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How To Become A Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

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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.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Joanne,
    I’m seriously considering the TA course after suffering serious burnout in my social services career. I’m worried about the loss of benefits that come with working for an organization. How did you handle that? Are you paying out of pocket for health insurance or do some contracting jobs come with benefits? I appreciate your blog and I’m finding it very helpful in my research on transcription and possibly enrolling in the TA course. Thank you!

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I am paying out of pocket for health insurance. I used to get insurance, and there is a substantial tax credit because of my relatively low income that makes it affordable for me. Best of luck with your decision, and I’m sorry you are dealing with burn out. I know how difficult that is.


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