Your transcription career: RSI, ergonomics and keyboards

09 Jan

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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7 responses to “Your transcription career: RSI, ergonomics and keyboards

  1. Guy Osmond

    January 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Some really good guidance here. You might also find it useful to look at the free posture guidance and stretching exercises with animations and A4 pdf guides at


    • Liz at Libro

      January 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Thank you for your comment, and for the link, which does indeed look useful.



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