How to Become a Transcriptionist

How to Become a Transcriptionist
November 23, 2021 Rachel Tirabassi

By Nicole Dow, Anna Thurman for Penny Hoarder

Remote jobs providing customer service or making dozens of sales calls aren’t for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a flexible work-from-home job that requires little to no prior experience and doesn’t force you to be on the phone all day?

If that sounds like a better fit for you, consider becoming a transcriptionist. This job lets you make money while having the freedom to set your own hours. In many cases, you can work as much or as little as you want each week.

The Role of a Transcriptionist

Transcription work involves converting a video or audio file to a written document. You need stellar listening skills and an excellent command of the English language to be able to take what you hear and turn it into written words.

Transcriptionists produce written records of conversations, interviews, programs, lectures and more. They also help provide accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Transcriptionists work in a variety of settings including courtrooms and doctors’ offices, but there’s a lot of flexibility in this profession to work from home — and at your own pace.

Many transcription jobs from home don’t require strict set hours. You can find contract gigs that pay by the amount of work you’re able to transcribe rather than being on a payroll and earning an hourly or annual salary.

As a freelance transcriptionist, you can choose to work when you desire. You could work part time or full time, during normal business hours or at night while everyone else in your household is sleeping. Transcribing from home can be an ideal option for stay-at-home parents to earn money while juggling child care duties.

Besides the flexibility, other perks of working remotely as a transcriptionist are that you have the autonomy of working alone, and you don’t have to deal with inbound calls or the complaints of frustrated customers. Depending on what you’re transcribing, you can also learn new and interesting things.

Types of Transcriptionists

There are several different types of transcriptionists. Typically, the transcription industry is broken into three categories: General, medical and legal.

If you’re a beginner, start by looking into general transcription jobs. This career path has a much lower barrier to entry — often requiring no formal education or training and little prior experience.

Working as a transcriptionist who specializes in medical transcription or legal transcription will likely require a state license or completion of a certification program. You’ll also need to understand potentially complex medical or legal terminology. These specialized fields often pay better than general transcription work.

General Transcription

General transcriptionists are hired to provide text for a variety of video or audio files. You might transcribe podcasts for a blogger or interviews for a writer. You could transcribe business meetings, college lectures, speeches at conferences or discussions during marketing focus groups.

There are also broadcast captioners who create closed captions for movies and television programs. Real-time captioning for live events or broadcasts is in high demand and generally pays more than creating captions in post-production.

A specialized segment of captioning work is CART captioning. CART stands for “Communication Access Real-time Translation” and is for audiences who are hard of hearing or deaf. In addition to transcribing all spoken words in real time, CART captioners also make note of audible sounds like laughter or applause.

Medical Transcription

Medical transcriptionists listen to audio recordings from doctors and other healthcare professionals and convert them into written reports. While they may work from home, medical transcriptionists also work in hospitals, labs, operating rooms and other medical settings.

Working as a medical transcriptionist may require a license, certification or prior work experience depending the company you work with and the role you take on. You’ll need a robust understanding of medical terminology, anatomy, medical procedures and healthcare documentation.

While a medical transcription career often pays better than having a general online transcription job, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there will be a 2% decline in jobs in this field over the next decade. Technological advancements — such as the use of speech recognition software — and outsourcing overseas is leading to this decline.

However, some medical professionals use speech recognition software to create a first draft of the audio they’d like transcribed, and then hire a medical transcriptionist to go over the work and edit for accuracy.

Legal Transcription

Legal transcribers provide written records of depositions, trials and other legal proceedings. A court reporter is a common type of legal transcriptionist.

Legal transcriptionists may also be hired to transcribe police interrogations, victim interviews and undercover law enforcement recordings. The written documents they produce are often used to help lawyers prepare for trials and may be used in court.

This type of transcription career usually requires a certification or license. You need to be familiar with legal terminology, procedures and systems in this line of work.

Some legal transcriptionists can work remotely, but others work on-site in courtrooms, in legislative sessions, at law offices and in other legal settings.

