of a house style is completely their prerogative;
  • Recognize that transcribers not sticking to their style creates more work for the client, who must edit your transcripts to conform before they can deliver or otherwise use them;
  • Be as courteous as possible if you decide you really need to question style points, and try phrasing your question to emphasize that you want to understand their reasoning better, rather than that you think that they, or their style, are silly; and
  • If one company’s style just really irks you but they clearly want to stick with it, consider doing work for other requesters or transcription clients instead.

Most of the time, if certain style points aren’t my favorite, I notice I’m happier about dealing with them if I just chalk up their existence to being part of the transcription work. How about you? How do you deal with style that doesn’t necessarily sit well with you?

As with all material on my public site, the Moneymaking Basics series covers very basic strategy issues and misconceptions not detailed in the transcription help ebook. It spotlights specific issues and questions that new transcribers may have for setting themselves up to work smart. As always, I love your comments, so if you have any thoughts on how these could be more useful to you, let me know!

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Moneymaking Basics: Grammar isn’t everything in transcribing, Part 1

| February 21, 2013; updated May 18, 2013 | 2 Comments

Most of you will probably be stunned to see that title. Understandably so! After all, I’ve written a lot, here and in the transcription book for Turkers, about how transcribers must have a good grasp of grammar. This is true on Turk, off Turk—heck, it’s true across the business of transcription in general.

If you lack a solid grasp of grammar as it applies to whatever language you’re transcribing, you’re not likely to succeed at making good money in transcription. Sure, you might be a quick typist (and I’ve mentioned before that typing speed isn’t everything) or have very sharp hearing. But if your grammar is shaky, your ability to put together a useful transcript for your client is going to suffer.  And making Mechanical Turk requesters, or any other clients, unhappy that way leads to…a lack of work.

Well, that all makes sense. So why would I ever suggest that grammar actually isn’t a transcriber’s be-all and end-all?

Because the most important thing you must do as a transcriber is be able to follow style. And the thing about style is, any transcription requester or company can set their own style and call it their bible. That means it’ll need to be your bible, too, if you choose to work for them.

The difference between grammar and style is that grammar is a set of fairly standard rules that are applied across a given language. If you formally learn that language (as opposed to just picking it up), it’ll be taught to you formally, too.

Style also is a set of rules, but it’s specific to a certain company or context. Transcription companies all have their own style. Some have more extensive style rules and others have very few, but what they all have in common is that they have total rights to dictate whatever style they want used for their work. That’s just the nature of their having a house style: they can personalize it any way they want.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories from transcription companies about transcribers who think it’s OK to pick fights with the company over style matters. It’s really not. (And those transcribers do get themselves noticed by the company, but not in a good way.)

What a company chooses to adopt as their style standard is generally not negotiable. As an extreme example, if they ask that you transcribe in English but want you to use periods only if the phrase “little green men” has been mentioned in the last five words, then that is the only time you should put periods in their transcripts. You would need to find another way to punctuate to indicate all other sentence breaks.

Would that be a bizarre style rule? Would it be highly ungrammatical? Would it make their transcripts incomprehensible to the average reader, and hard to work on for most transcribers? Yes, to all.

Well then, should you temporarily throw away everything you have learned in your lifetime about using periods and only follow this hypothetical company’s rule about them, if you choose to work for them? Yes!

Would you have any right to argue with them about this choice they had made?

No. You really wouldn’t.

When you choose to do work for a requester, or to freelance off of Turk, part of the deal is that you apply your client’s rules to create the finished product they pay you for. Transcribers are expected to follow a company’s style standards, so although it sounds harsh, whether a given style makes any sense to you isn’t your call, except that you can always choose not to work for a company whose style you don’t like.

So how do you handle it if you have issues with a company’s style? I’m saving that for Part 2 of this post. Meanwhile, though, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on style. Do you like the styles used by the companies you transcribe for? Do they make you nuts? Weigh in!

As with all material on my public site, the Moneymaking Basics series covers very basic strategy issues and misconceptions not detailed in the transcription help ebook. It spotlights specific issues and questions that new transcribers may have for setting themselves up to work smart. As always, I love your comments, so if you have any thoughts on how these could be more useful to you, let me know!

