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Finally, an easy, quick way to transcribe audio, for free

Leah Fessler
By Leah Fessler

Reporter, Quartz at Work

This article is more than 2 years old.

If you haven’t wasted hours transcribing audio—endlessly replaying the same 30 seconds of the recording, cursing people’s inability to speak in full sentences—you’ve never transcribed audio. Or you’re a wizard.

For the rest of us, there’s finally a transcribing solution. It’s free, easy, and requires no fancy apps, AI, or downloads—just Google Docs.

Docs, Google’s free, cloud-based response to Microsoft Word, has a dictation software tool called Voice Typing (it comes pre-installed and requires no plugins). Voice typing is relatively self-explanatory: When you speak, the tool listens to you and transcribes what you say into a Google Doc. The feature is intended for people who cannot easily type or who prefer to dictate notes, but you can also use it to cut the time it takes to transcribe an audio recording down to nearly the same time as the recording itself. Basically, you listen to the recording (either on your phone or computer) via earphones and speak the recording out loud as you listen. The Voice Typing tool transcribes the words you speak.

When I used the tool to transcribe an hour-long interview, it was shockingly accurate. It spelled individual’s names (like Sheryl Sandberg, or Sheila Heen) perfectly, knew when to use “their” versus “they’re,” and, when I finished a sentence, automatically corrected words it initially misheard. I finished the transcription in about 70 minutes. The tool proved equally successful when I spoke in Spanish, and when my colleagues tested it in German and Mandarin.

Here’s the step-by-step guide to Voice Typing:

1. Find a quiet space

To transcribe with Voice Typing, listen to the recording via earphones, then speak the words you hear out loud. Voice Typing isn’t advanced enough to transcribe a recording played via a speaker (be it your iPhone speaker or a more advanced speaker)—it needs to hear a human voice, in a quiet area. If there’s significant background noise, or many people speaking at once, the transcription will be less accurate.

2. Plug yourself in

Use earphones to listen to the recording, so that when you speak, the Voice Typing tool only hears your voice, not the recording.

3. Open a blank Google Doc

Go to the Google Doc home page, and click “start a new document.”

This is what your blank doc looks like.

4. Open the Voice Typing tool

Under the “Tools” dropdown menu, select “Voice Typing.” Or use the shortcut Command+Shift+S to open the Voice Typing tool.

Leah Fessler
Step 2: Under the tools tab, click “voice typing.”

5. Ensure the Voice Typing button appears

When you click “Voice Typing,” the recording button will appear on the left side of your document:

Leah Fessler
Step 3: After you click “voice typing,” the Voice Typing button will appear.

6. Ensure your microphone is turned on and your language is set

As Google Help explains, “to use voice typing or voice commands, your computer microphone needs to be on and working. Devices and microphones vary, so check your computer manual for instructions. Microphone settings are typically in the System Preferences on a Mac, or the Control Panel on a PC.”

Voice Typing functions with nearly every language, including different accents and dialects (for example, the tool offers over 20 options for Spanish). Use the drop-down menu on the recording button to select the language you’ll be speaking in:

Select your language from the drop down.

5. Click the recording button, and begin speaking

To begin transcribing, click the Voice Typing button. The microphone icon will turn red to indicate the tool is active. Begin listening to your audio recording via your headphones and speak along. As you speak, the Voice Tool will transcribe.

While you’re transcribing, don’t close the Google Doc window or click into another window. If you do, the Voice Tool will stop listening and transcribing.

Speak clearly, at a normal-to-loud tone, and avoid speaking very quickly. While the tool kept up with my quicker-than-average speaking speed, when I began speaking very quickly the transcription became less accurate.

Leah Fessler
Step 5: To begin transcribing, click the recording button, and it will turn red.

Whenever the Voice Typing tool is active, you will see this red circle on the Google Doc window’s tab:

Leah Fessler
This red circle will appear on your Google doc’s window tab, to indicate that you are recording.

To more clearly understand how this earphone-listening-transcribing transaction functions, watch this video of me transcribing live (it’s far easier than it sounds).

6. Watch along as you transcribe

Be sure to watch along as you speak and the tool transcribes, as occasional glitches occur. If the tool stops transcribing while you continue to speak, just click the Voice Typing tool button to turn it off, then click it again to turn it on. While I transcribed the hour-long recording, I had to turn the tool off then on again about three times, so to ensure it stayed accurate.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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