At Home Transcriber 101 – What is a Transcriber?

By: Jill Finch

At Speechpad, we get hundreds of applicants each week. Some hopefuls present resumes full of previous transcription experience, while others are new but eager and ready to get started. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, Speechpad’s At-Home Transcriber 101 series can help you advance into the freelance transcriber profession. Want to be a transcriber? Start taking notes. Already a transcriber? What you learn may surprise you!


What is Transcription?

Transcription, simply, is transforming speech into text. Sounds easy, right? There are lots of speech to text programs out there, so why do people do this work? Skilled transcribers possess a ranged skill set, including knowledge of technical jargon and mastery of language nuances that, as of 2019, no software is able to compete against. A skilled transcriber can complete work that is 99%+ accurate. Even though there are softwares that boast up to 99% accuracy, in our experience that accuracy benchmark is still a fantasy in the future. When (yes, when) you see errors present in many software-generated transcripts, they’re so far off, or so completely nonsensical, that it’s obvious no human would make such errors. A machine is very quick and efficient, but language requires human critical thinking and nuanced understanding, especially when dealing with noisy recording environments, crosstalk, and other factors that trip up machine algorithms.


I’m a good typist. Does that mean I can transcribe?

The short answer? Maybe.

Transcription requires skills beyond just typing, including how well you listen. We often see hopeful applicants cite note-taking experience as equitable with transcription experience. Unfortunately, they’re not one and the same because in note-taking, you can paraphrase, reword, etc. as long as the meaning is the same. Transcription requires the exact words as-spoken.

Additionally, you have to be able to follow guidelines. Most companies have their own style guides that are usually a mixture of APA, MLA, or Chicago Style, with deviations based on a history of customer requests.

Transcribers also aren’t necessarily all-knowing experts in every field that comes across their desks. In these cases, you also need to have some basic research skills. At Speechpad, we don’t expect workers to spend hours trying to figure out every little thing, but knowing how to run a quick Google search by picking out context keywords and phonetic spellings to check yourself are a must.

Being a good typist also doesn’t necessarily mean you have strong language mastery. Regardless of the language you’re transcribing, you should have great language skills. Not only spelling and sentence structure, but the little things like punctuation, what punctuation is optional, and homonym mastery are equally important to reach that 99% accuracy mark. Humans don’t necessarily speak using proper grammar, either, so knowing how to structure and punctuate our “bad” language usage is pivotal in providing transcripts that are readable and understandable.

I want to quit my day job. Can transcription support me?Screenshot_2

The short answer? With time.

This is a question we see in various different forms. Shortly, we’ll crunch some numbers with you for some realistic expectations.

Freelance transcription often pays per project completed. Meaning your earnings for a particular task are already established at the get-go. How much time you take to complete that task will determine if you can make a living as a freelance transcriber. The reality is:

  • If you have little or no experience, you will struggle at first.
  • Most (probably all) transcription companies will require you to start as an entry-level worker and prove your worth before they’ll offer you higher rates on the same type of tasks.
  • The more practice, the faster you will get at transcribing.
  • With time, you will be able to make a living.
  • At Speechpad, many of our team members are full-time freelance transcribers.

So let’s crunch some numbers.

As of 2019, the U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

As an entry-level freelance transcriber:

  • A good entry-level rate is $0.25 per audio minute.
  • You’d have to complete 30 minutes of transcription in 1 hour to make $7.50 per hour.
    • This is more than feasible for a skilled/experienced transcriber.
    • An experienced transcriber may receive more than $0.25 per audio minute for this same task due to having “proven” their speed and quality to the company, thus increasing their effective hourly rate.

When comparing at-home transcription to, say, a minimum wage department store job, consider this. As a freelance transcriber, you can literally roll out of bed, make your coffee and sit down to work in your pajamas. There is little to no time investment needed to get ready for work, commute to and from work, etc. Can you say the same about that department store job? Before protesting about the amount of time needed to make minimum wage as an at-home transcriber, we suggest to any naysayers to consider the realities of how much time that department store job takes that aren’t covered in your paycheck.

So, can you “quit your day job” to be a freelance transcriber? Like with everything, put in the effort and the time to build your skills and your expertise and yes, you most certainly can. But, if you’re looking for a get rich quick scheme, it’s best to stick with playing the lottery.