Tag Archives: Transcription

Your transcription career: RSI, ergonomics and keyboards

mechanical keyboardWhen you’re a transcriber, you’re going to end up working at a desk for long periods of time, using a keyboard. This can lead to problems with your posture, and possibly to RSI.

There are loads of different arguments and positions with regard to the ideal workstation position. Here, I’m going to give a summary of what I’ve found to be good myself, and some of the ideas that are around, too. The best thing to do is:

BE AWARE – keep an eye on how you’re sitting, how you’re feeling, and any aches, pains or niggles.

Typing position

This is what suits me: the old-fashioned way I was taught at Pitman typing college back in the early 90s: back straight, knees at 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor or a footrest. Shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90 degrees, belly button a hand-span away from the front of the keyboard, hands hovering OVER the keyboard so your wrists are straight and your fingers drop down onto the keys. Eyes aligned with the top of the monitor.

However, recent research that I’ve seen has suggested that you should lean back in your chair rather than sitting upright. I’m an upright sitter anyway (years of pony riding as a child?) so I find this uncomfortable.

There is also a lot of talk about standing desks, and I have several colleagues who have adopted these to great effect. I did try this and it made my feet hurt and made me type less quickly, so I did abandon it, but it’s worth trying.

A note on laptops: laptop keyboards are really not suitable for large amounts of typing. They are very flat, even if propped up, and can really strain the hands and wrists. If you need to use a laptop as a computer, buy a plug-in keyboard to use in front of it.

Preventing RSI

The best ways to prevent RSI and other aches and pains are …

  • Be aware of any problems when they start
  • Be aware of your position at the desk (are you contorted or twisted? That’s never good)
  • Stretch and refocus every hour at least – move away from the desk, squat, stretch UP, stretch DOWN, walk up and down the stairs, do some squats
  • Exercise regularly outside the house – I find that a good rowing session at the gym helps ease those shoulders
  • If you get any suspicious pains, look at what you’re doing and see if you can change it
  • If you get a recurring pain, go to the doctor sooner rather than later

Your keyboard

Most people use the standard keyboard that came with their PC or Mac. That’s fine for everyday use, but you might find the standard shape uncomfortable to use at high speeds, and the standard keyboard mechanics might slow down your typing. Here are some ideas:

  • Try one of the “ergonomic” split keyboards. They’re split in half, with a hinge, so you can open or close them as you wish.
  • Try using an alternative key assignation. The most famous is “DVORAK” and you can read its Wikipedia entry here. This assigns different letters to different keys, and is supposed to help with RSI issues by balancing how you type (we all know that the standard QWERTY keyboard was designed thus to stop the mechanics of the typewriter getting caught up with each other by putting commonly used pairs of letters in particular positions).
  • Try using a mechanical keyboard. Standard keyboards have a membrane under the keys which transmits the keystrokes to the switches. Their technology means that you have to press each key right down to get the connection and produce the letter. But mechanical keyboards have one individual mechanism and switch per key. You don’t have to press them all the way down to produce the letter. They are much more responsive and you can type more quickly on them, and they apparently last a lot longer – but they are expensive I found a really good article about them here.

I’ve recently invested in a mechanical keyboard. Once I got used to it, it’s very comfortable, and I think that I’m typing more quickly and more accurately, although I’ll only be able to judge when I have some big, long files to transcribe.

A note on keyboard labels: If you type a lot, you will notice that the letter labels wear off your keys, especially the most heavily used ones. This seems fine if you’re a touch typist anyway (and has the added benefit of really annoying anyone else who tries to use your workstation) but is irritating if you have to look down to type in passwords, etc.

The problem arises because most keyboards have the letters and numbers applied via transfer, which can wear off. You can get keyboards where the letter is actually moulded through each key, like a stick of rock. Wear your key down all you like, and the letter will still be there. Something worth looking into if you do wear off the letters on keyboards. You can even get light-up keyboards for when you want to type in the dark …

What’s best for you is best for you

I’d suggest having a play with different types of keyboard at an office or computer supplies shop, especially when it comes to the more expensive mechanical type keyboards. Whatever you feel comfortable with and doesn’t produce any aches or pains after a week of eight-hour days typing is what you should stick with, whether you’re standing on your head or using some kind of odd keyboard that you invented. RSI can ruin your career and your health, so do take it seriously.


You can read more about transcription in these related posts.

Why you need a human to do your transcription

How do you start a career in transcription?

