I’ve been transcribing off and on for years, and I’ve even completed a Medical Transcription course in 2009 through CareerStep. I thought I’d share a bit of information about working in the transcription industry. Maybe it’ll help others who are on the fence about starting a work at home job or business in transcription.
The main selling point of working from home as a transcriptionist is the flexibility that this work has to offer. Typically you’ll be an independent contractor. Most companies allow you to choose the files you want to work on and stipulate a turn around time, which can range from two hours to 2 weeks.
After working in this industry over the years, I recommend picking up a few clients. The amount of work available can be sporadic, and it’s best to have a few sources of audio to ensure a steady income. Most transcriptionists I know contract with 2-3 client at a time to have a steady flow of income.
What is transcription?
Transcription is primarily listening to audio files and typing what you hear. Sounds simple enough right? Well, there are a lot of other components that go into completing a transcript like spelling, grammar, style, guidelines, research, attention to detail, etc.
What kind of transcription jobs are there?
Almost any industry you can think of, probably at one point or another, has paid a transcriptionist to transcribe audio for them.
We can break it down into three broad categories: general, legal, and medical. All three share some of the same fundamentals and processes for completing transcripts.
Legal and medical are self-explanatory. If you’re working in one of these industries as a transcriptionist, you’ll want to have a good grasp on either legal or medical terminology, respectively.
A general transcriptionist, on the other hand, can transcribe a broad range of topics. I’ve transcribed meetings, interviews, television shows, university lectures, etc.
One day I could be transcribing a programming lecture on C++, and the next day I could be completing a transcript for an oceanography class. I didn’t study any of those topics in school, and I’m not an expert in any of those fields. I know how to use Google, however; and with that said, researching will be your best friend when working in transcription.
What skills do I need to become a transcriptionist?
I see a lot of people say you need to have a good ear. That’s true, however, you can train your ear with practice. No one masters a skill in a day; if you find yourself struggling with this process, just keep at it and know that it gets easier with time.
You will need to have excellent typing skills but like your listening skills, you can work on this. Most transcription companies, if not all, pay for the work that you complete so if you type 100 WPM, you’ll make more money than if you type 20 WPM. Just like your listening skills, your typing skills will improve the more you work at it. Typing isn’t the be-all and end-all of being a transcriptionist as a lot of people think.
As I mentioned above, if you’re working in general transcription you’ll be working on many projects, which will require you to utilize Google. The same goes with medical and legal transcription.
This is a tough one because most people do not use proper grammar when speaking like they would if they were writing. Sometimes you’ll be sitting there dissecting a sentence trying to make it look proper on your computer screen, and you’ll need to know how to structure sentences, use punctuation, and of course excel at spelling.
Once you’ve typed up a file and you’re about to submit it, you need to proofread for spelling, names, grammar, and everything else. Being able to pay attention to details will help you here. Most companies want, at the least, 98% accuracy on your submitted transcript. Like anything else, you’ll get better with time.
How much do transcriptionists get paid?
Transcriptionists usually get paid by the audio minute or by word transcribed. It depends on the company that you’re contracting with.
Since you’re paid for the work that you complete, you’re probably wondering how long it takes to transcribe an audio file. The industry standard is a 4:1 ratio. This just means that it typically takes 4 hours to transcribe 1 audio hour. It can take more or less time depending on the sound quality, the number of speakers, accents, utterances, topics, and research.
I take part in a few online forums dedicated to transcription, and the general consensus is that you shouldn’t accept work for less than $1 per audio minute. That’s $60 per audio hour and with the 4:1 ratio you can expect to make $15 an actual hour. Like I said, it could take more or less time depending on the audio.
Some companies think it’s okay to pay $20 per audio hour, which would equate to about $5.00 for an actual hour of work. I only recommend these companies for practice. Once you get a bit of experience, apply to companies who pay at least $60/ah (audio hour); you’re worth it.
Medical Transcriptionists, according to reported incomes on Indeed, make an average salary of $16.63/hour. This has dropped a lot since I took my course years ago.
The average salary of a general transcriptionist is around $14.75/hour, which is only a couple of dollars less than the average medical transcriptionist salary.
