Over the past three years, I’ve touched on transcription in the form of company reviews and a list of transcription jobs. I’ve never really gone into a lot of detail about how to become a transcriptionist and what the job involves.
This post is meant to be a basic overview of the general transcription industry — what you do, transcription equipment, transcription training, your transcription salary, and of course where to find work.
What is general transcription?
As you may or may not know, transcription is basically listening to an audio file and typing out what you hear.
It is usually much easier to get started doing general transcription than it is medical transcription because medical requires experience and/or transcription certification before most companies will hire you.
When you do general transcription, you might be listening to personal conversations, business meetings, court hearings, college lectures, and any number of other audio files.
Who is cut out for general transcription?
If you are a decent typist with a good ear and you’re pretty comfortable using your computer for things like downloading files, doing research, etc., then transcription may be a good option for you.
It also helps if you are a pretty patient person. Sometimes the files are very hard to understand and it will take a lot of patience to get through the more difficult audio.
Why is general transcription a recommended work from home option?
While there are some companies that require you to do transcription on-site, there are MANY that will allow you to do it from home.
In fact, most companies I come across that employ transcribers allow them to work from home. Also, transcription is flexible, non-phone work — something that as we all know everyone seems to want.
Another reason I tend to steer people towards general transcription is the fact that there are a lot of companies that will consider beginners. This usually means that if you can pass their preliminary transcription test, you can get a job.
The transcription salary is going to vary depending on the company. Many general transcribers average anywhere from $10 to $20 or even more hourly. With some of the lower paying companies that will hire just about anybody, you will probably be lucky to make minimum wage.
I recommend the lower-paying companies for practice only and maybe a way to earn some extra money, but not really as a career option.
Another thing to note is that when doing transcription you are often paid per audio hour. So for example you may see a company advertising a pay rate of $60 per audio hour, but this does not mean you will be making $60 an hour.
It just means that you will make $60 for transcribing an hour of audio — and that could take you quite a while depending on how complicated the audio is to decipher and how experienced you are.
When being paid per audio hour, most experienced transcribers consider anything below $45-50 an audio hour to be a very low rate of pay. There are also some companies that will pay per page, and a low rate per page rate is usually anything less than $1 per page.
What is the vital equipment needed for general transcription?
Obviously the most important thing here is a high-speed, reliable internet connection. You need to be able to send and receive audio files without any problems.
You will also need to invest in a foot pedal. If you don’t use a foot pedal, you will go MUCH slower because the foot pedal enables you to fast forward, stop, start, and rewind audio files with your feet. This frees up your hands so that all you really use them for is typing the file.
Many transcribers additionally use the Express Scribe software — a free download that connects your foot pedal to your computer and controls audio playback and comes with other features like variable speed playback, multi-channel control, playing video, file management, and more.
You will also need a headset so you can focus on the sound and block out other distractions around you. You can buy headsets and foot pedals at Amazon or check eBay if you’re OK with buying used equipment. Prices can be very reasonable for good equipment.
A tip: you may want to check the Express Scribe site for hardware recommendations if you are using their software. They have links for the specific pedals that work with both the free and paid versions of Express Scribe.
Also, check out this list of recommended transcription equipment to see what most professional transcribers use to do their work.
Is transcription easy?
Transcription definitely sounds easy! After all, how hard could it be to listen to an audio file and type it out? Well, it’s actually a lot harder and more involved than just that.
First off, all audio files are not created equally. Some may be a breeze to type out while others will be more complicated.
Sometimes you’re listening to people talking over each other, heavy accents that you can’t understand, and poor audio that isn’t clear to make out. Obviously files like this will take longer and require a lot of listening to the same snippets over and over again. It can be stressful — especially for a beginner.
Another thing to think about is the fact that these companies you work for have style guides in place. You need to know these style guides backwards and forwards so you can be sure you’re formatting everything correctly.
Over time, it will get easier and you’ll get better and better. But at first it can be really intimidating and (like me) you may decide transcription just isn’t for you. But if you’re determined to stick out, you’ll likely find it’s something you can master with enough practice.
Where can you get practice?
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of companies that will consider beginners if you can pass their tests. I would not recommend just diving into any of those tests without first getting some practice. Here are some ways to get practice:
- Download Express Scribe and practice with their practice files located here.
- StenoSpeed also has some sound files you can download to practice transcribing.
- Pick up a few transcription HITs on Amazon Mechanical Turk. This is a good way to practice transcribing short files while also getting paid for it. I have a full Amazon Mechanical Turk review posted if you want more info on how that site works.
- Companies like Scribie, Quicktate, Transcribe Me, and Rev don’t pay well at all for transcription, but it’s not difficult to get accepted and you can use them for extra money + practice so you’ll have more confidence and experience when testing for the higher paying companies.
Who hires for work from home transcription?
My directory has a big listing of transcription jobs with the ones that will consider beginners sectioned off at the top. That is a decent place to start.
If you are a complete beginner, any of the companies I listed above in the “where to get practice” section would be options to get accepted for work quickly.
The Transcription E-book I HIGHLY Recommend
If you are serious about learning how to become a transcriptionist, the first resource I want to recommend is my friend Lisa’s e-book.
Lisa is also the blogger behind Work at Home Mom Revolution (a great place to check for home job leads!), and she has been doing general transcription for many years.
I actually downloaded and read through Lisa’s e-book today to do some fact-checking on general transcription since my personal experience is pretty limited, and I can confirm that it’s worth far more than the $2.99 it costs if you are serious about becoming a general transcriber.
Lisa goes into LOTS of detail — far more than I have mentioned here — and pretty much answers every single question you might have about general transcription, how the process of transcription actually works, fair pay rates, getting your resume ready, places to get started, taxes, and all kinds of other things.
She dives right into it all and doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the point and explains things in a very easy-to-understand way. I was thoroughly impressed with it! The link to download is below:
If you’re looking for transcription training, you should know that you don’t actually need formal training to become a general transcriber. That said, knowing what you’re doing could certainly get you higher-paying jobs.
Below are my recommendations for getting the training you need for all types of transcription.
- Transcribe Anywhere – This company offers very in-depth general and legal transcription courses that takes you much further into learning how to do it than just about anything else you’ll find. Plus, the self-paced intro courses last for 7 days and are free of charge.
- CareerStep – This is the go-to training for people aspiring to become medical transcribers (they have courses on things like medical billing and coding as well). Many of my readers who have gone through this training have great things to say about it. CareerStep offers payment plans and discounts for military spouses.
So that wraps this post up! I hope this overview is helpful to anyone with an interest in doing general transcription from home. Please feel free to chime in below with your own resources, tips, questions, or corrections.
Image Credit: Copyright: leungchopan / 123RF Stock Photo
Originally published on September 27, 2013. Updated and republished on July 12, 2020.