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers

Or, if you want all of my transcription careers advice in one place, consider investing just £1  or the equivalent in my book on the subject: A Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription.


Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Business, Transcription


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How to record, transfer and send audio files – for journalists and researchers

keyboard, headphones and penOver the years that I’ve been providing transcription services to journalists and researchers, I’ve found that my clients haven’t always been as au fait as you would expect with recording, downloading and sending audio files of their interviews.

Here are some handy hints that I’ve developed to help my clients – any journalists or researchers who have to record and transcribe interviews should find this information useful.

Recording your interviews

You might be using a dedicated dictation machine or your Smartphone to record your interviews. Whichever you are using, here are some hints to get the best out of your recording:

Set and test the recording levels. You will  probably be able to alter the volume, at very least, and maybe the graphic equaliser. If you’re going to be doing a lot of interviews, it’s worth doing a test session with a friend, and checking the quality of the recording. Then leave the levels set at that point.

  • If the levels are too loud, when it’s played back, it will be distorted, even if the level is turned down on the machine that’s playing it back.
  • If the levels are too quiet, when it’s played back it will be really quiet still. Your transcriber will strain to hear it. Even if they up the volume at your end,  there’s only a certain amount they can do
  • If the bass or treble are set too high, the recording will pick up and amplify all bass or treble noises, such as cars going past or cutlery rattling

You may have some pre-set recording levels in the menus on your recording device. Oddly enough, you need to choose one that reads something like “interview” or “one to one”, rather than “meeting” or “concert” or “outdoors”. This will ensure that the device picks up you and the interviewee, rather than the conversation at the next table or the inexorable whoosh of the cappuccino machine.

  • If an inappropriate pre-set recording level is chosen, your transcriber may be bombarded with cutlery and glassware sounds and other people’s conversations, or just hear voices booming around like they’re in the bottom of a bucket.

Check each time that the recording level is correct – it is not unknown for the buttons on the recording device to get pressed in the journalist’s bag on the way to an interview, leading to a transcriber with ear-strain and a transcription full of gaps!

Transferring your audio files to your computer

Once you’ve saved your interview files, you’re going to need to get them off your recording device and onto your computer.

There are usually two ways to do this:

Option 1 – connect your recording device to your computer using a USB cable

Option 2 – send the file from your recording device to your computer via email

Option 1 is the easiest. If your recording device comes with a USB connection, plug it in to your computer. You will find that the computer treats it as an extra drive, like the C or D drive. Use the file navigator to find the file and copy it across to your computer, ready to send to your transcriber.

Option 2 is more tricky, as most phones will have a limit as to how long a file you can send. You may need to break it up into chunks, or zip the file on your phone / dictation machine first.

There is an Option 3 which you can use if your dictation machine is an analogue one, i.e. uses those little tiny tapes (or big ones!). Go into a silent room. Set a microphone up connected to your computer. SET THE RECORDING LEVELS very carefully and test them. Play the tape and record it digitally. Note: please don’t do this if you can help it. The tape quality will always be affected (think what the tapes were like that you recorded off the radio as a teenager. Exactly). Your Smartphone will have a voice memo app pre-loaded onto it, or you can download one. Do that: go digital. Your transcriber will thank you!

What to do when your iPhone voice memo is too big to email …

This is a topic in itself and one I’ve been asked about time and again.

If you need to transfer an iPhone voice memo to your computer to send to your transcriber, and you try to email it to yourself or them, you will probably get a message telling you that it’s too long to email. Don’t break it up into chunks, do this instead …

Turn on your phone, connect it via USB cable to your computer and open iTunes.

iTunes should have a tab called My iPhone.  Click on the Sync button in this tab if it doesn’t do it automatically. It will then record it into your computer’s memory.

Under Playlists, click on Voice Memos. Find your recording (it will be labelled with its date, which should help you to find it), right-click and choose Get Info. This will tell you where the memo is saved on your computer. Copy it into the file where you want to keep it, and send it to your transcriber.

For other phones, I always recommend connecting the phone to the computer rather than trying to email it.

Sending your audio file to your transcriber

Most audio files are really big and won’t send easily as an email attachment.

The first thing to try is zipping it. Go to the file in your computer’s folders, and right-click. You should be given some kind of option to Zip the file. This makes it smaller, like putting a duvet in one of those vacuum pack bags. Your transcriber will unzip it at their end to work with it.

