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The Tools of the Transcription Trade

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

Several folks have asked me what I equipment I use in my daily transcription work. I am happy to tell you about the tools that I use and give you some idea of costs if you are just getting started. I’ve divided this into two categories, hardware and software. Another really important consideration is the ergonomics of your work station. You can read about my minimalist, ergonomic work set up in this blog post, Minimalist Transcriptionist.  Everything I need to do my work also fits into easily into a tote bag, making it easy to work anywhere.


  • A reliable computer
    I’m not going to tell you what computer to use. It is a personal preference and whole ‘nother area of expertise. I happen to use a MacBook Air, and it does everything I need too. I like working on a laptop because my work is really portable. Be aware that I have run into a few transcription companies that use proprietary software that only runs on PCs, so if you have a Mac you’re out of luck with those companies.
  • A transcription foot pedal
    This nifty device lets you start, start, stop, fast forward, and rewind the audio you are transcribing using your foot. Think of it like a gas pedal or a sewing machine foot pedal. You can certainly do transcription without a foot pedal, but having one makes me much more efficient. I never have to take my hands off the keyboard to pause the audio. You press down on the center of the pedal to play and let up on the pedal to stop. It also has a feature so that when you stop, it automatically rewinds a fraction of a second, which makes it easier to pick up where you left off. I use an Infinity USB Digital Foot Control with Computer Plug in USB2.  
  • A good pair of headphones
    You want to them to be really comfortable because you’ll have them on for hours everyday, and you need to have the right sound quality to be able to hear voices easily. There are lots to choose from and a huge range of prices. I use the Spectra SP-PC 3.5 mm PC Stereo Transcription Headset. It is quite comfortable and has a really long cord which is convenient. 


  • Transcription software
    Express Scribe and FTW Transcriber are the two that I’m most familiar with and that are commonly used and recommended. I use Express Scribe because FTW is not available for Mac. The software integrates the foot pedal with your computer and allows you to do things like add time stamps, open a wide variety of sound and video files, do some limited enhancing of sounds files, and change the playback speed. (Note: If you take the course that I took, there is also very helpful information and discounted pricing links for your transcription software and equipment.)
  • Word processing software
    The industry standard is MS Word, and that is what I use. You might be able to get away with using Google Docs or something else, but I’d recommend having MS Word.
  • File transfer software
    You will need a way to share large files. Most of the companies I subcontract for have their own system for sending large video or audio files. For my own clients, I use Dropbox.

One other note:  A few  other reference tools that I use regularly are Merriam Webster Dictionary online and The Chicago Manual of Style.

Let me know if I can help you figure out what equipment would work best for you. 

My Office Buddies

by Joanna Norman

Let me introduce my co-workers. I work from home and love it, and I am also lucky enough to have several office buddies. They are THE BEST co-workers because they are usually totally quiet, unless they are snoring, and they encourage me to take frequent stretch breaks by asking for my attention periodically throughout the day. 

Red Fancy Betta Fish swimming to the right

First up is Mr. Cat. Mr. Cat doesn’t do much other than eat once a day, but he makes me smile quite often and gives my eyes a rest from the computer screen.

White faced yellow lab laying on a green pillow with a black poodle curled up on a second green pillow behind the lab

Next we have Patty Pickle and Arlo. Patty is a seven year old yellow labrador retriever who I raised as a Guide Dog Puppy. She was “career-changed” because of a medical issue and became my pet.  She is a very lazy co-worker who rarely lifts her head off my (!)  pillow while I’m working at my desk.  Behind her is Arlo. He is a 13ish year old rescue mini poodle. He used to bark all the time, but now he is older, more mature, and deaf, so he doesn’t hear much that he feels he needs to bark about. He often serves as a lap warmer on cold days. He has terrible breath, though. I’m not sure what the etiquette is when your office-mate apparently has poor oral hygiene?


