How To Transcribe Audio & Video Files Into Text With The Help Of Express Scribe

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transcribe a recordingThose who do a lot of audio to text transcriptions know only too well that even with the help of a digital player, digital word processor, and the ability to type using ten fingers at an amazing speed, transcribing is still a challenging task. Especially because catching what other people say is not as easy as it sounds, and most normal human typing speeds can never catch up to speaking speed.

To make the matter worse, you have to do a lot of stopping-rewinding-replaying to the audio/video files, and continuously go back and forth between the player and word processor.

Luckily, Express Scribe can help you solve the problem.


Not only can it slow down the audio files while maintaining constant pitch, it will also give you playback shortcuts that you can use from within your word processor. This amazing software is available for Mac, Windows and Linux; and it’s totally free.

Now let’s take a look at the basic features of the software. (Note: I’m using the Mac version, so there might be slight differences with the Windows and Linux version).

Slow Down, Stay Stable

To start a transcription process, open the app and click on the “Load” button from the main window and browse to the location of the file. You can load several files at once by using the Command key while selecting multiple files.

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transcribe a recording

Then you can play the file using the controls that you will find in the main window. These tools consist of standard playback buttons like “Play – Stop – Rewind – Fast Forward” and other more advanced tools like “Speed” and “Playback Position” sliders.

01c Express Scribe Main Window.jpg

If you do a lot of transcriptions, the Speed slider is the answer to your prayers. You can adjust the playback to be slow enough for your ten fingers to catch up. Express Scribe will keep the pitch stable and maintain the words as clear as they are in the original speed.

Once you press the “Play” button, a “Multi Channel Display” window will appear. This window allows you to adjust the volume of the left and right audio channels, or turn them on/off.

transcribe software

Setting Up The Hot Keys

Even though all the controls are just a click away, the purpose of using this app is so we don’t have to go back and forth between the player and the word processor. Express Scribe allows you to set up hotkeys to control its functions from within other applications.

To add hot keys, open the “Preferences“.

transcribe software

Then go to the “Hot-keys” tab and check the “Enable system-wide hot-keys” box. After that click the “Add” button.

transcribe software

Choose one of the functions from the drop-down list, and click “Change” to assign shortcut to it. Press the key combination that you chose, and click “OK.

transcribe

There are a lot of functions listed on the list, but I personally think that you should assign hotkeys only to the most important playback functions as memorizing too many shortcuts is not going to make the process faster. You should also use the most practical but unused key combinations.

Here’s the list of all my shortcuts and the hot-keys to give you a clearer picture.

  • Play : “Ctrl + Alt + Right Arrow”
  • Stop : “Ctrl + Alt + Period”
  • Rewind : “Ctrl + Alt + Left Arrow”
  • Go to start : “Ctrl + Alt + 0”
  • Decrease playback speed (-5%) : “Ctrl + Alt + Down Arrow”
  • Increase playback speed (+5%) : “Ctrl + Alt + Up Arrow”

Setting Up The Default Word Processor

You can open the word processor that you are going to use to write the transcription straight from the Express Scribe window. The default application is whatever application that you set to open a “.doc” file (In most computer, this will be Microsoft Word).

transcribe

But if you want to use a different application as your chosen word processor – maybe something simple like TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Windows) – just change the default template file from the “Preferences – Other“.

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First, create a blank document with the extension that you choose, and add the file to the Express Scribe template list.

transcribe mp3

Then select the file, click the “Set to default” button followed by the “OK” button.

transcribe mp3

Now every time you click the “Open Word Processor” button, Express Scribe will open your chosen application.

Another useful transcribing tool that you can use is the ability to add a time stamp to the word processor. This feature is very useful for those who do movie or interview transcriptions.

This tool can be accessed under the “Notes – Copy To Clipboard – Time” menu, or simply “Command + T” from within Express Scribe.

transcribe a recording

Barely Scratch The Surface

As an amateur transcriber, this is the extent to what I use the software for. But I have barely scratched the surface. There are more advanced features for pro-level transcribers such as support for a professional foot pedal, the ability to dock analog and digital portable recording, playing movie files (with additional plugins), and integration with speech recognition software. You can see the complete list on the website.

Have you tried to transcribe? Do you know other alternatives? Have you pushed Express Scribe to its limit? Share your experiences using the comments below.

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