If this is still too big, there are lots of services online that will transfer your file for you. My two favourites are YouSendIt, now called Hightail, and Wetransfer.  Both of these have free versions – you pay more to get more feedback and send larger files.

You can also use Dropbox, which acts as an extra, secure drive for your computer, living out there in the ‘Cloud’. Sign up (again, free) and copy your files into this folder. Then share it with your transcriber, or send the file so they can download it.

This article has hopefully helped to make technical matters clearer for journalists and researchers who want to record interviews and transcribe them themselves, or have them transcribed by a professional transcriber.

Related posts:

More on transcription and careers in transcription starting here.

Why you need a human being to do your transcription

My book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Found this useful? Do share using the buttons below, and/or send me a message via the comments box below!

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Posted by on December 18, 2013 in Transcription



Ten top tips for transcribers

keyboard, headphones and penI’ve been advising a colleague on how to develop the transcription side of her business recently, and these tips and hints came out as being the most useful for her – so I’m sharing them with you, too. Do comment if you find these helpful or have more to share!

1. Make sure that you can do it!
Before you launch into your first transcription project, check that you can do it first! This includes:
  • Being able to touch type
  • Being able to type quickly
  • Having the requisite technology

You can have a look at this post to check you’re suited for the work, and this one about the technology to use. Transcription jobs often come in at short notice and have tight turnarounds, so it really pays to be prepared.

2. Make sure that your ergonomics are tip-top

Transcription is the most demanding of my tasks. Typically, you’re pounding a keyboard for several hours at a time, typing as fast as you can while straining to hear the tape. Here are some of the things I and my colleagues have learned:

  • Use a proper keyboard with little legs, not a laptop keyboard, even if it’s propped up
  • Make sure that your chair is adjusted so that you can sit straight, looking slightly down at the screen, with your forearms sloping slightly down to your hands and your hands arched over the keys
  • Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor with comfortable bends to the knees; if not, put a box or footrest in front of your chair
  • Make sure that the cable on your headphones is long enough to reach your computer without you having to bend at all sideways or twist your head
  • Make sure that your headphones or earphones are comfortable
  • Take regular breaks to stand up, stretch, give your ears a rest and refocus your eyes – once an hour at very least (I do some squats and calf raises every hour as I seem to store tension in my legs when I am transcribing)

3. Get software to manage your transcriptions

Professional transcription software allows you to control the tape using function keys or even a pedal (like in the old days of audio typing) and will make you much quicker at doing the work. More information on software here - make sure you get used to it first!

4. Make sure that you understand what the client wants

You wouldn’t believe how many choices are involved when it comes to providing transcriptions for clients. Here are just some of them:

  • Do they want  you to type out exactly what the speakers say, take out the ums and ers but retain the rest, polish up the sentences so they make grammatical sense, or make non-native English speakers sound like native English speakers?
  • If you are transcribing an interview, do they want you to include the full questions or just notes?
  • If the person who they are interviewing says that something is off the record, do they want you to stop typing, or take it down and mark it up as off the record?
  • Do they want you to include and mark pauses, and how?
  • How do they want you to mark unclear sections or words that you can’t understand but can type a phonetic version?
  • Do they want you to timestamp the document (i.e insert 05:00, 10:00 etc. at the relevant points in the document), and how often, if at all?
  • How do they want you to differentiate between the speakers? (this could range from first initial, surname, in bold, with a colon to putting the questions in italics with no names)
  • Do they want US or UK spelling? Oxford -z- spellings or “British English” -s- spellings?
  • Do they have a special font or line spacing they wish you to use?
  • Do they have a template that they wish you to use?

I have experienced all of these variations in my own transcription work. You may be working in a team where it’s vital to have all transcriptions looking the same, or the client might just work with the transcriptions in a particular way.

I have a standard list of questions I send out to clients if they don’t specify, so that I can make sure that I’m doing what they want.

5. If it is anything but a general text, ask for a list of terminology

When I work with music journalists, I always ask for the band name so I can check the album and song titles and band members’ names – I feel more professional if I get that right for them.

If I’m working with a particular kind of client and there seem to be a lot of specific terms, I ask for a list of terms, or send my own list and ask them to check if they’re correct, especially if it’s a long-term project. Again, this makes you look professional and avoids the client having to do any extra work to correct your interpretation of terms.