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Word on companies

Why you should turn down difficult CastingWords Expedited that pays no extra

| June 19, 2013 | 2 Comments

If you work for CastingWords and are qualified to work on Expedited, you know that stuff’s in high demand. So why am I telling you to turn any of it down, ever?

Because there’s no reason for you to do difficult Expedited for less pay than you deserve. Just as important, CastingWords doesn’t want you to. Seriously.

As you know, Expedited jobs often are snapped up in seconds, because they pay better than any other Turk transcription by a mile…and because they’re always supposed to be high-quality audio.

But let’s face it. When that second part isn’t true, the first part isn’t true anymore, either. That’s just one reason CastingWords thinks you should get the Difficult audio quality supplement on it, which almost doubles the pay on those jobs.

That will only sound too good to be true if you don’t realize how much CastingWords values you. I’ve many times told the company about bad Expedited audio and seen them start the process of getting the Difficult supplement onto it.

I did that again just this week, more than once. As usual, that was how CastingWords responded. (Taking feedback seriously from their experienced transcribers is one of several reasons I think highly of the company.)

But also as usual, not all the Expedited jobs I pointed out ended up getting it. Know which ones didn’t? The ones that overzealous transcribers had already done too much of, at the standard (not supplemented) Expedited rate.

Why? Well, CastingWords tries to be fair all around, and they find it hard to justify billing a supplement when only part of the client’s job will benefit. But that’s what happens if some transcribers were already happy to finish parts of that poor audio for less pay than they should have. (In freelance transcription and at companies, clients are always asked—and should expect—to pay a supplement for less than stellar audio.)

That’s why I’m writing this post, because that’s a breakdown in how the system is supposed to work. You’re supposed to be better paid than that when the audio is poor!

Expedited transcribers, trust that you’re supposed to be working on good or great audio. Trust that CastingWords tries to look out for you in this regard and that although they don’t often have the staff to listen to all Expedited jobs before you see them,  they’re counting on you to let them know if a batch of it is not up to snuff.

If you’re working on the poor Expedited audio anyway because you’re worried the company won’t make their 24-hour guarantee on it, don’t be. The guarantee only applies to high-quality audio; those are their terms.

If what was sent is far enough from that to need the Difficult supplement, you can be sure that CastingWords thinks it should wait, too, at least until their transcribers can be paid fairly for working on it. At supplemented Expedited rates, it’ll still be done fast!

So Expedited transcribers, please value yourselves and your skills as much as CastingWords does. Turn down that poor-quality or otherwise difficult Expedited so they can get you compensated fairly on it. Clients may not realize when their audio isn’t so hot, but no one in the know thinks you should deal with poor-quality sound for the standard Expedited rate— not even CastingWords.

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Dishing on Companies: Glitches at CastingWords

| February 12, 2013; updated February 20, 2013 | 5 Comments

CastingWords has had a couple of snafus since the past weekend. As I mentioned in this post, they had every one of their transcription jobs disappear from Mechanical Turk on Saturday afternoon.

That was fixed by Sunday, but today, as an astute reader pointed out to me in email, it looks like the right sidebar on the center “Transcription Job” tab, the one which lists any speaker names that the company knows of, disappears…after you accept the HIT. That’s not particularly helpful if you’re the kind of detail-oriented transcriber (and I hope you are) who likes to include those in your audio. You can copy down that information, print it, or use a screenshot to preserve it, but it’s still a PITA not to have it when you’re actually ready to work on the job.

So, what’s going on with them? After all, SpeechInk, back in the fall, had something similar happen; all their work disappeared from Turk, and I considered that yet another sign of SpeechInk’s deterioration (which has not, I am hearing, gotten better yet; they’re still digging out from their backlog, and it doesn’t appear they’re making any steady progress).

In other words, is CastingWords having problems?

Not in the same way that SpeechInk is. When I was doing research for the transcription-help Turker ebook, CW told me that their tech person (yes, just one guy handles all their tech issues, for the most part) spends an amazing amount of time getting their HITs to just look consistent from day to day.

“What are you talking about?” was my reaction, but the company swore up and down that Mechanical Turk makes little programming changes every couple of days that will break CW HITs if someone isn’t hovering over them. Things like being able to download the audio are only kept alive as consistently as they are because Tech Guy almost literally crouches over the company’s live HITs.

