Audio transcriptions and annotations with OneNote

I just got a great tip from a colleague at work (Richard Sprague) that I wanted to share. Since it is related, I thought I'd also include a tip I got earlier from Barry Brahier.

Richard came up with a way to transcribe audio recordings into OneNote! The recording can be one made in OneNote or be from anywhere really (such as from a solid state recorder and uploaded to your PC). Of course you can put this transcription into any app that supports speech input - I just happen to like OneNote for this.

CAVEAT: Your recording has to be excellent for the transcription to be anything other than gibberish: high sample rate and bit rate, no background noise, clean crisp audio environment (no echoes, background chatter). This means recordings of meeting room environments through your built-in laptop mic are NOT going to work.

Let's say for example that you have a voice recording that you made using a dedicated recorder and want to put a transcription of it into OneNote (maybe in support of meeting minutes and other notes).

Follow Richard's instructions to set up your audio input for speech. In OneNote, place the insertion point on the page where you want the text to appear. Using the speech TIP (available on Tablet PC or Vista), set the dictation mode ON. Here's where to find some of these settings on a Tablet PC (use the settings in order 1, 2, 3):

Now play back the audio as you would normally. VoilĂ , text appears in OneNote that is vaguely similar to a transcription (see caveat above).

If you want to use recordings made in OneNote, be aware that the default recording quality for OneNote is not meant for speech recognition. We use a voice codec and bit rate/sample rate designed to compress spoken word audio as small as can be while still usable by human beings. In OneNote 2007 we increased the settings slightly to make audio search work better, but speech recognition (transcription) requires a much higher level of quality.

To set up your future recordings in OneNote to be transcribable, first go to Tools/Options/Audio and Video. Switch the codec to Windows Media Audio 9.1 Professional. If this isn't available consider downloading the latest set of codec for Windows Media (should come with WM Player 10). Otherwise just pick the highest settings available (e.g. 44Khz, 440kbps) for now - you can experiment with lower settings later.

Once your recording is made you can use Richard's tip to transcribe it later. Just place the insertion point on the page then press the play button for the recording in OneNote. What's neat of course is that if you have say a 1hr recording with linked audio notes, you can press the audio playback icon next to the notes you wrote and get a transcription of just a portion of your recording starting at that point - no need to transcribe the whole hour just to get the answer to a question, for example.

Barry Brahier sent me a tip on how to use the linked audio notes feature of OneNote using a pre-made recording. Here's his tip. The basic idea is similar to what Richard came up with. Essentially you loop the playback of your existing recording through the sound mixer in your PC and re-record it into OneNote, where you can apply linked audio annotations as you would if you were doing the recording directly into OneNote in the first place. Thanks for the great tip Barry!

Update: with OneNote 2007, you can annotate existing audio just by typing/writing new text/ink while the audio is playing. Anything created while it is playing is linked. You can add more annotations to existing audio recordings or annotate a new recording.

Another Update: I received several questions asking how to do this if you don't have Vista or a Tablet PC. You can get the Microsoft Speech Recognition tools another way. If you have Office XP or Office 2003, try Tools/Speech in Word and follow the instructions. After that the speech tools are installed and available on the floating "language bar". You can also download speech recognition for free at:

but note that the recognizer in the free download version is not as good as the one we built for Office.