Of course, it helps if you know a bit about the topic to start with. I always turn down medical and legal transcription jobs because they’re very specialised, and I like to think that I know about music, but I did have to ask a client if I’d heard “Bowel Bass” correctly (I had!).

6. Get to grips with Word’s auto complete function

Auto complete can save you keystrokes and time by allowing you to type a few letters or a word fragment and have it expand into a word or phrase. I’ve written an introduction to this topic with more detail on personalising it, if you want to read up on this. Being able to type “tyv” and have “thank you very much” appear in your document, or having your “beh” turn into “behaviourally” is key to cutting down the time taken to type out that tape.

7. Monitor how long it takes you to do an hour or whatever, on average

Once you’ve got into transcribing, monitor how long it takes you to transcribe an hour of tape, on average. This will help you to predict workflows and give your client an estimate of how long you will take to complete their work.

However, do note two things here:

  • Time taken can vary considerably (see Point 8 below) so always under-promise and over-deliver. My average rates vary from 2 hours typing to 4 hours typing for one hour of tape, although my absolute average is around 3 hours typing for every hour of tape
  • Don’t forget to build in breaks – if I’m sent 3 hours of tape at midday, it will not take me until 9pm!

8. Be aware of the variables

I’ve known people who are new to transcribing to get upset when a tape takes them a long time. It might be just that the job is difficult or has some factors that would make it take longer for ANYONE to complete.. It can really vary – here are some reasons why a tape could take longer to type than average:

  • It’s a new client or project – I always speed up as I get used to the client’s voices and terminology and the way the conversations go
  • The sound quality is poor, leaving you to have to rewind and go over much more than usual
  • The job involves taking down every single word the speakers say and they have a lot of repeated words and / or talk very quickly
  • The speakers have heavy accents
  • There are more than two speakers and they are difficult to differentiate (that’s why I charge more for more than two speakers)

As I said in Point 7 – try to have a listen to the tape before you make any promises on timing, and always under-promise and over-deliver!

9. Be a perfectionist but not too much of a perfectionist

It’s brilliant if you take great care over your transcription and try to make it all as good as you can. It’s not brilliant if you spend hours labouring over every tiny section of tape, trying to make everything out or frantically Googling for obscure titles of album tracks:

  • Sometimes the tape will be unclear and no one could hear it – mark it as unclear, pop the tape timing down and move on
  • Sometimes people talk over each other and you can’t hear what one or both of them is saying – mark that and pop the tape timing down and move on
  • Sometimes people use words or talk about people whose names you cannot make out – have a go at sticking down what you can hear, mark with a question mark and the tape timing and move on

I know that when I’ve read some of the stories that my journalist clients have written, I’ve thought – “Oh, THAT’s what they said!” and I’m very experienced at this work. The clients don’t mind, as long as you get most of it and tell them about what you can’t make out. Often they will be quality checked by someone else, or the journalist will know much more about the band than you do, or they might have a little giggle at a mis-hearing and move on from it. The world will not end, and I don’t believe that anyone can transcribe a whole long tape completely perfectly.

10. Ask for feedback

Each time that I complete the first job for a new client, I ask them if there is anything that I could do differently that would help them to work with the text I produce. And if I don’t get any feedback at all from a corporate client (some of them only feed back when there is an error, which I find a bit challenging!), I will ask them for it. If you really didn’t grasp a section of tape or fear you mis-heard an important term and it’s going to come up again, ask for feedback.

And if the feedback is good AND the client says it’s OK to use it, pop it on your references page!

Thanks to Laura Ripper for helping me to put together this list. Was it helpful? Is there anything else that I haven’t mentioned that would have helped you when you were a new transcriber?

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts on this blog:


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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Business, Transcription


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Working as a professional transcriber

In  previous posts I’ve talked about why it’s necessary for humans (rather than machines) to do transcription work and how to work out if this is a career for you. This article goes into more detail about the technology you can use to help you, and how to produce a professional transcription that will bring you repeat and recommended business.

Technology for transcription work

The first thing you need is a word-processing package, of course. I use Microsoft Word. Then you need some software to manage your recordings. I use NCH ExpressScribe. It’s also a good idea to sign up to (the free options of) services like Dropbox and YouSendIt, and to be aware of these services, as the audio files people will want to send you might well be very large – too large to send by email attachment.

Why do I need to use transcription software?