Guess they weren’t exaggerating. But in that case, what’s wrong with Tech Guy now? Well, nothing. As he had planned well in advance, Tech Guy left on Saturday for a well-deserved week’s vacation.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the fact that the HITs are glitching without him; apparently, the staff holding down the fort just isn’t able to do what he does quite as effectively. Also, it doesn’t explain why the Workshop has some of the same problems: although the jobs over on the Workshop look better (there were some sidebar alignment issues when I checked CW HITs on Mechanical Turk, but those aren’t evident in Workshop work), the handy speakers’ list still does the same disappearing act when work there is accepted.

Still, I’m willing to buy that all this is because of Tech Guy’s absence. And in that case, at least we know the glitchiness is temporary and that Tech Guy will be back.

If your tolerance for general glitchiness is low, you might just want to take this week off. Come back when Tech Guy does, next Monday, and everything should be running in the comforting way you’re used to.

Nevertheless, CW: we know you’re a small shop. But if Tech Guy is that crucial to the functionality of your HITs, you probably need a better backup arrangement for when he needs to leave his dungeon.

UPDATE: Tech Guy came back on schedule, and things began running smoothly again right away. This does not absolve CW of the need (responsibility even) to have a better backup system, but it’s nice to see everything working well!

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Technical Basics

Tech Basics: What happens to your CastingWords transcript after you submit it?

| December 25, 2012; updated January 2, 2013 | 14 Comments

You complete a CastingWords transcript, you submit it (possibly with help figuring out how to navigate the HIT), and then you wait to get your feedback. What is CW doing with it while you’re waiting, and where in the process is your grade determined?

As you might have guessed, the process is standardized, although the system is not quite as automated as you may assume.

You’ve probably seen that CW has several different types of HITs. Nearly all are associated with transcript processing, and each one represents a step that may apply to your transcript. These other HIT types can be done by other Turkers and can also be done by CW staff.

At all the stages I’ll describe, your work is evaluated based on whether your transcript meets CW’s style guidelines. Yes, CW does have some scripts that they run to make automatic corrections for certain common style errors, like using a spelling that is nonpreferred. Nevertheless, as is standard in the transcription industry, they’ll still ding you for the fact that such errors were there, and it will hurt your grade.

As with other transcription companies both on and off Turk, CW expects their human workers to become well trained; they prefer to trust you rather than their computers. And they’ll give you high grades in appreciation of being able to count on your doing it right.

Here is the sequence that your transcript goes through, in order, after you submit it.

Grading and, if needed, revisions

This can happen in one of two ways, which are mutually exclusive.

Grade a Transcript + Improve a Transcript. These are two separate HITs, which take place in the order I have given them. In the first, your grade is estimated by another Turker with CW’s qual, based on how the transcript looks. This will not necessarily be the final grade that you are paid on. In the second, your transcript is gone over by another worker, who fixes it up and also gives it a grade. CW takes both these into account in assigning the transcript the first grade that you will see.

Auto-approval. At some point, your CW work will probably start to be auto-approved. This means it no longer regularly goes through the process of being graded and improved by a live person. Although it would be ideal for CW to wait on this until your grades have stabilized (past whatever your initial learning curve was), they don’t always. Sometimes they just do it to reduce their workload. And once you’re on auto-approves (you will know because it will say in the feedback for that transcript that it was an auto-approval), the grades you get will be consistent. Auto-approval doesn’t mean no one ever looks at your transcripts again, though; CW will still send some for spot-checks, which means that those will go through the usual, manual grading and/or improving process.

By the way, it’s rare for auto-approves to be set for a grade of less than 7, but as I mention in the last couple paragraphs of this post, things aren’t going that well if you’re consistently only getting 7s, auto-approved or not. In other words, if you are being auto-approved at a grade that you consider an inaccurate reflection of your transcript quality, you should tell CW and ask for a review of your work.

Waiting for the rest of the audio to be transcribed

Because your CW transcript almost always represents only a small part of a larger audio, this is the point at which your grade has been assigned and the transcript can’t be worked on further, not unless it is the last piece of the whole audio to be transcribed. Odds are that it isn’t, of course, so it sits in CW’s system until Turkers turn in the rest of the transcripts for that full audio.