Legal transcriptionists make an average of $33/hour according to Simply Hired. It’s hard to say if this is an accurate number. I’ve read from other sources that the average is about $20.00/hour.
These averages are not set and stone. Remember that you’re not paid by the hour, you’re paid for the work that you complete. You’ll make more money the longer you do the job because your skills will improve.
Work from Home Transcription Job Leads
I have written a few blog posts for transcription jobs:
- 6 Transcription Companies for Complete Beginners. You should treat these companies as training and not as long-term jobs. They pay much lower than $1 an audio minute.
- 5 Transcription Companies that Pay at Least $50 audio hour. These businesses will hire beginners if you can pass their tests and pay well.
- The Master List of Work at Home Companies has over 35 transcription companies that hire people to work from home and is always growing. Bookmark it and check back periodically for new job leads.
- The Transcription Essentials forum has a great bunch of people, and their forum is jammed pack with tips and tricks, job leads, do’s and don’ts, and a lot of other recourses. Just be sure to read the rules and search the forum before asking redundant questions. Also, don’t go there asking for jobs.
The best advice I can give is to apply to every transcription company you can find. Almost all of them have tests and if you pass they will hire you.
If you fail the test, you may have to wait a certain amount of time before applying again, which is why I recommended the five companies for beginners. Once you can gain some experience, you’ll have a better chance of passing a test at a company with higher pay.
Resources for Transcriptionists
Grammar Resources for Transcriptionists:
- Grammarly (Software)
- The Gregg Reference Manual
- The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
- The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need
- English Grammar & Punctuation (Quick Study Academic) Pamphlet
Legal Transcription Resources:
Medical Transcription Resources:
- The Book of Style for Medical Transcription
- Stedman’s Medical Abbreviations, Acronyms & Symbols
- Sloane’s Medical Word Book
General Transcription Resources:
- The Chicago Manual of Style: 16th Edition, 17th Edition, Quick Study Guide
- The 2017 Associated Press Stylebook
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
- Style Manual: An Official Guide to the Form and Style of Federal Government Publishing
Equipment and Software for Transcriptionists
Some people say that foot pedals slow them down, and that would make sense if you started out using one in the beginning.
If you’re serious about learning to transcribe and want to make it your full-time business or job, I cannot encourage you enough to buy a foot pedal. It will save you a ton of time and as a result, make you a lot of money over the years.
When you’re typing a report, the last thing you want to be doing is moving your hands away from your keys to hit play, pause, rewind, or fast forward. If you use a pedal, your hands can stay in the same place, and you’ll be able to maintain your speed.
I use the Infinity pedal that was sent to me for my CareerStep course in 2009, and it’s built so well that it’s just like new. You have other options too, though.
These are some other highly rated pedals:
When I first started to transcribe, I purchased some noise canceling headphones but wearing them for eight hours a day became a nightmare. They’re just not comfortable and started to cause headaches. If you have to have them go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I purchased a headset for a call center job, and they’re perfect for my transcription work. I’ve seen the following headphones recommended from other transcribers too:
I went from using a mechanical keyboard to using an Apple keyboard, and my fingers and bills thanked me. I can type much faster on Apple’s keys and for longer periods of time without getting sore or tired. The keyboard is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac so don’t worry about that.
If you’re more of a mechanical keyboard person, I’ve seen other transcriptionists recommend these:
I exclusively have used Express Scribe and Pedable over the years.
Express Scribe allows you to play audio on your computer and use your foot pedal or hotkeys to play, pause, rewind, fast forward, and even speed or slow down audio, whereas Pedable lets you assign hotkeys to your foot pedal buttons. For example, if you’re using a web browser to play audio and the player’s play button is assigned to Ctrl + P, you can assign your middle foot pedal button to that hotkey.
Some other audio players you might want to look into:
I hope this helped you understand what transcription is and how to get started.
Transcription is one of those jobs that requires time and effort to make a good salary. I started out making $8 an hour, and after a while, I was up to $25 an hour. Be patient with yourself in the beginning and know that you can – and you will improve.
Good luck with your work at home journey.
What’s your favorite thing about transcribing?
I love learning new things. The fact that I can work when I want, and that it’s a non-phone job makes me love transcription as a work at home job.