When I mention transcription software, some people think I sneakily use special software to do the actual transcription! Not at all! What ExpressScribe does is allow me to

a) manage my transcriptions – I load all the ones I have to do into the software and I can see how long they are and keep my place in them. As I complete them, I delete them from the software (they’ll still be in my files on my PC, though).

b) manage aspects of the tape like the loudness and speed of the tape (if people are talking really slowly, I can speed the tape up slightly and get through it more quickly)

c) start, stop, rewind and fast forward the tapes using the function keys on my keyboard (or any other keys I choose to assign – I messed around with this a bit and did move one function key that I kept hitting by accident, causing the tape to slow to 50% speed!). You can connect the software to a USB foot pedal if you need to save keyboard movements and use your feet to stop and start the tape.

NCH express scribe

How can Word help me to transcribe faster?

The way Word can really help  you is through the use of shortcuts or AutoCorrects. I have written two articles about these previously (what it is and how to find it and how to use it to speed up your typing).

Basically, you need to get good at:

  • Identifying commonly used words or phrases, especially
    • longer sets of words or phrases
    • words that you stumble over typing, however short
  • Assigning keyboard shortcuts to them that you can remember when you’re typing

In this way, you can type something like:

v imp to give envl pons to all ppl in the group to save the env.

and have Word turn that into:

Very important to give environmental responsibility to people in the group to save the environment.

I’ve saved almost 50% of the keystrokes needed to type that sentence there, which does build up over the course of 20 pages of transcription!

How can people send me big audio files to transcribe?

Your clients have four options for sending you their audio files. You’ll just be sending nice, neat Word documents back, but their files might be enormous!

  1. An ftp server – this looks scary but is used by some of the larger corporates I work with. They will place the audio files on their own server. You will log in and download the file onto your own computer, then either upload the transcription or email it to your contact.
  2. Zipping – this will work for small files but a huge .wav file will still be too large for this method. Your client should be able to right click on the file in their own Windows Explorer (or Mac equivalent) and choose “Send to zip file”. This will make the file small enough to send. You will need to unzip it at your end – download the file, right click in Windows Explorer and choose “Extract”.
  3. File sharing – a file and folder sharing service like Dropbox will allow your client to save their file in a special folder that can be shared with your email address. Dropbox acts like another folder on your system, and means that you can access the file and save it into your transcription software from the shared folder. You need to have Dropbox installed yourself before you do this but you can get a free version.
  4. Download services – there are millions of these around, but I usually recommend as I’ve found that easy to use and reliable. Here, the client uploads their file to the service, enters your email address and the service emails you a link from which to download the document. Watch out, as many of these have a time limit, so get it downloaded as soon as you know it’s there! I have an account with YouSendIt for sending large files, but most of these do not require you to have an account, and the client should be able to send up to a certain file size for free.

All of these options have advantages and disadvantages. Many of my clients know what to use, but some need advising, so it’s worth being aware of the options. For options 1 and 4, it’s worth waiting a little while from when the client tells you they’re uploading the file, as it can take a while to get up onto the server and back to you, so if you’re too eager to download, you might end up with half a file!

Producing a professional transcription

I have many regular transcription clients and they recommend me on to their friends and colleagues at a remarkable rate, too. I’ve asked them what differentiates me from other transcribers, and it comes down to this:

  • I check the client’s requirements up front
  • I produce an extremely accurate transcription
  • I produce a transcription with time stamps and other features to make it easy for the client to work with the text

of course, I’m super-reliable and always set appropriate expectations, but that’s part of being a good freelancer, not specific to transcription.

Establishing client requirements

It’s important to establish what the client wants out of their transcription right from the start. I will always send my clients a list of questions. These include:

  • Do  you want time stamping every 5 or 10 minutes, or at all?
  • Do you want me to record every single word, pause, um and er / smooth out the worst bits / rewrite the text in clear English?
  • Do you want American or English spellings?
  • Do you need your questions written out in full or just in note form (for journalists and researchers)
  • Do you have any other requirements – questions in Italics, speakers’ names in a particular format (for conferences) etc.
  • Do you have a list of conference attendees and session / paper titles (for conferences)

Once I’ve established these, I will make a note of them and obey them!

Being accurate

Your client is paying you to take down what’s on the audio file for them. Often they won’t be able to check the whole thing. I believe it’s important to:

  • Listen carefully and take down the words as accurately as you can
  • Look up band names, place names, company names and other things they mention
  • If you can’t hear something, don’t guess – make a note (see below)
  • Read through the transcription when you’ve completed it
  • Run a spell check over the document when you’ve finished

I do also warn my clients that any company names, brands, album titles etc. may not be accurate and should be checked. You can’t check everything. But you can make sure you spell that village in Somerset or Kazakhstan correctly (if you can’t type Kazakhstan quickly, create a shortcut!).