Once they’re all accounted for, the transcript is pieced together automatically by CW’s systems, and the full audio and pieced-together full transcript go to Edit a Transcript, which is the next HIT type involved.

The editing process

In the edit of the completed transcript, the Turker or CW staffperson listens to the full audio. They are responsible for two major checks: that the complete transcript is accurate to the audio and that style matters are handled consistently across all the individual transcripts involved. This can be a big job, depending on what the various transcribers did or didn’t do.

The editor also gets to grade you, although he or she does not have to. If they do, CW will take their grade into account. True, at that point you’ve probably already been paid. Although CW won’t take money away from you for getting a lower grade from the editor than you were paid on, they will sometimes give you the extra bonus if the editor grades you more highly and they are willing to let that better grade stand. Again, it can’t hurt to ask!

Whether your grade at this stage is better or worse than your original, though, any differences between the two can make CW take a closer look at your performance in the future. This is because the original grade usually is weighted according to your expected performance; it’s partly based on your track record with CW to date. However, the editor’s grade isn’t and will be considered by CW to be more of a fresh look, whether a red flag or a positive sign.

Transcript approval and delivery

Once an editor has worked on the complete transcript, nothing that happens past that point will reflect on you, the transcriber, personally. In fact, at the end of Edit a Transcript, the identifiers for individual transcribers are stripped from the completed transcript. So from here, it’s really the editor whose work is being scrutinized.

The edited transcript goes to Approve a Transcript, where the edit is graded. Finally, based on how trusted the editor is, the work may be looked over manually by CW one last time before it is delivered to the client, or it may just be delivered to them directly. Either way, that delivery is done electronically.

Whew. I must admit, I had to do quite a lot of checking with CW in writing this post. Transcribing for them is one thing, but understanding their entire process required a lot of questions asked! So let me know if anything still seems unclear. I’ll be happy to check it out, including by asking CW some more, as needed.

As with all material on my public site, the Tech Basics series covers some very fundamental help areas not detailed in the transcription help ebook. Here, I’ll solve minor but common issues that new transcribers have when working with audio files. I run Windows and Linux, so my instructions will usually apply to those systems; if you run Mac, I’d love to have your comments if you’ve found parallel techniques that work well there!

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Tech Basics: Downloading Claritrans audio

| December 13, 2012; updated January 2, 2013 | 2 Comments

Although Claritrans audio does play immediately when you load their HITs, sometimes you’d prefer to download that audio instead.

That’s easy, right? You just click the words “click here”; you know, the ones in their handy line above the player? It reads, “- If you cannot install the audio player click here to download the audio.” Seems very straightforward.

But it isn’t, actually. Funny thing: that link doesn’t work at all. Instead, it takes you to a URL where the message “Permission denied” is the only thing on the screen. Every time.

Claritrans’ party line on this is that their audio is not downloadable. I know because that’s exactly what they told me when I wrote them to ask about it.

The truth, though, is that you can download Claritrans’ audio. You just can’t do it through that link. There are a few ways that this can be done.

  • Simplest: If you load the HIT normally, just right-click on the player itself and choose (depending on your system) “Save Video As” or “Save As Source.” However, this only works if you click on a very specific area of the player: the Play button (the triangle pointing right) or, if the audio is already playing, the Pause button (the two vertical bars). In that location, right-clicking will let you save the MP3 file. It will go to wherever your browser usually saves downloads.
  • A bit more complicated: If you are willing to disable Quicktime, then the audio won’t start playing automatically. Instead, you’ll see a hotlink in place of where Quicktime normally loads in the HIT. It will helpfully read, “Click here to download audio. If audio does not play “Return Hit”.” This link actually works, yay! So if you click it (you don’t need to right-click, just regular-click), the audio will download. (As an alternative to disabling Quicktime, if you happen to use a script blocker like NoScript for Firefox, then just leave claritrans.com blocked, and the same will happen.)

There’s also a way to adjust your browser settings to download the Claritrans audio directly into whatever player you prefer. Express Scribe, for example! Here’s a forum post that tells you how for Firefox. (Note that your system may list simply “MP3″ or “MP3 Audio” instead of “MPEG Layer-3 Audio.”)