Yellow Lab curled in a tight ball in a small round dog bed

Meet Tera, a two year old yellow lab, who usually spends her day curled up in the poodle’s dog bed. She is a Guide Dog Puppy in Training that I am currently co-raising. Because of delays in training due to the pandemic, Tera has been my office buddy for much longer than expected. She is here in my home office every other week. She is extremely well-behaved in our little workplace. She is leaving soon to go back to Guide Dogs for her formal training and will be dearly missed.

Golden Retriever puppy laying down with her tongue out

Lastly, on the weeks that Tera isn’t hanging around the office, Fate, a 11-month old Golden Retriever Lab cross is here. She is also a Guide Dog Puppy in Training. She is the most distracting of my colleagues. There’s one in every workplace, right? Fate would often rather be playing than working or even sleeping. She’s one of the co-workers who interrupts your concentration by making noises, often with a toy in her mouth acting as a megaphone! Give her time, she’s still a puppy. 

If you are working from home, do you have any office buddies, animal or human, or vegetable, for that matter?  If so, tell me about your co-workers in the comments below. Include a photo if you want – I’d love to “meet” them!

How To Become A Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I’m sure there are many paths to becoming a general transcriptionist. In fact, I’d love to hear how you became a transcriptionist in the comments below. Here’s how I changed careers from being a middle school science and math teacher to transcription. This is only one person’s story, but maybe it will help you on your path.  So here’s what I did.

Step 1:  Learn the needed skills.  I needed to learn new skills, so I chose to take an outstanding online course from and received my certification as a General Transcriptionist. 

Step 2:  Obtain the tools you need.  I will write a separate, detailed blog post about this in the near future.

Step 3:  Find work. I networked with friends and family to let folks now that I was a newly minted transcriptionist looking for work. I also applied for subcontracting positions.

Step 4: Celebrate achieving your goal.

Easy peasy.  Well, there was actually quite a bit more to each of those steps, so if you want to know more, keep reading.  

The Details

Step 1:  Learn the needed skills. As you may have guessed or already know, there is more to being a successful transcriptionist than just playing an audio recording and typing what you hear. To make sure I was set up for success, I signed up for the General Transcription: Theory and Practice Course from Janet Shaughnessy’s I started working on the course very, very part time while I was still teaching in January through May.  Then, when I was done teaching, I finished the course in the month of June, passed the final assessment, and got my certificate.  

Here are some of the skills that you need and can learn through Janet’s outstanding, professional coursework:

  • Grammar. You may think you already know grammar. You’ll be surprised!
  • How to make and use transcription templates
  • How to transcribe multiple speakers, even the ones that are constantly interrupting each other
  • How to use a foot pedal to make transcription easier and more efficient
  • How to use transcription software
  • What do to about stutters and false starts and people who don’t speak with proper grammar (that would be all of us)
  • The difference between strict verbatim and standard verbatim transcription
  • Time stamping
  • File management
  • File security
  • How to market yourself
  • How to find work
  • How to build your website

Step 2: Obtain the tools you need.  I am going to write a separate blog post about this in the near future, but for starters, you’ll need a reliable computer, internet access, a foot pedal, good earphones, word processing software, and transcription software. If you already have a computer and internet access, you can get all the tools you need for well under $500.

Step 3: Find work. When you are just getting started in this field, it may take a while to build your own clientele. You can still be earning money and gaining experience while building your own business because there are many transcription companies out there hiring subcontractors. You can do subcontracting work while building your own business. In fact, you may decide to stick with subcontracting and not pursue your own business. Either is a great option.

I wanted and needed to start earning ASAP, so I as soon as I finished steps 1 and 2, I let my friends and family know that I was making a career change. Some thought I was crazy, but others said things like, “Oh, I know someone who does that type of work. Let me get you two in touch.” This led to my first subcontracting position. I also applied to do subcontracting work with other companies. (Many transcription companies hire independent subcontractors to help with their transcription work.) Within one month of finishing my online course, I had found subcontract work with 6 companies, which was more work than I needed. The nice thing about having a large variety of subcontracting work was that I could then decide which companies provided the type of work that I enjoyed the most. It was and is a great way to get practice and improve my transcription skills.