Making your transcription as professional as possible

It’s relatively easy to provide a professional transcription that will please and impress your client.

  • Give the transcription a sensible title and file name
  • Type it out clearly using a clear font and a fairly large size
  • If people are talking in great slabs of text, divide it up into paragraphs at natural breaks
  • Mark time stamps at 5 or 10 minute intervals – new line, 05:00, new line, carry on the text (with no capital if it’s half way through a sentence)
  • Mark places you can’t hear like this: insert a note in square brackets with the time of the unclear section: [unclear 32:44] (unless the client requests a different format – I have one who prefers <unclear 32:44>
  • If the audio file is 50 minutes long and there’s a 5 minute gap while the interviewee goes off to answer the phone, or it finishes at 45:30 and then all you can hear is your journalist putting the phone down, sighing and typing, only charge for the audio you transcribed. It’s a nice and ethical touch.

In this post I’ve talked about the technology and details that will help  you to be a popular and professional transcriber. I hope this has been helpful – do let me know if it has, or if you have any other advice for a new transcriber!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts on this blog:

Why transcribers need to be humans and not machines

So you want a career in transcription?

Ten top tips for transcribers

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please like and share, click the buttons below here, and tell your friends!


Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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How do you start a career in transcription?

keyboard earphonesIn my article about why we still need humans to do transcription work, I promised to give you some insights into transcription as a career. Here are some pointers to give you an idea of what you need to know in advance, the skills and software you need, and ways to get work in this field – plus some pitfalls to avoid.

What is transcription?

I cover this in detail in another article, but basically transcription is what we used to call audio-typing – turning recordings of spoken words into documents containing those words written down. There is quite a lot of call for transcription work of various kinds as we’ll see in a moment. But the work basically involves putting on a headset or ear phones, and typing out what you can hear on a tape.

What kinds of transcription job are available?

Personally, I’ve worked on the following kinds of transcription job, which just shows how varied it can be:

  • Journalists interviewing musicians and actors
  • Someone interviewing their elderly parent in order to write a memoir for them
  • Academics and students interviewing subjects for their research
  • Students’ role-plays for learning how to provide phone counselling
  • Presentations at international conferences
  • Panels at conferences including questions
  • Discussion panels for market research companies
  • Podcasts by one person so they can provide transcriptions to their listeners
  • Podcasts of one person interviewing another
  • Free and paid-for telecasts (phone-in sessions where people listen to a speaker)
  • Free and paid-for teleseminars (as above but with questions and discussion)
  • Content for a book, dictated in the first instance before being edited

There are also specific roles that people can take on who have particular specialised skills such as legal proceedings or letters and medical transcription.

All of these clients have had different requirements in terms of the level of detail, time stamping, etc. but all have provided variety and interest!

Am I suited for transcription work?

In essence, the answer comes down to these three points:

  1. How fast do you type? You need to be able to type really fast to be able to make enough money (see below)
  2. How careful are you with your posture? (sounds odd, but sitting in one position typing like mad for hours is the highest risk part of my job for RSI)
  3. How good are you at using Word and its autocorrect features? (this makes a lot of difference to your speed – see the section on technology below)

The best way to find out if you’re suitable for this kind of work is to practise before you’re doing a paid job. Learn from me, here! I did train as an audio typist, with a foot pedal and a tape player back in the old days. So when a journalist I followed on Twitter asked if anyone offered transcription, I went for and got the job. Fine, I did lovely fast typing but I was using Windows Media Player to play the tape, switching windows to start, pause and rewind it. That first tape took me hours! I wish I’d known what I know now about technology and how to actually do it!

Technology for transcription work

There’s quite a lot to the technology for transcription, so I’ve written a separate article about working as a professional transcriber which includes loads of detail on this and other aspects.

In essence, you will need:

  • a word-processing package
  • software to manage your recordings
  • ways to receive large files – you need to know about dropbox, yousendit and other services

How do I work out if I’m suitable for transcription work?