Note that if you try that last option, all your MP3s that you download in your browser will ever after be opened directly into Express Scribe or whatever media player you chose. So if that’s not what you want, then you probably should stop short of making that adjustment. But you’ll still be free to download the audio individually for each Claritrans HIT. Just be sure you’re right-clicking in the correct place, or using the correct link, and you’ll be all set.

As with all material on my public site, the Tech Basics series covers some very fundamental help areas not detailed in the transcription help ebook. Here, I’ll solve minor but common issues that new transcribers have when working with audio files. I run Windows and Linux, so my instructions will usually apply to those systems; if you run Mac, I’d love to have your comments if you’ve found parallel techniques that work well there!

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Style Help

Style Minded: CastingWords style change

| February 13, 2013 | 2 Comments

Certain parts of the new CW style guide have been met with more skepticism than others, especially among CW’s most loyal transcribers. Among those buzzy changes, the edict that [?] and [sp] should now go before the words in question has been one of the most controversial.

Originally, that was intended to make editors’ jobs easier, so that they would know which parts to pay special attention to while reading the transcript. However, it did slow down transcribers by making them have to back up and type the [?] or [sp], once they established that they weren’t sure about something.

So, that guideline has now been reversed. Starting immediately, it is considered correct when you place [?] and [sp] after the word(s) to which they apply.

There will be a transition period on this, partly because Tech Guy is also the person who causes changes to the style guide to be viewable on the Web. So before the change is live, graders will not be downgrading for putting the [?] and [sp] before the words in question, but they will be mentioning it as an issue, to try and remind folks that the change is coming. So, it’s not too soon to go back to (or move to, if you’re new to CW) putting the tags after the words in question.

When I get word that the change in the Guide is live, I’ll mention it again here. That way, everyone can be reminded to clear their caches so that they view the changed Guide when navigating to its site! (But yes, it is perfectly safe to switch over to the new style immediately. The delay in posting the change to the live Guide is technical, not because CW is at all on the fence about it.)

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Style Minded: Making nonverbatim judgment calls, Part 2

| December 29, 2012; updated January 2, 2013 | 12 Comments

In Part 1 of this post, earlier this week, I discussed how to handle false starts and ungrammatical speech. Today, I’ll cover how to handle a speaker who drifts between topics and never seems to get to a point.

Aha, you think, surely you can just cut out everything that isn’t the speaker’s actual point? Actually, no.

First, consult your transcription company’s style guide to see how they want you to punctuate. Then, apply everything they let you do in a way that will most help someone reading your transcript to understand what just happened.

I’ll give you an example of how I’d handle an off-topic speaker for CastingWords, using ellipses and dashes per their style specifications. I’m going to type what you hear the speaker say, first, and then show how I would punctuate it. So the first version will be pretty freeform, intentionally. Watch the italicized parts carefully; I do something with them when I create my transcript.

How do I feel about that? Well, it reminds me of the time when I was where are my glasses have you seen them I am always might be just as well because I hate to wear them but for these papers you brought I’m going wait that’s my phone oh never mind um going to need them oh don’t let that cat bother you maybe they’re over here let me see you were saying about how I feel about what was it?

Well, they just said nothing that answered the other party’s apparent question. I know we’ve all been tempted to type this, or worse:

How do I feel about that? Well, you were saying…what was it?

However, you actually need to leave in just about all of what the speaker said, because it may provide context for how the other person in the audio is going to respond! So here’s the punctuated and line-spaced version:

How do I feel about that? It reminds me of the time when I was…where are my glasses? Have you seen them? I am always — might be just as well, because I hate to wear them.

But for those papers you brought…wait, that’s my phone. Oh, never mind.

I’m going to need them. Don’t let that cat bother you. Maybe they’re over here? Let me see. You were saying how I feel about — what was it?

As you can see, I used not only punctuation but also spacing between paragraphs to try and break up thoughts and help the reader in understanding what the speaker was talking about. In the case of the italicized parts, I did take the liberty of putting them together into a complete sentence, rather than keeping them just as spoken. That’s because it’s already obvious to the reader of the transcript how this person speaks. They don’t need an extra example of it, at this point!

