Guide To Being A Great Transcriber

I started transcribing when I was about 20 years old. I’d tried waitressing – hated it vehemently – and when I was given the opportunity to type out an hour long market research focus group I figured, this cannot be worse than dealing with actual people in real life. It took me eight hours to type up, listening from a little portable tape recorder that sat on my lap, which I actually paused and played by hand. Thankfully I’d taught myself the basics of touch typing from a free typing tutor software package when I was in my teens, but as I’d never had much reason to practice my speed was only around 35 words per minute. For me, the time and effort were COMPLETELY WORTH IT.

Over the years, I studied graphic design (which I promptly gave up on completion), I attained a degree in dramatic arts (and a few years later decided I’d just keep the drama in-house), and I finished the first three years of a mechanical engineering diploma (before realising I didn’t want to be a mechanical engineer). Hmm. Transcribing, however, has stuck around. I’ve moved from analogue tapes and my trusty tape recorder, to docking these same tapes into Express Scribe – honestly, when I started doing this it was ground-breaking stuff and the people I transcribed for looked on with trepidation. When I received my first digital file my employers were just grateful that I knew what to do with it (I was jumping up and down inside). I even picked up a foot pedal somewhere along the way, but before that used the trusty F4/F9 pause and play combination Express Scribe offers.

About a year ago, I gave up working a real job and started freelancing. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to actually cover my costs and make it working from home, but I gave myself six months to sort myself out, after which time I knew I’d have to find another 9-to-5er should I not be hitting my income target. I sent my CV out to just about every market research house I could think of, took the entrance tests for a number of transcription companies, and applied for a host of writing jobs through various freelancing networks. I received a lot of ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ More often than not, I received no reply at all. But slowly I picked up a couple of writing clients, and then Way With Words got back to me, offering me a start with Basic work. I was in! I was hitting my self-imposed target before the six months was over, and although I would prefer to be a princess (second in line to the throne, please, the first in line always has to be so responsible) I really love the flexibility and solitude of working from home.

Working for Way With Words has, of course, been a learning curve. In the past I’d only transcribed market research audios and, truth be told, the requirements weren’t particularly strict. I very quickly learnt the importance of complete accuracy and the necessity of going the extra mile. No guessing at words, meticulously Googling unfamiliar names and phrases, and carefully reviewing inaudible segments to try and pick out as much as possible. It was nerve-racking to begin with, I’ve always hate the thought of performing below standard or disappointing, but a little practice and I found I actually took a lot of pleasure in delivering a transcript I knew was really good quality. The staff at Way With Words are, notably, fabulous – and I’m not just saying that so they’ll give me the nice jobs (do, though, give me the nice jobs). Understanding, encouraging, and maybe most importantly, fun. It makes a big difference working for a team of genuinely nice people. (I know, I know, a cup of tea is nice. I really like tea, though.)

So, some tips and stuff I’ve learnt along the way:

  • It’s possible to support yourself transcribing, but you’ll have to be dedicated and willing to work hard.
  • Download Express Scribe, FTW Transcriber, or another reputable transcription program, and get familiar with how it works.
  • Get a foot pedal, we’re not living in the dark ages here; it will improve your speed. Most professional transcription firms won’t hire you unless you use one.
  • If you’re spending many hours typing, invest in a mechanical keyboard – Cherry MX Red or Brown switches suit most typists best. I’m Brown all the way; I love my Corsair STRAFE almost as much as I love my husband (only almost, babe).
  • Try to type correctly; repetitive strain injury is real and really annoying.
  • No one will believe you’ll enjoy working on your own for long stretches of time. Maybe you won’t, but it’s not as preposterous as some imagine.
  • Figure out Word’s macros and how to build your own; it takes a lot of the schlep out of formatting and typing common phrases.
  • If your friends and family think transcribing will be a great idea for them, pass them on to one of the online application tests. 99% of the time, they just think they’ll be good at it because you’re making it look easy. It’s not.
  • Some of the work you transcribe will be interesting, a lot of it won’t. Enjoy the appealing audios, remember that the rest make it possible for you to work a flexible job from wherever you choose.
  • It’s nice working in your pyjamas, and I fully support this practice, but try to remember to shower at some point.


This is my work space.


No, just kidding, this is actually what it looks like.