The BLS expects court reporter jobs will grow about 9% in this decade. However, increased technological advancements could hinder that employment growth.

How Much do Transcriptionists Get Paid?

Compensation for transcription services varies based on a variety of factors, including the type of work you take on, your speed and skill level, your experience and the company you work for.

According to Payscale, the average hourly rate for a transcriptionist is $16.33. Beginners who do general online transcription may only earn about $10 an hour or less, but there’s potential to earn over $25 an hour as you gain experience and enter into higher-paid specialties.

Companies may also pay you more to transcribe a more difficult audio file — such as one with multiple speakers or speakers with heavy accents — or for work requiring extras, such as timestamps, or a very short turnaround time.

It’s important to note that many companies pay freelance transcribers by the audio hour (or the audio minute). This means that you’ll earn money based on transcribing an hour’s worth of audio, which could take a beginner between four to six hours to complete, depending on the complexity.

Experienced transcriptionists often consider rates below $45 to $50 per audio hour too low. If it takes you five hours to transcribe one audio hour at those rates, you’d be making $9 to $10 an hour.

However, if you’re brand new to the industry, you may find it’s worth working at those lower rates to get started. As you gain experience and improve upon your skill set, you could land a better-paying transcription job later on.

Other companies may pay contract transcriptionists per project or per page of transcribed work. Factor in the time it takes you to complete each project or page to determine if the job is right for you. Generally, anything less than $1 per page is low.

As you’re evaluating pay, make sure you’re considering the costs you’ll encounter as a freelancer, especially if you’re new to working for yourself. As a 1099 worker, you’ll need to pay quarterly estimated taxes. If you aren’t covered under an employer’s health insurance plan, your healthcare costs will be coming out of your own pocket.

Do you need better tech for your work-from-home office? Will you have to upgrade your internet? Include all these extra expenses into the equation as you’re assessing a company’s offered rate.

What You Need to Get Started as a Transcriptionist

You’ll need a combination of technical skills, soft skills and equipment to become a transcriptionist. It may seem fairly simple to listen to a recording and type out what you hear, but it’s more challenging than you might think.

If you want to level up in your career and get paid better, seek out transcription training in a specialized field. As you move up the ladder, you’ll probably want to upgrade to better equipment, too.

Here are some of the skills, equipment and training you’ll need to build a career as a transcriptionist.

Skills

To work as a transcriptionist, you’ll need to have stellar listening skills, including the ability to decipher audio with heavy accents, background noises and multiple speakers. You’ll need to be able to concentrate on a task for an extended period of time. Having a quiet, dedicated workspace at home helps.

Another important skill is the ability to type fast. If you’re just starting out, a typing speed of 65 words per minute (wpm) is fine, but eventually you’ll want to aim for between 75 to 90 wpm. The more you practice, the better your speed will get.

You should have an excellent command of the English language, including grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary. You’ll want the written copy you turn in to be free of errors, so you should have good proofreading skills as well.

Having great time-management skills will help you stay on top of deadlines. It’s also essential that you’re detail-oriented and patient in this line of work. You might be listening to the same audio over and over to transcribe audio files verbatim.

Additionally, you should be a tech savvy individual who’s able to work with the necessary software and equipment.

Equipment

The equipment you’ll need to work from home as a transcriptionist will vary based on what type of work you do and the company you work for.

Some companies that hire newbies don’t require you to have much beyond a good-working computer, high-speed internet and a pair of earbuds or a headset.

Your computer or laptop should have sufficient RAM and storage space and should be able to run basic programs, such as Microsoft Word. The company you work for might require you to download specific software. Google Chrome is a helpful internet browser to use.

Your internet connection should have download and upload speeds of at least 10 mbps. Your company may have specific requirements.

If you want a career in online transcription instead of just pursuing this as a side gig for extra money, you’ll benefit from investing in noise-cancelling headphones, a mechanical keyboard, dual monitors and a foot pedal for controlling audio playback.

Downloading transcription software will make your work easier and help you cut down on your transcription time.  If you plan to use a foot pedal, most are compatible with the different kinds of transcription software.