Step 4: Celebrate achieving your goal. I don’t have details for you here except to say that if you are considering a career change to transcription, my experience has been great. For me, it is a good fit, it was achievable and the rewards have been fantastic.

Minimalist Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

One of the things I love about being a transcriptionist is that it fits in so well with the simple lifestyle I am creating. I have been interested in minimalism and downsizing for much of my adult life. For example, I have consistently chosen to live in smaller homes and drive smaller cars than the average American.  Recently, I read Courtney Carver’s book Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More and participated in her Summer School for Simplicity course which inspired me to simplify even further. I think it’s safe to say that I’m becoming a minimalist.  

Transcription is a perfect fit for a minimalist. I work from home, so I don’t need a fancy work wardrobe. I get dressed every day, but I keep it comfortable and simple. Jeans and a plaid shirt would be a typical workday outfit for me. (If you want to know more about my minimalist wardrobe, check out Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More.)

Photo of a white metal standing desk with an open laptop, 3 crocheted cactus and a small hexagonal aquarium.

I have a simple workspace which I set up about 8 months ago on a very limited budget.  I use a fairly inexpensive standing desk and an old, but comfortable desk chair with an extra foam pad to help with posture and a bad hip. When I need a little more room to spread out, I pull out a stacking table.  I really like my desk because I can use it as a standing desk when my hip is acting up, or I can quickly adjust it to be a nice, angled, seated desk. (See below for a list of links, if you want details on any of the products I mention in this post.)

Three little crocheted cactus in terra cotta pots

For my actual work tools, I have a laptop, a transcription foot pedal, good quality earphones, a backup drive, my Rocketbook Planner, a Rocketbook Notebook, a bag of FriXion pens (that’s what I use with the Rocketbooks which are reusable notebooks), and a plastic accordion folder. That’s all. I can easily pack all of this up into my favorite “briefcase” made from recycled plastic bag plarn, and I can work from anywhere. In the future, when pandemic conditions allow, I can work from a coffee shop, at my sister’s house across the country, at an AirBnB – anywhere!

I also have few  decorative things on my desk that make me happy – three crocheted mini cacti, pictures of my sisters, and a little one gallon aquarium which houses Mr. Cat, my betta fish.   

I love my minimal, tidy workspace. It gives me peace and joy. Back when I was teaching, my desk was always a paper-filled, piled up disaster area. My former students would not recognize my desk now.

If you are also a transcriptionist, if you work from home, what does your workspace look like?  Do you like a big space with room to spread out?  Do you keep it small and simple? Somewhere in between?  Share a picture in the comments below. I’d love to see where you spend your workday at home.

Where to get the things:

My desk and chair cushion:

Transcription Foot Pedal and headphones:

My Backup Drive:

Rocketbook Products and Accordian File:

