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.”
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.
5. Ensure the Voice Typing button appears
When you click “Voice Typing,” the recording button will appear on the left side of your document:
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:
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.
Whenever the Voice Typing tool is active, you will see this red circle on the Google Doc window’s tab:
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.