If you’ve ever had the painful task of transcribing a recorded meeting, lecture or video, you will be pleased to know that Microsoft has added a transcription feature to its online version of Word. It’s built right into the app and can transcribe live voice recordings as well as most audio files. So instead of donning a pair of headphones and listening to hundreds of snippets of a recording, or subscribing to a pricey and often limited online service, let Microsoft do the work for you.
Before we dive into how Microsoft Word transcription works, you should know that there are limitations. First of all, you must be a Microsoft 365 subscriber — transcription is not a part of the desktop office suite. Only Microsoft Edge and Chrome browsers support the feature — sorry, Firefox and Safari users. There is a five-hour limit per month for uploaded recordings and each uploaded recording is limited to 200MB. However, there is no limit on directly recording audio into the app. The company said that Transcribe in Office mobile will be coming by the end of the year. Currently, transcribing audio into U.S. English is the only language supported, but Microsoft said it’s working on support for more languages.
Like with third party online transcription services, Microsoft Transcribe can detect different people who are speaking during a recording. It will create a time-stamped transcript that can be manually corrected by the user. You can save the full transcript as a Word document or insert snippets of it into existing documents. When you choose the latter, you’ll see your transcript in a panel in your open Word document, which makes adding quotes to it very easy.
Transcribe is powered by AI software, which has come a long way since the first widely available transcription software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, which launched in 1997. I recall testing and reviewing the software back in 2010, and what stood out was the patience needed for the program to “learn” your voice and speech habits, and that meant it was really only useful for transcribing the program owner’s voice. Even today, Google’s Recorder app cannot identify different speakers.
Here’s how to give it a try — remember, you must be using Word online, not on your desktop. If you are interested in a Microsoft 365 (formerly called Office 365) subscription, you pay $99.99 each year or $9.99 a month for up to five users or $69.99 a year or $6.99 a month for an individual account. Microsoft is currently offering a one-month free trial for the family plan.
To start, sign into Microsoft 365 and open Word in either the Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome browser. Open a new Word document. On the Home tab, you will see Dictate toward the upper right of your document window. Click to see the menu and choose Transcribe. If this is your first time using the voice-to-text feature in Word, you will be asked for permission to let the program use your computer’s microphone. Notice the Transcribe panel to the right of your document window. Click the microphone icon to start recording. You can pause at any time. When your machine is recording, you will see a red circle on the tab. Don’t be concerned that there is no live transcribing while recording. This will happen once you’ve finished recording and click the button “Save and transcribe now.”
Your recording will be automatically saved to the Transcribed Files folder in OneDrive where all of your online files are saved. Transcribing will begin. How long it takes is, of course, a function of the length or your recording, but internet speed also plays a role. Do keep the Transcribe pane open while the transcription is being made.
If you already have a file on your computer you’d like to transcribe, you will choose Upload from the audio picker and locate the file. You can count on transcription to take about as long as the length of the original file. The software supports .wav, .mp4, .m4a and .mp3 formats. If your file includes video, save as an audio file first to make uploading and transcribing take less time.