How to Be a Really Great Transcriptionist

How to be a really great transcriptionist – It’s a pretty funny story, how I got started with transcription — and particularly how I got started with Way With Words as a transcriptionist. I had been doing some freelance transcription along with my editing and proofreading job at the time and I enjoyed it. A few months later, I was reading an online forum where people were talking about transcription companies and their hiring processes. Someone mentioned Way With Words, saying something along the lines of, “Apparently, it’s a scam because the application testing is so difficult.” I immediately thought to myself, I want to see how difficult it really is. It sounded like a fun challenge. That, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a scam.

Turns out, Way With Words is the real deal (who would’ve guessed?). I have a great time working with the team and always have something new to learn from each file. I haven’t been transcribing for too long (just about three years, almost two with Way With Words), but I think I have a routine down that minimizes errors and maximizes my work time. So without further ado, here’s my not-so-secret-anymore formula.

Let’s talk about my workspace first as a transcriptionist — it definitely makes a difference in my efficiency. I like to sit at my dining table next to the porch, where the natural daylight comes in and I’m not distracted by things like the television. My work essentials include: My planner, laptop, noise-cancelling headphones, manual keyboard, foot pedal (sometimes), and tea.

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My setup: No genius ever worked without a good cup of tea. Am I right or am I right? Note: The Rubik’s cubes help loosen my fingers up if I’ve been typing for a while.

Next, I’ll download the audio file if I haven’t already. While that’s going, I’ll update it in my invoice so I don’t lose track of it later. I set up the word document, making sure to double check the format, tags, and other special instructions. I also take this time to remove my cat from my workspace (he’s pretty nosy).

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Meet Tiger. He’s been my best friend for the last 15 years.

I like to quickly skim through the file, just to make sure that the audio isn’t corrupted and that I can understand the subject matter and accents. I’ll take notes about the number of speakers, and if there are three or more speakers, I’ll write down little identification traits to help me keep track of who’s who.

At this stage, I have a pretty thorough understanding of what’s being talked about and the amount of research I’ll need to do as I start to type. I tag names and terms to research later on, but right now, I’m just focused on getting the body of the content down. If I can’t make out a word or phrase, or a name or term is mentioned that I’m not sure of, I’ll mark that space with two square brackets.

As I go back through the file again, I use Ctrl + F to see all the brackets I inserted before, and replace them with the correct words as I research them. Story time: I was working on a political file that had quite a few city and district names mentioned, so I looked up the Wikipedia page that listed all of the country’s cities. Every time a city name was mentioned, I could use Ctrl + F and type a few letters of what I heard. I could then go to that city’s page and look up the politicians involved. If I’ve done all the extensive research I can and still haven’t come up with a certain name or term, only then will I insert “inaudible” into the brackets and leave it at that.

After going through terms and names, I give the file a couple more listens to correct any last errors. You’d be surprised how many little mistakes can slip past your eyes after a while. Its not always apparent, but when you read it few more times, you’ll notice some things don’t look right (like in this sentence).

I’ve spent days listening to the audio until I practically memorized it, typing and revising until it’s as complete as can be, and now it’s time to turn it in. I usually try to upload my work at least 24 hours before the deadline, just in case there are any issues. Now I can finish my tea, have some cuddles with my cat, and move on to the next file.

Im now a great transcriptionist!

great transcriptionist
I’m currently living in Japan, so sushi after a long work day is standard.

Thanks for reading!

3 comments on “How to Be a Really Great Transcriptionist”

  1. Angie Phillips says:

    Hello! This is a great introduction to setting up your workspace. Can you advise whether it is necessary to purchase (a rather costly) transcription kit? You say you use a foot pedal sometimes, which makes me wonder whether a full kit is really necessary?

    I’d be interested to hear what software (and foot pedal etc) you use, and whether your foot pedal is compatible with the software you use (if it is a stand-alone piece of hardware) and would so appreciate a response.

    1. Sonca Hoang says:

      Hi Angie,
      Thanks for asking. The reason I say ‘sometimes’ is because I’m not always working at the table (if I’m on the couch, I’ll be cross-legged; if I’m in a public area like a library, the tapping and clicking of the pedal may be too noisy).
      That being said, if you’re just starting out in transcription you won’t need it. You should be focusing on improving typing speed, research and listening skills, and accuracy. When I started out, I set up hotkeys on my keyboard which, if I’m honest, I’d rather use most of the time. I later acquired a generic foot pedal as a requirement for the training course I did for medical transcription. It works with any program you install it with, but it’s pretty clunky and clicky which I don’t particularly enjoy.
      Short answer is, if your wpm speed is very good (65+; mine happens to be about 80-85), you can probably do without the foot pedal for now. An “official” kit is not necessary because as you can see, with just some good headphones, a keyboard you’re comfortable with, and honed skills, you can definitely still produce quality work.
      As for software, I use free programs like FTW Transcriber and Express Scribe. The default media player on your computer will also work fine (just set up your own hotkeys).
      Hope this helped! Let me know if you’d like any more advice or information.

  2. Angie Phillips says:

    Hi Sonca,

    Perfect! I’ve done some transcribing recently and found hot keys, a keyboard and headphones have all worked well for me. I too use Express Scribe.

    Thanks for your reply, and your confirmation. I really appreciate you getting back to me. 🙂

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