But, the reader could use a little help from the transcriber in understanding the speaker’s train of thought. So that’s what I provide. With that little adjustment of the words, the reader can get both what the speaker said and how they meant it, in a balanced way.

Hope that helps! Let me know, here in the comments or in email, if not. And as always, I’d love to have your perspectives on how you plan to or have been handling such situations.

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Audio and gear reviews

July 12 CastingWords Express audio reviews

| July 12, 2013 | 1 Comment

Ah, summer. It’s full of days when one transcription client creates the entire CastingWords Express work queue all by themselves. That’s the case today!


Thanks to Denver Easy John, there’s a decent amount of Express transcription audio at the moment, at least by summer standards.

Even better, much of it is pretty darn good audio, true podcast/broadcast quality. Great volume, great sound. Good for them! So if you have a PPT of 90 or better, you are in luck. No premiums, but again, during the summer, those do get a lot leaner at CW.

The one little exception to the fine quality of this client’s material is the 154896 series, which can be staticky and a little soft.


In less ideal audio that is giving very nice bonuses anyway, the Chicago client is still hanging out. It really is difficult audio: multiple speakers and strong ethnic US accents, with not everyone miked all that well. If you’re game and confident, you’re paid reasonably well for it, at least.

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Jun 28 CastingWords Express audio review

| June 28, 2013 | 0 Comments

I said I’d be back to doing reviews of CastingWords Express audio this month, and here I am! You’ll probably have to treat these reviews, which I’m going to be doing a couple of times a week for now, a little differently than you do outside of summer. Summer is a slower season at many transcription companies, CW included, and that means that available work gets snapped up a lot faster.

If you find that this means that batches are often gone by the time you see my review, keep in mind that you can search the site for past reviews on particular clients, too. So if there are entirely different batches up by the time you read my review, the site can still be of use to you.

Also, just for summer, I’m going to be including reviews of CW’s Difficult Audio too, when that pays at Express levels or better. Audio at CW may be labeled difficult for various reasons, but all of them are factors that can make it harder to transcribe, depending on what your particular strengths are as a transcriber.

I’ll try and describe what makes the Difficult batches audio difficult, so you can decide whether they’re worth your while. But audio labeled Difficult at CW always pays more per minute than audio without that label, so if you can handle it, I generally recommend it—and even more so in this leaner season.

The Difficult batch that I see up at the moment is from the Easy Zero Peter client (min PPT, 85). It has a couple of speakers giving a demonstration before a group. One speaker has a moderate Asian accent, and the other sounds a little farther away from the mic than is ideal. There’s background sound involved in their demonstration, but they’re both aware of the need for their audience to hear them over it, which means their transcriber won’t have incredible trouble, either.

Overall, I’d say that these files are in really good shape for a Difficult batch: no static, people aren’t talking over one another, and the background noise is well under control. Unless that accent I mentioned really is hard for you, I think it’s more than doable. New to these reviews.

Here’s what I’ve got in regular Express:


Denver Frank John (min PPT, not checked; not checked for premiums): It’s great to see this client back, and even improved from my last review of them on February 14. This is true podcast-quality interview audio with two speakers, both with UK accents. Actually, both speak a bit fast, but that’s not much to complain about considering the excellent sound quality and the fact that both are courteous about taking turns talking. Good stuff, and I’m wondering if it’ll still be there by the time you read this.


Easy New York (min PPT, not checked; not checked for premiums): You know, I’d actually rank the day’s Difficult batch above these. There are three people involved and only incidental background noise, but they do talk over each other. Also, all three tend to be slightly quick in their pace of speech, and one tends to be a little soft when speaking.

Have a great weekend, all! I have a Mailbag post planned for tomorrow, and I’m hoping to do my next Express audio review on Monday or Tuesday.

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The community speaks

Amy’s Mailbag: SpeechInk’s nonverbatim style guide, plus a question on accuracy

| June 12, 2013 | 2 Comments

In this edition of Mailbag, I’ll be telling you where to find that elusive SpeechInk nonverbatim style guide, plus I’ll answer a question on grading.

The SpeechInk nonverbatim style guide

Says a reader,

“SpeechInk has nonverbatim HITs, but there’s no style guide for them. I looked on their HIT and on their site. What style do you use for those transcripts?”

