A transcription error is a mistake made when a person is performing data entry from one form of recorded documentation to another, usually a computer-oriented text document or electronic records system. Certain businesses, such as medical and legal offices, regularly require hand-written notes, audio tapes and other informal documents to be transcribed into a formal electronic version. There are many reasons why a transcription error may occur, the most common being simple human error, although the use of optical character recognition (OCR) software also can lead to errors. Some preventive measures that can be taken to reduce the possibility of a transcription error include double data entry of the same source material and automated software that checks syntax and the context of sentences.
There really is no industry that does not experience a transcription error on occasion. The act of transcribing information — and the amount to be transcribed — usually requires that data entry workers maintain a fast pace that can ultimately lead to an error. Human-caused transcription errors can result from the person not looking at the computer screen when typing, the inability to accurately read or hear the source material, or simply because of a physical slip or misplacement of the fingers. In some situations, there is an acceptable error rate for data entry workers; in other situations, such as those encountered in the medical field, even a minor transcription error can cause disastrous results.
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One form of transcription involves OCR software. This software will take a scanned image of a document and attempt to isolate and translate individual letters and words on a page, converting them into a digital text document. A transcription error can occur if the software is unable to determine what a specific letter actually is. This can be the result of illegible handwriting, a poorly copied document that is blotchy, dirt on the scanner or wrinkles and other imperfections in the paper. The only resolution, and the only way to catch errors that happen this way, is to have a person proofread the resulting document.
The possibility of making a transcription error increases when the context of the source material is unknown to the data entry worker. Unfamiliarity with technical terms or the use of long, confusing codes might lead a data entry clerk to make incorrect assumptions about the intention of the source material, causing misspellings, errors or incorrect grammatical structuring. This can frequently occur during the transcription of legal materials, which is why people who regularly transcribe legal documents may be required to have some background in the legal field.