4 Most Important Skills for a Transcriber to Have

As I’ve said in previous blog entries, transcription seems pretty easy on the surface. You just write down what people say. Seems simple enough that a reasonably well-designed computer program could do it, right? The problem is that the written word has fairly cut-and-dry rules and standards, which people basically completely ignore when they’re speaking. I’d say maybe one in ten people actually speak in complete sentences most of the time. The rest of us (myself included) will let our thoughts trail off, or we’ll get five or six words into a sentence before deciding, “No, I don’t want to say it that way; I’ll say it this way instead,” and we’ll just start a new sentence right then and there.

Or we’ll add in these little verbal tics that really mean nothing except that we’re thinking, except sometimes we use the same words as those verbal tics but this time they have meaning. Think about the person that says “like” all the time. 90% of the time, those “likes” mean absolutely nothing, but it’s important for the transcriber to be able to recognize the 10% that actually do convey meaning.

So, here’s a list of what I think are the four most important skills for a transcriber.

1) Attention to detail. A transcriber must be constantly re-reading as they’re typing to make sure they didn’t miss anything. It’s very easy to leave out a small word or even one letter that completely changes to meaning of a sentence. Transcribers also need to do a lot of research to make sure they understand the topic of the conversation they’re transcribing, which brings me to my next point.

2) Google skills. Like most modern workers, a good transcriber needs to be an experienced Googler. This is especially important for the more technical side of transcription. If you’re doing medical transcription, you better spell that drug name or disease name correctly, and with the correct nomenclature regarding capitalization, numerals, et cetera. Same goes for legal transcription.

3) Grammar skills. Obviously a transcriptionist must have good grammar, especially since they’ll have to render people’s often atrocious spoken grammar. As I’ve said, people don’t speak with anything resembling good grammar, but we also have a lot of trouble reading something that isn't grammatically clear, so the transcriptionist must strike that balance. Like a great artist, we must know the rules so well that we can break them in understandable ways. Basically if you’re a transcriptionist, you better be a reader, too. Personally, my shining mental example for grammar is, “How would this read in The New Yorker?” Pretentious, I know, but it works for me.

4) Typing. Well, yeah, we have to be able to type fast. This is honestly so much less important than the previous skills listed. I’d much rather have a transcriber that types 70 words per minute but is excellent in the above areas than someone who types 120 WPM but is constantly misspelling things, missing words, and misusing commas. Besides, it’s pretty easy to learn to type fast; the other things are more “soft” skills that really can’t be taught all that effectively.

Thanks for reading,

-Paul Rogers

#transcriber #transcriptionist

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