You Might Be A Great Transcriptionist If …

by Joanna Norman

  1. You are a bit of a perfectionist.  Clients can and should expect their transcripts to have 95 percent accuracy or higher. Accuracy includes transcribing every single utterance in strict verbatim transcription or almost every word in standard transcription where the transcriptionist uses informed judgement about when to leave out a word or two. Accuracy also includes correct punctuation and spelling. While it is nearly impossible for a transcript to be 100 percent accurate, we strive to get as close to that as possible, so this is work where your perfectionist tendencies will serve you well.  
  2. You are a quick, accurate typist.  You can certainly do transcription if you are not a fast typist, but your earnings will be relatively lower. A good typing speed to aim for is  75 words per minute. There are good websites to improve your typing speed such as,,  
  3. You are good at research.  Yes, if you are a transcriptionist, the internet is one of your favorite tools. A great transcriptionist takes the time to look up names, places, medications, companies, products, etc. that are mentioned in the audio recording to make sure she gets everything right. If you are not skilled at internet research, this can take a lot of time, and time is money in this work.  
  4. You love grammar.  If it really bugs you when people mix up “their” with “they’re” or use a comma splice, if you have a strong opinion about the Oxford comma, then you might have what it takes to be a great transcriptionist. People don’t always speak in full sentences or with proper grammar. A great transcriptionist is able to use her judgement and standard rules of grammar, including punctuation, to type the words that are spoken and make them readable. It can be really challenging and really fun, if grammar is something you enjoy.
  5. You are self-motivated and disciplined.  Many transcriptionists are independent contractors. To be a successful independent contractor, you need the self-motivation and discipline to put yourself out there and put in a good day of work most days of the week. If you need other folks to tell you how to prioritize your time and tasks, this might not be a good fit for you. For me, I love being in control of my own time, and I have no problem being focused and disciplined with my work. 
  6. You are able to provide quality service to your customers.  A great transcriptionist probably isn’t motivated by money.  A great transcriptionist wants to provide outstanding transcripts and outstanding customer service to her clients.  
  7. You never met a deadline you didn’t meet.  I have always been the type of person who finishes things on time and usually early. Deadlines are real in transcription work, and you’ve got to be able to meet or beat deadlines to be great. 
  8. You love to learn new things. One of the things I find most rewarding about my work as a transcriptionist is that I am always learning about something new. Lately, I’ve learned about new medications for HIV prevention, COVID and mental health, private space flight, and gun safety. 
  9. You are an introvert.  Okay, I’m sure not all transcriptionists are introverts, but you certainly need to be able to enjoy working alone with your computer for several hours a day. For me, I am perfectly content to sit at my minimalist desk, with my dogs snoring all around, listening and typing away.
  10. You don’t want to get rich. I had to add this to the list. While you can want to get rich and be a great transcriptionist, you are likely to become discontent because, realistically, most people are not going to get rich doing transcription work. There are simply not enough hours in the day, and you can only go so fast. But, you can earn a decent living doing transcription work. I have deliberately chosen a simple lifestyle which doesn’t require a huge income to maintain. I can support myself doing transcription, and it is work I love.  
Photo of a very tidy desk with a laptop computer. The image says you might be a transcriptionist if ...

What do you think makes a great transcriptionist?  Tell me in your comments below. 

Three Examples of General Transcription

by Joanna Norman

When I decided to become a transcriptionist, the question I got the most was, and still is, “A what? Transcription? What is that?”

A transcriptionist listens to audio or video recordings and produces a written document or transcript of everything that was said. I think the easiest way to understand what a general transcriptionist does is by example. So here are three examples for you.

Close up black and white photo of a microphone

Example 1: You are producing a reality TV show about training cats. You have hours and hours of videotaped interviews with three of the best cat trainers in the world. Rather than watch those interviews over and over as you are deciding how to edit them into this week’s episode, you hire a transcriptionist to transcribe the interviews for you. The transcriptionist produces one or more text documents (transcripts) that type out everything that the cat trainers said during the videotaped interviews with time stamps to indicate where in the tape the words were spoken. Let’s say you want to find video clips about training cats to walk on a leash. You can search the transcript for the word “leash” and read what the interviewees said. Then you can easily review any clips you are interested in using the timestamp provided in the transcript, and now you have an idea of whether or not you can use that footage in your TV episode.

Example 2: Your company provides consultation to with other companies to help them identify problems with worker satisfaction and possible solutions to increase employee retention. Your staff has just finished running eight hour-long focus groups over Zoom with different groups of employees in the company, and you need to compile all this qualitative data into a report. Lucky for you, your staff recorded all the Zoom meeting focus groups. You can hire a transcriptionist to create a text document of everything that was said in the focus groups so that you can more easily review all the data and write your report.

Example 3: You have an awesome YouTube channel about the best hikes in your favorite national forest, but not many people are visiting your channel. It turns out search engines don’t “find” video content on the internet.  A transcriptionist can transcribe your videos so that all of the content in your video is in written text format. You can then include the transcript in the description of your video, and now your content is found by the search engines. 

There you go. That is what I do for a living. It is rewarding and fun.  Of the three examples above, my favorite type of work is transcription for qualitative research because I get to utilize my science and research training and I love learning new things. 

Transcriptionists – what is your favorite type of general transcription work? Reply in the comments below. I’d love to “meet” you and learn about your favorite work.