Words, Words, and More Words: A Brief History of Transcription

Transcription is one of the oldest, most ancient forms of documentation; a useful, and often necessary, tool put in practice for centuries. Beyond being an efficient way to keep track of important information, dictation and transcription have helped to promote further understanding in otherwise complicated or complex fields – everything from medical and legal transcription to business and government transcription.

Still widely used today, transcription has a past rooted deep in history. We’re taking a quick look at the history of transcription to better understand it’s continuous benefits throughout the past, present and into the future.

The Past: Evolution of Transcription

Scribes from Ancient Times

Transcription as a form of documentation began in ancient times. Scribes as early as 3400 BCE would train in hieroglyphics and scripts in order to become employed in ancient Roman and Egyptian times. 100 years later, children would transcribe their ancient languages onto stone tablets. The written language and ancient historical documentation are made possible by transcription and those committed to transcribing (and duplicating) as much information as possible.

16th & 17th Century Technology

It’s understood that the invention of the printing press in 1439 led to a decline in the need for scribes, and so led to a decline in transcription for a time. However, it was around this time (or soon after, at least) that the modern English language shorthand was developed by a British physician. Formalizing this shorthand set in stone again the transcriptionists’ (or scribes’) specialty field. Scribes in the 17th century were generally used for manuscripts and other types of literature.

history of transcription

Typewriters & Word Processors

The transcription world wouldn’t see much progress or development again until the 19th century, nearly 200 years later. When the typewriter was invented, stenographers and typists were quite common, especially among American women. According to the U.S. census, by 1910, women comprised 81% of the typing workforce, contributing to the vast majority of secretarial and transcription work in offices everywhere.

After typewriters came the word processor in the 1980’s, famous for being the first truly digital way to type and transcribe information. Word processors paved the way for new computing technologies to reach mass development, and are a big reason for why we have the incredible technology and computers we use today. Because of these new technologies, transcription remains an important profession throughout much of American history.

The Present and Beyond

Voice-to-Text Today

Businesses in all industries today are recording massive amounts of audio and video content, whether it be for internal or customer-facing use. In other words, transcription companies specializing in various fields are still at large and often mission-critical.

Over the years, speech technology has become a lot more accurate, especially when used in tandem with live experts. Currently, TranscribeMe offers speech recognition accuracy of +99% alone; we do this by operating a platform that combines artificial intelligence speech recognition with real, crowd-sourced transcribers who can type out the audio-to-text and then correct the output of speech recognition, ultimately resulting in 100% perfection.

The Future of Transcription

While voice-to-text transcription will become easier and easier with further advancements in speech recognition software, it’s unlikely that it’ll match human transcriptionists in accuracy. At least, for quite some time. Nevertheless, it’s very likely that combinations of speech recognition technology and human transcriptionists will continue to dominate how the transcription process is done.

Today and into the future, we can continuously improve the quality of our speech recognition technology by giving and verifying examples from traditional voice-to-text transcription, eventually making it a more viable and valuable solution for transcribing audio or video content for businesses.


Have some audio or video that need transcribing? Any recurring projects? We’re here to help with any and all of your specific transcription needs. Contact us for a free quote or reach out to our Sales Team with any questions.

This article was originally published on May 23, 2017.

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