How to Dictate From an MP3 to Text

Typing up a recording can take a long time.
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If you have an MP3 file of a recording of a speech, you have several options for turning it into a text file with a transcript of the speech. These include transcribing it yourself, hiring somebody to transcribe it, or using automated software. The best option will depend on your budget and the degree of accuracy you require in the transcription.

1 Manual Transcription

Listening to text and transcribing it yourself can be a surprisingly lengthy process. A one-hour speech could take several hours to transcribe once you factor in the time taken to listen to the recording, pause the file, type the text, review the recording if you are uncertain about a word or phrase, and restart the playback to get back to the next passage. You can make the task easier by using free or paid transcription assistant software such as Transcribe, Express Scribe or Inq Scribe (see Resources). These applications let you play back MP3 files and type in the same application, using a single set of controls. Depending on the application you may have a specific key to start and pause the audio playback, or you may have a setting that automatically stops play back when you begin typing.

2 Transcription Services

Numerous online services let you upload an MP3 file and then get back a text file prepared by a transcriber. Such services range from a matter of pennies to tens or even hundreds of dollars. Generally you do get what you pay for and you should be sure that a given service meets your needs. The cheapest services may be outsourced to somebody in a developing country who speaks English as a second language, while the most expensive may use professional, expert transcribers who guarantee the accuracy of their product.

3 Automated Transcription

Several applications can convert an audio file to a text file using automated speech analysis. Examples include Dragon Naturally Speaking, Ultra Wave to Text and WSR Toolkit. Generally you'll need to pay for software to get good results. Most such programs contain a training mode in which you can read out set phrases so the software gets used to your own voice; of course, this won't work with recordings of other people's voices.

4 Google Voice

If you subscribe to the Google Voice service, you get a free transcript of any voice messages you receive. As a workaround, you can call your Google Voice number and leave a "message" by playing back your MP3 file on an audio device. This will only work with short recordings -- the voicemail length limit on Google Voice is three minutes -- and the accuracy of the transcription is not guaranteed.

A professional writer since 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, John Lister ran the press department for the Plain English Campaign until 2005. He then worked as a freelance writer with credits including national newspapers, magazines and online work. He specializes in technology and communications.