Transcription Jobs: How to Get a Job as a Transcriptionist

Transcriptionist using his laptop

The paradise of a be-your-own-boss type of life might feel tantalizingly out of reach if you're logging into Zoom meetings from 9 to 6 every day. Perhaps you're feeling burnt out by the demands of those ever-pinging notifications coming in on your phone.  

A transcriptionist is a work-from-home job that lets you create your own schedule without having to go back to school for a formal degree. Find out what it takes to land your first transcription assignment, what skills you’ll need to succeed as a transcriptionist, and how transcription software is shaping the industry.

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What is a transcriptionist?

An audio transcriptionist is responsible for listening to video or audio files and typing them out into the written word. The final product, called a transcript, should be typo-free—meaning no incorrect spelling or grammatical errors—so that it’s ready for your client to use immediately. 

Most transcription jobs allow you to work at home as an independent contractor. You can typically set your hours to be part-time or full-time and either secure your own online transcription jobs or work for a transcription company. All you need to get started is an internet connection, a computer, and a set of headphones.

3 Types of transcription services

There are three primary types of transcription services you could provide:

General transcription 

General transcription doesn’t require any formal or informal specialization but means you could work on a wide range of audio formats including speeches, interviews, podcasts, classes, webinars, board meetings, or earnings calls. You might also handle content across a wide variety of topics, from politics to entertainment to finance. You can carve out a niche within a set of topics or audio formats (you might find out that you are great at transcribing educational podcasts, for example), but there’s no certification required to get started. 

Medical transcription 

Medical transcriptionists listen to recordings from doctors, nurses, physicians assistants, and other professionals in the medical field and transcribe them onto the patient’s medical record. Medical transcription is a highly specialized form of transcription, often requiring between 18 months to 2 years of training before becoming certified. You’ll need to learn specific medical abbreviations during your training, as well as an overview of anatomy, physiology, and other medical terms. An error made when transcribing a doctor’s audio notes, such as writing an incorrect diagnosis or medication, could result in injury to the patient so accuracy is extremely important in this field (the medical practitioner will usually review the transcript themselves since they are ultimately responsible for the patient’s well-being). Most medical transcriptionists use specialized transcription software, then review and edit the text for accuracy. 

You can find medical transcriptionist jobs either at a healthcare facility, such as a hospital or doctor’s office, or you can work freelance.

Legal transcription 

A legal transcriptionist works on audio recordings of legal proceedings, such as depositions and court hearings, as well as notes from lawyers and paralegals, and client meetings. A legal transcriptionist is responsible for turning those notes and recordings into formal documents, such as legal memos and correspondence.

You don’t need formal training or certification to become a legal transcriptionist, though many law offices require at least a high school diploma, and many require an associate's degree related to legal transcription and/or certification showing competency in legal transcription, language, and document formatting  

What skills do you need to become a transcriptionist?

In addition to a reliable internet connection, there are several skills you’ll need to succeed as a transcriptionist.

  • Fast typing. The faster you can type, the more money you’ll make, since freelance transcribers are usually paid per job. It may be worth taking a typing course to improve your skills. An experienced transcriber should be able to type at least 75 words per minute. 
  • Attention to detail. Accuracy is just as important as speed. You’ll need to catch minor nuances within the audio files and correctly transcribe them in your document. There are a number of variables to take into account as you listen to a piece of audio, such as distinguishing multiple speakers and deciphering accents, as well as a few distractions you’ll need to tune out like background noise. Sometimes, the audio is garbled or difficult to hear, meaning you will have to pay especially close attention to ensure your transcript is accurate.
  • A grasp on grammar. Whether you manually transcribe the entire text or utilize transcription software to do the heavy lifting, good grammar is a must-have to ensure you deliver a quality final product to your clients.
  • Ability to research. Performing some research is often required when transcribing, especially if you’re working on technical material or with a topic that is unfamiliar to you. You may need to look up unknown words, turns of phrase, or references to events so you can fully understand the context of what you’re transcribing. You may also need to look up specific medical conditions or legal terms if you work in those fields.
  • Time management skills. Whether you work for a company or for yourself, it’s important to manage your time well as a transcriptionist. You must meet client deadlines and make sure you’re completing your work in a reasonable amount of time. 

Why use a transcription software?

A quality transcription software converts speech to text in an instant. When using a service like Descript, you’ll enjoy 99% accuracy. Whether you’re looking for quick transcription services or you work as a transcriptionist and need to speed up the process, you could make your life a lot easier by taking advantage of the right software.

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