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The Tools of the Transcription Trade

by Joanna Norman

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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. 

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