Jul 292015


Let’s face it: No matter how much you love to write, sometimes the process can be a pain. But luckily there’s a variety of writing productivity apps designed to make our jobs easier.

I decided to test-drive two writing productivity apps that I had never used before – oTranscribe and Scrivener – when I started work on my latest cover story for SOCAN Words and Music. It was an interview with legendary musician/songwriter Randy Bachman, founding member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

So, let’s see if these apps made my job easier as I was… Taking Care of Business.

In the first part of this two-part series, we’ll look at oTranscribe.


Transcribing interviews sucks. Can I get an amen?

Transcribing is by far my least favourite part of the article-writing process. Compared to the actual writing, I find it such a tedious task that seems to take for-ever.

My Method

I record my telephone interviews with a Zoom H2 digital recorder via a phone line recording jack I picked up at Spytech years ago.

[For an excellent overview of telephone interview recording tips and technologies, check out Luigi Benetton’s series here.]

Prior to trying oTranscribe, my method of transcribing was to open the recorded audio file (mp3 or wav) in Quicktime, and then open a Word document and spend the next seeming eternity of hours switching back and forth between the two applications.

I’d rewind the audio slightly each time to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and to make sure I was getting it accurately.  Effective, but not exactly efficient.

“We Seek the Grail!”

Like many of you, I’ve been on a quest to find the Holy Grail of transcribing solutions. Surely there’s an easier way in our high-tech world!

I’ve tried using voice recognition software Dragon Dictate to see if it would do the work for me (hey, aren’t we all supposed to have robot helpers by now?).

Even though Dragon claims their software can transcribe an audio recording of another person’s voice, I’ve had poor results whenever I’ve tried it for that purpose. So, scratch that.

Is oTranscribe Excalibur?

While oTranscribe isn’t Excalibur or the Holy Grail, it did make the job of transcribing the Bachman interview easier. It bills itself as “A free web app to take the pain out of transcribing recorded interviews.” And that’s a good description, because, well, that’s exactly what it is.

oTranscribe opens in a browser tab or window. You then upload your recorded interview audio file, which sits at the top of your page. Below that is a window into which you type your transcription as you listen to the audio.

oTranscribe screenshot

Click to enlarge.

Firefox, the browser I was using, supports importing wav, mp3, webm and ogg files, and even YouTube videos. Other browsers may support other formats, depending on what kind of files the browser recognizes.

oTranscribe’s oSo Useful Features

The simple utility of oTranscribe is that it makes it much easier to flit back and forth between your audio source and your transcribing document because they’re both on the same page. But it also offers some really handy features.

Though there are buttons available on the page, I much preferred using the keyboard shortcuts which make it easy to stop and start and move forward through the audio file or rewind, without taking your attention away from the keyboard. That’s convenient.

Play it Again, Sam

But what I like best is that whenever you stop the audio to transcribe it, when you hit ‘Play’ again, it automatically rewinds a few seconds. I find it’s usually just the right amount of time to recap what I just transcribed and ensure the continuity of what’s being said.

A simple feature, but oh so useful and practical.

You can also vary the speed of the audio playback, which is handy if you need to slow down a fast-talker or speed up a slow-talker.

Right On Time

There’s also a feature that allows you to insert a time stamp into your transcribed text in case you need to quickly find that passage for later reference. Clicking on the inserted time stamp automatically zooms you to that part of the interview in the audio file. Neat, huh?

Is it Safe?

Because it’s a web app, there is a danger of losing your work if your browser crashes. oTranscribe saves your transcript every five minutes, retaining up to 100 backed-up copies (once it reaches the 100 limit, older copies are erased).

This is good, but just to be on the safe side, I also periodically exported back-ups in plain text format. You can also export in Markdown (.md) file format and as native .otr files. Apparently, it also supports exporting to Google Docs.

The oTrouble With oTranscribe

While I found oTranscribe handy, it’s not perfect. I did encounter a few problems.

For some reason, the time stamp feature stopped working for me in the middle of the process. Even after relaunching the app, it still didn’t work. Not a huge deal, but this is a nice feature when it works. The app is still in the beta stage, so maybe those kinks will get ironed out yet.

Gets the oKay

But overall, I found oTranscribe did deliver what it promises by making the transcription process easier. So oTranscribe gets a big “O-Yeah!” from me.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series when we’ll look at Scrivener.

What about you? Have you used oTranscribe? What other tools do you use to maximize your writing productivity or make your job easier?

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