Transcription – A Beginner’s Guide

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I’ve been transcribing with McGowan Transcriptions for three months now and I’d like to share some tips and ideas for super-new beginners to transcription.

I found it really hard when I was brand new and couldn’t find much useful advice out there. I’m hoping to help any newbies out there reading this to get your speed up so you can progress your career more quickly…

Here are some examples of tips and techniques that got my speed up. I’m sure there are plenty more, but here’s what’s in my box so far:

  • Autocorrect: This is the single best way to speed up transcription speed, in my opinion. See, I just used it then. I typed ‘imo’ and the autocorrect changed it to ‘in my opinion’. I basically type in text-speak as much as I can with both words and phrases. So ‘cos’ becomes ‘because’, ‘tbh’ becomes ‘to be honest’ and tonnes of others. I have ones I make up myself, like ‘dy’ becomes ‘do you know what I mean?’ and whenever I have a file on a new topic, I soon notice which phrases keep cropping up and pop them in an autocorrect. The quickest way that I know to open the autocorrect function is alt+f, t, p, alt+a. So you can do it as you’re typing and it barely interrupts your flow.
  • Drop the perfectionism: Well, put it down and pick it up after the first draft, anyway. There are a lot of rules to follow, both the usual spelling and grammar rules as well as house rules for the particular transcription agency or company you’re working for. These house rules will detail how you treat the formatting for stuff like numbers, quotes, speaker IDs, timestamps, indicating unclear words et cetera. Making sure everything’s perfect as you go along can get you really bogged down and the file can feel like it’s going on forever ……… and ever ………… and ever ………… and ever ……… and … you get the idea. Dropping perfectionism is a major way to speed up. Stop pausing and going back to correct spelling and grammar mistakes. It interrupts your flow. Let them be and get back to them later. Word very helpfully highlights them all for you, so there’s no need to stress over getting it perfect first time. I do a raw type with all the spelling mistakes left in, then read over it all afterwards and correct them then, at the same time I’m checking the grammar, the sentence length and whether it makes sense.  The final draft is where you pick up the perfectionism!
  • Foot pedals: Yes, this is one of those obvious tips. Not everyone uses them, but they are brilliant. I got my Infinity pedals second-hand on eBay. They take minutes to adjust to using and are well worth the investment. They free up your hands and get those lazy feet moving.
  • Online typing course: I used TypingTrainer (and didn’t get all the way through, to be honest). It’s a free online course to help you make sure you’re touch typing perfectly. There are plenty of others, but I chose this one because it’s free and has a nice and tidy programme to follow. If you’ve got as far as reading this, you’re probably already pretty fast, but you might be stopping every time you hit a certain key, for example. It helped me speed up because I found out I always looked down for a comma. I wasn’t even aware of it until this course made me notice it.
  • Follow the flow: This took me a fair few files to notice, but the closest you can get to following the flow of speech, the better. When you get an easy file, you sometimes find yourself typing at the same time as the speaker. I’m sure the wise, old Dumbledores of Transcription are doing this all the time, but it’s amazing when you find your fingers are part of the flow and are moving at the same time as the conversation. I only get this for a sentence or two at a time at my stage, but I’m learning that the more I can tap into that flow, the faster the file goes. And ditching perfectionism is a major part of that.

There, those are my main beginner tips. I wanted to share this because this industry is very difficult and a lot of us work from home which is so much harder than working in a workplace where you can learn from your colleagues.

Hope this helped you and if it didn’t, congrats. You’re probably further along your career than I am!!

Blog written by Maya Souter