You may also want to get text expander software to help you type common words and phrases faster.

If you’re a court reporter or legal transcriptionist, you’ll probably need to use stenography equipment.

Transcription Training and Certifications

Working as a transcriptionist doesn’t require a college degree. If you are new to the field and are providing general transcription services, you likely won’t need any certification.

If you aim to specialize as a medical or legal transcriptionist, however, you will need advanced training. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer certification programs, which can last from one to three years.

Aspiring medical transcriptionists can get certified as a Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) or a Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS) through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.

The National Court Reporters Association offers certification as a Registered Professional Reporter (RPR). Another option is to earn the Certified Electronic Reporter (CER) designation or Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designation through the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers. The National Verbatim Reporters Association also offers a variety of professional certifications.

If you’re a general transcriptionist, you can also take courses to improve your skills and, hopefully, advance to better paying jobs. Transcribe Anywhere has a course in general transcription — and also a free mini-course. Udemy also has various courses on how to become a transcriptionist.

When evaluating whether a course is right for you, check the reviews or, if possible, speak to program graduates to gauge whether the course increases people’s employment prospects.

If you’re going to work in the United States, it is recommended that you take courses from a U.S.-based company.

How to Become a Transcriptionist in 8 Steps

Wondering how to become a transcriptionist? Follow these steps to launch a career — or profitable side gig — while working from home.

1. Decide What Types of Transcription Jobs You’re Interested In

Are you looking for general transcription work where you might create transcripts of podcasts for a blogger or make a written record of a company’s business meeting? Or would you like to specialize as a medical or legal transcriptionist?

Consider the amount of hours you plan to dedicate to this work. Are you looking for something full-time or part-time?

Would you like to work for a company that’ll give you transcription work or would you rather be a freelance contractor who finds your own gigs? Your answers will guide you to the right path for you.

2. Practice Your Typing Skills or Pursue Advanced Training

The more you practice your typing and transcription skills, the quicker you’ll be able to take an audio file and convert it into written copy. And the faster you’re able to turn around work, the more you’ll earn per hour.

If you want to become a medical or legal transcriptionist, check your local community college for certification programs or see the section above for accreditations you might want to pursue.

3. Prepare Your Resume

After completing training or earning a certification or license, make sure you update your resume.

Even if you choose not to pursue formal training, you should revamp your resume to highlight transferable skills that will help you succeed in a transcriptionist role, like the ability to listen attentively or being a fast typist.

4. Apply to Transcription Jobs

If you’re just starting out, it may be easier to get work through a transcription outsource company than trying to establish yourself as a freelancer.

Below you’ll find a list of companies that hire people with little to no transcription experience.

5. Get Familiar with the Company’s Style Guide

Each company will have its own style guide outlining its preferences for transcribed work.

Some companies may ask you to transcribe verbatim, while others will say it’s okay to correct mispronunciations or incorrect grammar. The style guide might also lay out how the company wants you to identify multiple speakers in an audio file.

Take time to study the style guide so you turn in work that adheres to the company’s guidelines.

6. Take a Typing Test

During the application process, transcription companies will have you take a typing test to access your speed and accuracy. You might be asked to listen to a few minutes of dialogue and transcribe what you hear.

The tests for lower-paying companies that hire beginners will be easier than the test for companies seeking experienced pros.

7. Make Sure You Have the Required Tech

At the very least, you’ll need a working computer or laptop, high-speed internet, quality earbuds or headphones and a quiet home office space.

Additional equipment, like a foot pedal and transcription software, may not be required by the company you work for, but it could help you do your job better.

8. Move Up to Better-Paying Companies With More Experience

After you have some experience under your belt and you’ve improved your typing speed and turnaround time, you should seek out gigs that pay more money.

Transcription Outsourcing LLC and Allegis Transcription are two companies that hire experienced transcriptionists. You could also use platforms like Freelancer.com or Upwork to find work-from-home transcription gigs.

Another strategy for finding higher paying work is to create a webpage for your independent transcription business and advertise your services. Reach out to potential clients, like law firms or podcasters, directly to solicit work.

