How to learn transcription and become a freelance transcriber

Transcription job positions are in high demand on freelance work platforms like Upwork and freelancer. Transcription can be found under job categories like Administrative assistant, virtual assistant or Management. The job of a transcriber is to prepare a transcription or typing/writing down whatever the speaker is verbally saying. To become a professional transcriber you need four things: Proficiency in a widely used language like English/Spanish, Chinese etc, Fast Typing Skill, Great listening Skill and Patience. A lot of people looking for easy online work take up transcribing but preparing an accurate transcription may not be as easy as it seems. However, with practice you will learn how to deliver great transcriptions even under not so ideal conditions.

Types of transcriptions:

Transcriptions have been used since many years for recording legal proceedings, conferences, meetings, telephone conversations, memoir and so on. Transcriptions can be very useful to gather important information during those events. Nowadays pod-cast transcriptions are gaining popularity because they help summarize the speaker’s main points so that website visitors can grasp the important information on the fly.

Verbatim Transcriptions
Here you will have to type everything as it is said by the speaker. So you will have to include grammatical errors, repetitive words or sentences, fillers (umms, aahs), even profanity and you may also have to indicate when the speaker performs certain action (laughs, claps hand, clears throat) etc.

Non-Verbatim Transcriptions
In a non-verbatim transcriptions you edit out repetitive words, grammatical errors and fillers. So this type of transcriptions will generally be ready to publish on a website or blog.

How to become an online transcriber

All you need to do is acquire certain skills mentioned below. You will start from learning the basics and as time goes by you will become a professional transcriber.

Fast typing speed: Many of you are already fast typists all thanks to your long school or college assignments. If your typing is slow then don’t lose hope. You can easily improve your typing speed by practicing daily. There are many free tools available online that will help you improve typing accuracy and speed. Allocate at least 30mins everyday to practice typing and you will see a significant improvement in a month. Try this: Free Online Typing Lesson 

Get a decent keyboard: Most desktop and laptop keyboards are standard sized with large, adequately spaced keys. However, if you have a smaller notebook or your laptop has a cramped keyboard, you will need to get a nice Bluetooth keyboard. A good keyboard will help you achieve high accuracy and speed.  As a beginner you may start with your own keyboard and then upgrade it in the future.
Ergonomics:  Develop a habit of sitting in good posture because you will be spending long hours on your desk while transcribing.

Formatting and editing: Learn about the standard transcription format is very useful, although you are free to create and use your own format. Usually your clients will tell you what kind of format to use. Standard format uses  the following elements:

  • Font size: 12pt Times New Roman or Courier Font.
  • Page margin: 1 inch margin on all sides
  • Include the audio file name or number and transcriber’s name in Header/footer
  • Line spacing of 1.5 inch
  • Use double dash “–” to indicate interruptions, skipped audio, inaudible audio, or when speaker doesn’t complete a sentence
  • Speaker Identification: Identify the speakers in the audio. For example- if it’s a one on one interview, the speakers are the Interviewer and the Interviewee. You can also identify speakers by their respective names.
    • Interviewer: Do you have any volunteering experience?
    • Interviewee:  Yes, I have volunteered in many organizations.
  • Include a Timestamp followed by Speaker identification. Example:
    • [00:05:15 Shawn]We have experienced a massive growth this year.
  • Non-verbal utterances: If you’re asked to prepare a verbatim transcription you’l have to include filler words like UM, UH, UH-HUM etc

Read more about Transcription formatting here: General Transcription Style Guide

How to start transcribing

Go to YouTube and listen to a short and clearly spoken Ted talk video (max 15 mins). Try to transcribe it using a standard transcription format. Log your time. You can use Toggl for it. Also transcribe any one to one interview and log the time. Now try something different by transcribing an audio that has a speaker with a regional accent example- An English speaking Indian person or someone with Australian accent. You will find that transcribing native speakers is much easier than accented speakers. Now, ramp it up by transcribing a conversation in a noisy outdoor environment. After practicing transcribing different type of audio conversations, interviews and talk programs, you will be able to figure out the time it will take to transcribe a particular type of audio.

Many will learn that transcribing is not as easy as it seems, and that it will take much longer than expected. If you are someone who doesn’t mind spending a whole day typing on a PC while attentively listen to a poor audio file, then you will be able to learn and improve your transcription skills.

Determine your hourly rate
First figure out a minimum hourly rate for you. Then estimate how many hours it will take for you to transcribe 1 hour of audio. Multiply the total number of hours by your hourly rate and you have audio per hour rate. So if $10 is your minimum rate and it takes 4 hours to transcribe an hours of audio, your per audio hour rate is $40. That rate is for a standard audio file which has minimum background noise, one or two speakers, no accents and generally very clearly spoken. You will have to charge extra if the audio file is of poor quality, low in volume, has lots of background noise, has multiple speakers, and multiple accents or languages.  Extra fee should be also added  if you are assigned non-transcription tasks  like preparing summary, show notes preparation and text formatting. If it’s a rush job then you can charge double or more depending on the difficulty and volume of transcription work you have to complete on a short notice.

How to get a transcription job on Upwork or Freelancer

If you haven’t done any transcription in the past, it will be very difficult to convince a high-paying client to give you the job. So before you start applying for transcription jobs, make sure you have sufficient skills for it. You will find many clients who are willing to give new freelancers a change provided they accept the job at a low price. Such clients want the transcription to be at least usable if not totally accurate. So you will get a pass for minor errors or slight delays. So for inexperienced transcribers, I suggest you apply for such jobs where there is enough room for errors and learning.

Another suggestion for newbies is to apply for jobs that ask you to transcribe a short audio- max 1 hour. If you go overboard and accept a 4 hour audio transcription with a 24hr deadline, you will regret it. So, take it slow. Do short audio files and take your time to make it as accurate as possible. But don’t try to make it too perfect either because that will waste a lot of time. You may end of working 13 hours on a crappy 1hr audio file. If you don’t understand a certain word then you can mark it as inaudible or unintelligible and skip to the next part.

Make sure that you have properly formatted the transcription according to your client’s requirements. Most clients will provide a transcription format for you to follow, but if they don’t, you can always research and learn about the formatting process. The formatting is very easy to learn. The transcription texts will have a timestamp [00:00:00]to show the start and end of the audio. You will need to insert the timstamps at regular intervals like 1 minute or 30 seconds. You can ask the client about their preference regarding timestamp intervals. The client may also ask you to include verbatims where you have to write everything exactly as said by the speaker that includes fillers like umms, laughter, uh and ah, and repetitive words such as “like”, “you know” and so on. In verbatim transcriptions you may also have to indicate a pause using ellipses (…) or (–). Also you won’t have to clean up any grammatical errors because your are preparing a true, unedited transcription of the audio.

For educational, business and publishing purposes, you will most likely be asked to prepare a non-verbatim transcription, which cleans out grammatical errors, fillers etc on the audio. These are more easier to prepare and take less time if you have good grammar and writing skills.

Read these tips to win any job of your interest on any freelance marketplace: How to win jobs on Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr and more

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