If anyone asks me about how to find out if they’re suitable for transcription work I tell them to do this:

  1. Record an hour of general conversation, interviews, etc. from the radio
  2. Get the technology set up (see separate article) and transcribe it
  3. Work out how many minutes it takes you to transcribe one audio minute

I’d say you’re looking for at least a 1:3 relationship here. That’s 3 minutes to transcribe one minute of tape. Not long! you cry. But that means it will take 45 minutes to transcribe a 15-minute tape, or 3 hours to transcribe a 1-hour tape. Build in the fact that you need to take a break at least once an hour, and good old cash rears its ugly head.

Can I make money doing transcription?

Here’s the thing it all boils down to:

If you can’t type fast and use the technology to boost your speed, it’s not financially worthwhile to take on transcription work.

The standard industry rate for transcription is around £0.85 per audio minute. That’s £8.50 for a 10-minute file. If it takes you 1 hour to type out a 10-minute file, you’re going to make £8.50. Before tax. But if you can get two of those done in an hour, you’re getting £17.00 an hour – not so bad.

Some companies have standard rates and pay more. Personally, I stick to that rate for one to two speakers speaking clear English in a relatively quiet room, with a turnaround time that allows me some room for manoeuvre, and I add £0.10 per minute for urgent work, extra speakers, noisy tapes, etc. And if any of my music journalist clients are reading this, yes, I give fellow freelancers a discount (and other people a discount at my discretion, based on the quality of the tapes and the time it takes me to transcribe them).

There are internet job boards out there trying to hire transcribers for £0.10 per audio minute – honestly. The more people accept these prices, the more they will stay. I have more self-worth than that, and even when I was starting out, I’d rather do a transcription for free in return for a reference than do hack work for a corporation paying peanuts. Rant over!

How do I get transcription work?

There are loads of sources of transcription work. I have to say that my main one is personal recommendation – strings of journalists, etc. But it’s also worth trying the following:

  • Set up a saved Twitter search for “need transcriber” and contact people with an offer. This can work – it’s how I got my first transcription client!
  • If you are near a university that has a lot of research going on, ask to put up some posters offering your services. A lot of researchers conduct interviews and need them to be transcribed.
  • Tell your editing or other clients that you’re offering this new service – I’ve transitioned clients to and from transcription services.
  • Join reputable job sites like Proz which advertise transcription jobs at decent prices.
  • Use social media and tell all your contacts what you’re doing
  • Join transcribers’ groups on LinkedIn, etc. – there are often people looking to pass on overflow work

I would strongly suggest that you don’t just do transcription work full time. It’s very physically tiring, you can get RSI from all the typing and sore ears from the earphones (I’ve got a sore ear at the moment and I’ve been doing this for years!) so add it into the mix, and remember to take a break every hour of typing!

This article has helped you work out if you’re suited for transcription work and given you some hints and tips. Have you found it useful? Please comment if you have, and let me know how you get on!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers


Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Suitably funereal transcription kitWhen I receive a recording for a new transcription client and tell them I’ve loaded it into my transcription management software, I’m sometimes asked if that does the transcribing for me. Um, no.

While there are of course software packages out there that are very good at working with a single voice dictating, even those can sometimes struggle. I know this, because I’ve edited work that has been dictated in this way – and it can often be rife with homophones.

Why use a human transcriber?

I’ve been providing transcription services for several years now. While a machine might be suitable for taking down the words of a single, non-accented speaker enunciating clearly into a good quality recording apparatus, with no background noise, no interruptions and no acronyms or jargon, the projects I’ve worked on have included some or all of these features:

  • High levels of background noise – interviews in cafes with espresso machines whooshing and spoons clinking in cups
  • People talking while they’re eating and eating while they’re talking
  • Interruptions from waiters / room service / other members of the band or group
  • High levels of tape noise leaving me straining to hear what anyone’s saying
  • Multiple speakers including many people with similar voices around a conference table
  • Overlapping speech
  • Non-native English accents or heavy regional accents
  • Very technical content – jargon and acronyms galore
  • Creative content – album names, track names, novel titles, band names, author names
  • Requests to provide the transcription missing out ums and ers through to smoothing the English to make it read as standard English

As a native English speaker specialising in working with music journalists and non-native speakers of English, I can cope with all of these, with some rewinding and checking. I doubt that the most sophisticated dictation software could do so, as yet. I might be wrong of course (let me know if I am!).