Where to Find Transcription Jobs as a Beginner

If you’re looking to earn a little extra money online, try with one of these transcription companies to get started. You won’t get rich, but you will get paid to learn how to transcribe audio files — and this could open the door to more lucrative transcription opportunities in the future.

The following transcription companies regularly hire newbies. You’ll need to take short assessments before getting assigned work, and you can work as much or as little as you’d like. In most cases, you won’t need any special equipment like a foot pedal or transcription software.

Crowdsurf

Crowdsurf specializes in providing transcribed media files to the hearing impaired. You’ll have to create an account with Work Market — an online marketplace for freelancers — where Crowdsurf houses their transcription tasks.

You can earn up to 20 cents per media minute (which comes out to $12 an audio hour), plus bonus rates. Most transcription tasks will be less than 10 minutes long.

Go Transcript

To work for GoTranscript, you’ll first need to register and take a transcription test. Once approved, you can choose from a variety of projects to work on.

The average payment rate is 60 cents per audio minute, which equates to $36 an audio hour. The average earnings per month is $150, however, top workers earn up to $1,215 per month. GoTranscript pays on a weekly basis via PayPal or Payoneer.

Quicktate

Quicktate hires independent contractors to transcribe short voicemail messages, as well as memos, conference calls and more.

After you have done transcription for Quicktate for some time, you may be promoted to iDictate — a sister company that pays slightly more to transcribe an audio file. Quicktate pays approximately one cent for every four words transcribed, while iDictate pays two cents for every four words transcribed.

Quicktate pays its freelancers weekly by PayPal.

Rev

Rev pays transcriptionists between 30 cents up to $1.10 for each audio minute, which works out to $18 to $66 per audio hour. The average earnings per month is $245, but top earners make up to $1,495 per month.

Rev pays weekly via PayPal and doesn’t require any special equipment apart from a computer with reliable internet.

TranscribeMe

Before you can take on projects with TranscribeMe, you have to register and take its training course and exam.

TranscribeMe starts you off transcribing short audio clips less than five minutes long.  The company pays $15 per audio hour. You’ll be paid weekly via PayPal for the work you complete.

You don’t need any special equipment to start working beyond a computer or laptop that has Google Chrome and a stable internet connection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Trying to decide whether you want to become a transcriptionist? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Transcriptionist?

The time it takes to become a transcriptionist can vary widely, depending on factors such as your skill level and whether you want to specialize.

If you’re already a fast typist with an excellent command of the English language and stellar listening skills, you might be able to apply to work for a transcription company that hires inexperienced transcriptionists. Depending on how long it takes to get through the application and hiring process, you could start working in a matter of days or a couple of weeks.

However, if you choose a specialized field of work and enroll in a two-year certification program to become a legal transcriptionist, it would take at least a couple of years to begin your career.

How Do I Start to Become a Transcriptionist?

For those new to the profession, it’s often recommended to start in general transcription, taking work for outsourcing companies.

Take practice tests before applying so you can improve your typing speed and accuracy. After working entry-level transcription jobs for a while, you’ll be able to take on higher-paying work.

How Much Can You Make as a Transcriptionist?

The average hourly rate for a transcriptionist is just over $16, according to Payscale. However, factors such as your experience level, the business you work for, the type of work you do and your turnaround rate will impact how much money you make.

As a beginner, you could earn $10 an hour or less. More experienced transcriptionists who work in specialized fields can command over $25 an hour.

Is it Hard to Become a Transcriptionist?

Becoming a transcriptionist doesn’t require a college education or formal training, and there are companies that hire workers with little or no experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to become a transcriptionist.

Just like any other job, what’s easy for one person won’t be for another. Passing a company’s typing test, for example, may not be as simple as you’d imagine.

The files you listen to might be very poor quality, making it difficult to understand what’s being said. And other times, you might find yourself trying to interpret unclear dialogue spoken with a thick accent.

The work is also quite repetitive. You will have to listen to the same audio over and over again to be sure you have transcribed it perfectly. If you don’t like repetition, transcription might not be the line of work for you.

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