What Is a Transcriptionist? (With Duties and Skills)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working as a transcriptionist can be an ideal career if you are seeking a flexible position, like one you can perform from home. As there are various types of transcriptionists, this career offers variety to choose from. Gaining knowledge about the transcription process and the skills required to become one can help you identify if this is the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss what is a transcriptionist and what they do, the different types of transcriptionists and various industries they can work in, the transcription process and the skills required to become one.

What is a transcriptionist?

A transcriptionist is a professional who listens to audio recordings and converts them into text for use in documents. Most transcriptionists can work remotely as nowadays transcribed documents are mostly digital. They can easily receive the audio recordings over email and send back the transcribed documents via the same platform. Transcribers require a good laptop or computer and a reliable internet connection so they can work fast and efficiently. Many transcriptionists use a foot pedal to pause the audio instead of using the mouse or touchpad of the laptop.

Some of the audio and video that they transcribe include:

  • Interviews

  • Films

  • Podcast

  • Meetings

  • Television shows

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

  • Webinars

  • Focus groups

  • Sermons

Different types of transcriptionists

Transcriptionists work in different fields, but the most common types of transcriptionists are:

  • Legal transcriptionists: A legal transcriptionist translates audio recordings like court hearings, depositions or any type of recording related to law with word processing software. These transcriptions differ from court reporters who transcribe live court proceedings.

  • Medical transcriptionists: Medical transcriptionists transcribe medical reports or physician recordings that contain the health and diagnosis information of the patients. They make sure all the doctor's reports and patient's records created by dictation are accurate and written correctly.

  • General transcriptionists: General transcriptionists refer to any type of transcriptionist who does not specialise in a particular field. They convert audio recordings of various types, such as interviews, simple dictation, lectures, video webinars or podcasts.

Foundational skills for a transcriptionist

Here are a few skills you need to have to be a successful transcriptionist:

1. Typing speed

A fast typing speed is essential to meet deadlines or produce transcriptions on short notice. Mostly, the transcriptionist is paid on a per word basis, therefore the faster they type, the more they can earn. Employers often look for a specific typing speed when determining which candidate is the best fit for the role.

2. Typing accuracy

Regardless of the industry they work in, transcriptionists must be able to maintain a high level of accuracy in what they transcribe. Especially for the medical transcriptionist, accuracy is critical as the transcribed documents capture the patient's diagnosis details. Also, for legal transcriptionists, maintaining accuracy is very critical, as a minor error can mislead the case.

3. Industry knowledge

Industry knowledge is necessary for legal and medical transcriptionists, as they must be familiar with the terminology. Medical transcriptionists need to have a basic understanding of physiology, anatomy, medications and common medical procedures. Legal transcriptionists should be familiar with legal terminologies, legal systems and judicial procedures.

4. Active listening

Active listening is crucial for transcriptionists, as they must be able to understand dialogues despite the background noise of soft audio. They may also need to listen to recordings of people belonging to different geographies. Thus, they should be able to understand cultural accents and make intelligent guesses in situations where the audio is difficult to understand.

Read More: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Grammar, spelling and punctuation accuracy

Most companies prefer transcriptionists whose work is easy to read with little editing. Transcriptionists should be able to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling proficiencies to produce a clean document. These details are especially important to ensure they are relaying the correct information.

Read More: 10 Ways To Improve Your English Communication Skills

6. Focus

On average, a transcriptionist requires six hours to transcribe one hour of audio. Thus, it is very important they have a high concentration power and are able to focus for long periods to complete the work timely and accurately. Focus also ensures they can meet the goals of their work.

7. Technological skills

A transcriptionist should have basic computer skills to be comfortable using the word-processing software they need to transcribe audio. They may also need to be familiar with transcriptionist software and equipment in order to do their jobs with maximum efficiency. There are various software for this position, so becoming familiar with several of them can help you secure a position.

Read More: Computer Skills: Definition and Example

8. Adaptability

General transcriptionists may provide services across a range of different industries. This means they must be fast learners to understand different topics and transcribe audio to create superior quality transcripts. To increase your knowledge of various industries, consider job shadowing a professional in the field.

9. Critical thinking skills

Transcriptionists should have the ability to identify inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the dictation given to them. They should have enough knowledge and ability to research and find enough information to make sure the details they have are accurate and reliable. An enhanced ability to think critically usually means the transcriptionist also excels at problem-solving.

Read More: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions and Examples

10. Time management

Transcriptionists may need to work on tight timelines and also manage other roles as a transcriptionist. They should have the skills to manage the work under pressure with small deadlines and still deliver with accuracy. They can deliver the work on time if they do not procrastinate, adapt realistic approach and work during the time of the day when they are most energetic as this work requires lots of focus.

Read More: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

What training do you need to be a transcriptionist?

The training that you will need to be a transcriptionist depends on what kind of transcriptionist you want to be, whether it is for the legal, medical or general field. If you plan to train as a general transcriptionist, it is important to take transcribing courses. You can find courses available online and at local community colleges. Here are some details about training for each field:

1. Legal

If you want to become a legal transcriptionist, obtain a certificate in legal transcription. Through a legal transcription certification program, you will attain training in research, legal terminology, legal system and documentation. An associate degree as a legal administrative assistant is an alternative to a legal transcription certificate program.

2. Medical

If you plan to pursue a career as a medical transcriptionist, start by completing a one-year certificate program or an associates degree program for medical transcription. These programs are usually available at colleges, professional schools or online. You can also get a certification to become a certified medical transcriptionist. Though it is not mandatory, having one can give you a competitive advantage over other candidates.

Certification courses usually cover topics like medical terminology, healthcare documentation, risk management, anatomy and English grammar and punctuation. Some of these programs include the hands-on experience to prepare candidates for future jobs.

3. General

General transcriptionists transcribe a wide range of audio files. If you want to pursue your career as a general transcriptionist, it is crucial that you have strong knowledge of the basics of transcription, including strong vocabulary, good typing speed and working knowledge of word processing software. You can also complete a specialised general transcription course.

What is the transcription process?

Transcriptionists use special equipment and word processing software, such as digital transcription software, to control audio and video playback with their feet so their hands are free to type and they can work at a faster speed. With digital transcription software, transcriptionists can also improve upon poor-quality recordings, insert time stamps and bookmark spots in the audio to refer to later. The transcriptionist may translate in clean verbatim style, with a text that has been edited lightly to make it easier to read or in the true verbatim style that captures non-essential filler speech, such as 'uh's' and 'um's.'

Different industries which use transcriptionists

Here is the list of various industries where transcriptionists can choose to work:

  • Entertainment

  • Legal

  • Medical

  • Government

  • Religious

  • Market research

  • Business

  • Financial

  • Law enforcement

What are the hours like for a transcriptionist?

The number of hours transcriptionists work varies depending on the industry they are in. Many transcriptionists work full-time hours, especially those who work from the office. Whereas, transcriptionists who are self-employed or work from home have the flexibility to create their own schedules unless they complete the work in time.

Transcriptionists sit for long hours in isolation to complete their work, as their work requires a good amount of concentration. Usually, they do not see many people during their working hours and can not work in teams, talk to others or take phone calls during the working hours as they need to clearly hear the words in the audio recordings.

Explore more articles