What Is Tape Transcription?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Tape transcription is the process of taking recorded speech and turning it into written text. In most cases, this form of transcription is used by professionals who dictate notes and discoveries while working. The recordings are given to a transcription service, a secretary or even run through a specialized computer program in order to change the audio into text. This process has become significantly more common than the older method where transcription happened at the time of speaking. It has also opened up several new career opportunities for people who are unable to work in a typical office environment.

Transcription, in general, is simply taking spoken words and writing them down. When a boss dictates a letter to a secretary, that is a type of oral transcription. Stenographers in courtrooms who copy the proceedings into record are also using oral transcription. Until the later part of the 20th century, oral transcription had been very common for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the invention of small and affordable recording devices that tape transcription became possible.


The term tape transcription originally came from the medium used to record the messages. The first major way of making a tape for transcribing was via reel-to-reel recorders. These worked well for the time, but the size and complexity of the machines quickly led to smaller cassette tape systems. In more modern times, tape transcription is often done with completely digital devices such as voice recorders, cellphones or personal computers. Even though the tapes are long gone, the name stayed.

Using taped messages, a person no longer needs to actually be present to transcribe the spoken words. This simple change has had a major impact on a number of different business practices. With recordings, a person could literally work on speeches, notes or memos in any place he could keep a recorder. With modern recording technology, this is nearly anywhere. The recording can just go to the transcriber whenever the recorder wants to send it.

This also generated a new industry: tape transcription services. In most cases, a person will mail hard copies of tapes or email digital files to one of these companies. The transcriptionist will transcribe the audio and send the information back to the consumer. This requires less time and space on the recorder’s end and reduces the cost of the process from a weekly salary to an as-needed service.

There are also computer programs capable of tape transcription. These devices read digital audio files and translate the speech patterns into text, often without the need to play the file. While this does drastically speed up transcription, reliable computer-based methods are still uncommon.


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