Understanding what’s being said on a transcription

The first issue is actually hearing and understanding what’s being said. I have a good ear and a native English speaker’s ability to predict what will come next in a sentence / how sentence structures work, plus my experience working with speakers of and texts in non-native English allows me to do this for native Arabic, Chinese, Eastern European language etc. speakers. My ear can filter out background noise where sophisticated software can only go so far. And I can hear around the clink of teaspoons or glasses chinking to grasp what’s being said.

Checking the content in a transcription

When one of my journalist clients sends me a tape, I check who the musician / band is and look them up (usually on Wikipedia for the general information, as their own websites are usually a bit harder to plumb for information). When I’m working on an international conference I will seek out or be given a conference schedule, list of attendees, etc. When I’m working with technical content I will look up information on that topic.

All this allows me to produce a transcription which the client will not have to check for themselves, or if they do check it (which I do recommend), there won’t be too much to change. And I won’t be embarrassed by too many mis-hearings. Just try popping a few names of country leaders, bands or albums into a Word document and running a spell checker and imagine what an automated dictation program would do with these terms!

Speech on a tape to words in a document

Very occasionally I’ll be asked to record exactly what the people on the tape say, including ums, ahs, repetitions and pauses. At the moment, I’m transcribing some roleplays for students learning how to operate a telephone helpline. Here it’s important to capture all the nuances of the conversation and I’m splitting the utterances into sections, numbering them, and including all the ums and ahs.

Normally, my clients will require some smoothing out.

  • Most of my journalists like to have an indication of when their subject slowed down or had to mull over something and ask me to include notes of those pauses.
  • Business people producing podcasts and telecasts often want a fairly accurate transcription, but smoothed out to eliminate ums, ahs, pauses and repetitions, so they have a good product to sell or include in packages for their clients.
  • Some international conferences want to avoid embarrassment for their delegates by having their English rewritten as I transcribe to appear as close as possible to native British (or American) English
  • I have worked with authors who start off with a tape and want it to turn into something they can publish as a book (this, unlike all of the other options, involves two processes: transcription and then heavy editing and rewriting).

Why should I use a human transcriber and not a software program?

2 topsI think I’ve answered that for you now. You should also consider using a human transcriber who’s a native speaker of the language you’re having transcribed: there are websites out there where you can find very cheap transcribers; they are often not going to be native English speakers and while they will get the gist of the tape down, I’d be unsure whether they could give you the service you needed.

I’ve written another article about how to get into transcribing as a job and how to prepare yourself for what is often a fun and rather creative area of work, and one about the technology transcribers use.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of booking in a transcriber, do have a look at my page about my transcription services, and get in touch if you want to ask about what I can do for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into a transcriber’s work! Do leave a comment if you have …

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.


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Goodbye, Word Magazine

Suitably funereal transcription kit

My last copy of The Word (as it was originally) just dropped through the letterbox. This is genuinely a very sad moment. I have read every issue of this magazine since it started to be published. I have had a subscription for years, renewing it in chunks of two years, secure in the knowledge that I would continue to enjoy it. It wasn’t one of those mags where, as soon as you subscribe, it goes all odd on you.

It seemed to be pitched right at me and my demographic. I’m not quite old enough for Mojo, and I always felt Q was too male. Word gathered writers I’d been reading for years, and talked about bands I’d loved for years. They also had a decent books and films section. There were always interesting long pieces of biography, history, technical stuff as well as straight band stuff. You could trust the reviews.

But print based media has run into all sorts of problems. Print based everything, actually: look at the state of the book publishing industry. Word diversified with an iPad app and brilliant podcasts, but it wasn’t enough. What a shame.

Latterly, I’ve had the privilege of working for two excellent writers who regularly had pieces published in Word: Rob Fitzpatrick and Jude Rogers. I have transcribed many interviews for both of them, and so there was an added joy of coming across articles for which I’d transcribed the interviews, and seeing what the writer had done with the material. As a writer myself, and aware that much of the material I transcribe I will never see again, this added a marvellous dimension to my reading of the magazine; added to the joy. Thank you, Jude, for taking me on off the back of a Tweet, and Rob for taking the recommendation (and both for recommending me on to other people). They have been great clients and I know they have plenty of other irons in the fire, but I hope they and all the other employees and freelancers associated with the magazine find something to fill that Word-shaped hole in their lives.

I know it will be difficult for me to do so. The balance of two running mags and a music mag coming through the letterbox every month is now irreparably altered.

Word Magazine, I will miss you.

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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Transcription, Word




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