Glad you asked. SpeechInk does have a nonverbatim style guide. Two, in fact. They’re just absolutely terrible at telling transcribing Turkers where those guides can be found!

What makes their documents even harder to find is that they have two sites, one under the name SpeechInk (which is how they do business on Turk) and one under the name SpeechPad. The two companies are one and the same. Their CEO has explained there are the two names for legal reasons only.

All the company’s style guides are on that Speechpad site.

Need a link? Right this way. I made this post last fall, when I first came across SpeechInk’s nonverbatim style guides and published the link. Just scroll down a little bit on that page to the green text; the link is in the middle there.

The actual link’s already changed once, which is why I’m going to keep providing it through that post rather than here or in a continual series of new posts about it. That way, everyone can always find it in that one place, and I’ll keep it current there.

Clean up or get the actual words?

My next Mailbag question is about a transcript-grading example. I love those, because they can give valuable information about a company’s standards. They also give it in a more real-world way than a style guide; sometimes that’s easier to understand.

This reader writes (I added the bullet points for clarity here)…

“Something that left me confused is on the CastingWords Grade Examples page, example of a 6.

  • The original sentence: ‘Some machines might not complete their job – it may have been switched manually to do something else – so you have to a build-in the [xx] to restart that test elsewhere.’
  • The 9 version is: ‘Some machines might not complete their job. They may have been switched over manually to something else. So you have to have a build-in resilience to restart that part of a task elsewhere.’
  • My version would have been ‘So you have to build in resilience…’ or ‘So you have to have a built-in resilience…’ Would either of those choices be marked as an error?”

Great question! The first thing to know about the CastingWords Grade Examples is that they have not been redone in a while, including not since their current style guide was released. So they shouldn’t be looked to as an example of exact style, but they can be useful for understanding the types of things that go into grading.

The second thing to know is that without any accompanying audio, it’s hard to say whether this reader could have done what they suggest and gotten a great grade. Yes, their changes make more sense of the text. But because this is transcription work, rather than editing work, the real key to whether those new changes would be better or worse is what actually was said in the audio.

On the one hand, if the speaker actually said, “So you have to have a build in…,” then this reader’s first version would be wrong, because it missed words (the second “have” in that last sentence) that were spoken. That isn’t OK, even in nonverbatim transcription. And actually, the second version would be wrong too! Not because it missed words, but because it substituted a wrong word (“built” instead of “build”).

Substituting inaccurate words is just as bad as missing words. For example, it’s possible that “build-in” is a bit of lingo specific to the field being discussed. Also, the client may be wanting to use the transcript to quote the speaker. Finally, even if neither of those is true, if that’s how the person spoke throughout the interview, the client may have wanted some sense of the speaking style of the person in the transcript.

For all those reasons, if “build-in” is what was spoken, it’s safest not to change it. Most any transcription company will not penalize you for using the speaker’s words as they were said.

On the other hand, let’s say that the speaker said, “So you have to have a built in….” If that’s what was said, then my reader’s second version would be fine. They added a hyphen, which is just a grammar judgment call and just fine here. But that first version would still be wrong, because the speaker’s second “have” in that last sentence still would be missing.

I’ve said before that in transcription, style trumps grammar. Thanks to this reader’s question, you can see that accuracy trumps grammar, too!

Want to know more about why each of those snippets was graded the way it was? There’s a brief explanation on CastingWords’ webpage, where you’ll find the original example my reader referred to. I’ve also just finished and posted a members-only piece on transcript grading; it uses those same two snippets as an example, going through each one and pointing out what differences between them justified a lower grade.

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Amy’s Mailbag: Working directly for Turk companies

| March 31, 2013; updated April 7, 2013 | 2 Comments

One blog reader wrote me recently to ask about working for Turk transcription companies (like SpeechInk or CastingWords), but off of Turk. I thought this was a great topic, and I let him know that I’d address it in today’s Mailbag post. (Yes, the Mailbag is a new type of post for this blog, and thanks to one of my members for suggesting it! You can read more about how it works in the italic blurb at the end of this post.)

This reader suggested to me that there must be some way he could do this. Surely, he said, these companies must have other transcribers than Turkers!

