There are two kinds of writers: those who hate transcribing interviews, and liars. Most writers I know will do almost anything to avoid listening to their own voice, making fact-checking interviews a tedious and uncomfortable process.
It’s good, then, that the solution to this problem is included with Microsoft 365. Word, it turns out, can transform any recording into a transcript in just a couple of clicks. The problem is that this feature is hidden in the web version of Word—you won’t find it in the Windows or macOS app. But once you know where it is, you’ll never have to transcribe by hand ever again.
A quick distinction: we’ve talked about setting up voice dictation in the past, but this isn’t that. Voice dictation allows you to talk into your microphone in order to write; transcription means taking an existing recording and turning it into text. Oh, and one more thing: Word only currently supports US English as of this writing (I’m Canadian and it worked for me—Brits might have a bumpy ride.)
How to transcribe recordings in Microsoft Word
To get started, head to Office.com in Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome. This is important: Microsoft says other browsers are not currently supported, and I couldn’t find the feature in Safari. Log into your Microsoft 365 account and create a new Word document. Click the three dots at the end of the Home row. Hover over Dictate, then click Transcribe.
This will bring up the transcription sidebar. You can record an interview in real time, if you like, or you can upload a recording you made earlier. The feature supports WAV, MP4, M4A, and MP3 files.
Uploading will take a few minutes, as will analyzing the recording. I uploaded a one-hour conversation and it took around 10 minutes, but your experience might vary. When it’s done, however, you’ll have a media player in the sidebar with a full transcript of the recording.
How accurate the transcription is will depend on the quality of your recording. Hit the play button, and you can follow along with the transcription—words will be highlighted as they’re spoken. The tool recognizes multiple speakers and splits dialogue between them. By default, they’re named “Speaker 1,” “Speaker 2,” and so on, but you can rename them. Just be sure to check the box next to Change all Speaker.
You should now have a pretty clean transcription. You can scroll through, find the interesting bits, and add them to your document. Or, if you prefer, you can add the entire transcript.
Add the whole transcription to your document
At the bottom of the transcription panel, you’ll see an Add to document button. Click this, and you can choose whether to add only the text, the text with speaker names, and whether or not you want to include timestamps.
Choose whatever works best, and Word will add the entire transcript to your document, along with a link to the audio file (it will be added to a Transcribed Files folder in your OneDrive).
You can now save this document and open it in the desktop or mobile version of Word, if you like. Just note that the transcription panel is not available in those versions of the app, so you won’t be able to listen to the recording and see where you are in the transcription.
These transcriptions aren’t perfect, in my testing, but they’re pretty good. You should, at the very least, be able to scan through and find the key points you remember. It’s well worth logging into Microsoft 365 on the web, even if you (like me) basically never use Word otherwise.