When the Words Aren’t Crystal-Clear

People, of course, don’t always speak in a crystal-clear manner. Or the quality of the audio recording could be subpar. Or there could be background noise. So sometimes it’s hard to discern certain words when listening to recordings of spoken speech. In those cases, when a transcriptionist is not 100 percent certain of what the person said, “(ph)” should be inserted after the word to indicate the transcriptionist’s best guess or phonetic. And when a group of words or a phrase is unclear, then that phrase should be within brackets, followed by a (ph).

It’s a similar situation for words that are clear, but where the spelling is unknown, such as with people’s last names. In that case, “(sp?) or (sp) should follow words (oftentimes names) where a listener is not sure of the spelling.

Google helps. A good transcription company should make sure its transcriptionists are Googling what unfamiliar words sound like, and seeing what comes up. Same with spellings of speakers’ names. One often can determine that by typing the person’s name based on how it sounds, and key words associated with the person, such as his or her profession or affiliation.

But if the word or name still is unknown, with (ph) or (sp) in place, the end user of the transcript – who often was present at the recording and who is more familiar with what was said and with the spellings of names – can do a quick search for each instance of (ph) or (sp) and make the appropriate corrections.


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