I can understand why he’d ask. After all, transcribing through Turk does depend on your staying in the continued graces of Amazon, and some folks don’t particularly see a reason to let a third party into their income-earning gigs like that. Plus, there’s always the question of whether you could be making more money by cutting out Amazon as the middleman between you and your transcription work.

Do most Mechanical Turk transcription companies hire off of Turk, too?

Interestingly though, most of those companies really do only use Turk for their transcriber pool. In fact, Turk transcription companies all have made substantial arrangements to ensure that their businesses can run on just Turkers, with usually a very small administrative staff.

Why? Well, from their perspective, it’s a plan with lots of benefits for them. For one thing, it greatly simplifies their recordkeeping. Through Amazon Payments, Mechanical Turk gives them a centralized payment system that they don’t have to set up or maintain. They don’t have to wait on or process invoices from their freelancers (and make no mistake, Turkers are their freelancers!).

Plus, in general, they don’t have to deal with assigning you work individually. They also can keep all of their support for their workers online, which means not fielding phone calls and usually reduces the load on their support staff.

This makes things simple, as long as a company—and the ones who have built their business around Turk clearly do not mind. For most of them, the fact that the pool is faceless is no big deal, because their work gets done at a fairly steady pace. (Also, if they’re on Turk, they are willing to put up with quality fluctuations in the overall work they get, because there’s really no foolproof way for companies using Turk to avoid those.)

Turk transcription companies also find it attractive to provide work only through Turk for another reason: it lets them keep their average payrate low. Now, if you’ve read the ebook for Turk transcribers, you know that transcription pay on Turk actually varies dramatically. As a matter of fact, some of the work on Turk is paid pretty respectably, even by the standards of the off-Turk transcription market.

Yet overall, Turk transcription companies enjoy payscales that are very favorable for them. All of them offer Turkers a range of pay, within which most of the work is lower priced stuff. That work goes to the many Turkers who aren’t qualified for the higher paying transcription HITs, don’t know they exist, or don’t know how to find them.

The result as a whole? Cost savings for the company by sticking just with Turk, again.

Off-Turk options for Mechanical Turk transcribers

In that case, does a Turker have any options for transcribing off of Turk? Absolutely, especially if you don’t insist on staying with only Turk companies. There’s just one Turk company that will hire you “directly,” but there are many, many companies who have never sent any work through Turk at all, yet are quite worth finding.

Those of you follow this blog know already that CastingWords now hires transcribers from anywhere in the world, paying their non-Turkers through Paypal. This is not only a great option for non-US residents (who can’t sign up for Turk because of Amazon’s policies) but also a fine option if you’re a US resident who wants to keep Mechanical Turk out of your transcription career. Pay is no different from what you’ll get with the company through Turk; check my original posts on that subject for much more.

If you want to look further afield, there are plenty of entirely off-Turk transcription companies to check out, as well. You can often find them by Googling “transcription jobs” or “transcription careers.” (This site’s Members’ Area also includes more extensive help, including some specifics on companies and a resource for an extensive company list.)

There again, be sure you have some handle on what it’s possible to earn as a transcriber on Turk, before you make the leap to off-Turk companies. Some of those off-Turk companies routinely pay much less than the average for Turk transcription requesters. That gives most Turkers no real reason to consider applying there.

Beyond the matter of pay, do a little of your own Googling on non-Turk transcription companies you’re considering working for. Just like you wouldn’t do non-transcription Turking without TurkOpticon (you don’t, right?), it’s not a good idea to blindly agree to do work for an outside company.

Fortunately, there are plenty of bloggers and forums out there who cover the general work-at-home market. Some have probably mentioned the company you’re considering taking work for. Double-check to see what’s being said about a business, to be sure you land with a good company or two. You want to be sure you’ll be paid reliably and that the company will be fair with you in general, including not leaving you in the lurch when you have a problem or question.

Good transcribing to all!

Many of you have written me to ask questions about transcribing, on Turk or in general. I love answering them! To be sure that more people can benefit from each answer, in this series I’ll post and answer questions that you’ve sent me directly by email. I’ll always let you know (by replying to your email) if I’d like to use your question for my Mailbag posts. As always, you will be kept anonymous when your question is used, unless you let me know you don’t want to be.

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