Office Support 911

August 26, 2014

Being a Successful General Transcriptionist: It’s All About Context

Filed under: Uncategorized — officesupport911 @ 3:07 pm

Office Support 911

Intelligent Transcription?What defines an excellent general transcriptionist and places them above the rest? Is it their typing speed, their accuracy, their ability to “hear” things in the correct way?

Yes to all of the above, but most important, it’s their ability to transcribe within the appropriate context.

Any top-notch transcriptionist will attest that they often need to rely on overall context to make sense of the words they’re typing. A single word may sound like gibberish on its own, but in the big scheme of things, it can make perfect sense. A savvy transcriptionist will make that distinction and often will do Internet research as needed to clarify their understanding of the big picture.

The innate skills required to be this type of stellar transcriptionist go far beyond simply differentiating between words such as “they’re” and “their.” It’s not about Grammar 101. It’s about those advanced skills … and a lot harder to learn.

The secret? Common sense, intelligence, and…

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March 26, 2012

5 Tips for Transcribing Lousy Audio without Losing Your Sanity

Filed under: transcription — officesupport911 @ 6:48 pm

Have you ever worked on a 15-minute transcript that took you the better part of the morning, three coffees, and two Advil – but you were still no further ahead?

Did you feel like banging your head on your desktop just one more time for good measure?

Ah, yes, that lousy audio can get you every time … unless you figure out a way to not let it beat you … or at least not drive you to that bottle of Jack Daniels.

Less than ideal audio, we’re all familiar with it, right? If it’s a focus group, the person who is speaking appears to sound as if he or she is in the next room – with the door shut! Or there is simply so much cross-talking going on, you’re lucky if you can make out every third word. Or based on the roaring background noise, you’d swear everyone was sitting in the back of an open pickup truck while racing down the highway at top speed.

You may find yourself actually leaning closer to your computer monitor, straining to hear better – as if that could make any difference at all!

Those are all audio nightmares that every transcriptionist has to deal with from time to time. It’s a fact of life that we have to take the good with the bad in this business. No one ever gets a “get out of jail free” card on this one. Even our best clients are going to give us less than perfect audio on occasion or even downright horrible audio. We usually have to roll with these punches, though.

Without question, trying to transcribe poor audio can be a real time sucker, thus having a dramatic negative effect on your bottom line. What should have taken you one hour has now extended to two, and you’re still not done yet. It’s hard not to lose money that way. It’s also frustrating and somewhat demoralizing when your best efforts don’t seem to be getting you anywhere.

Okay, so how do you get through really poor audio without losing your mind (and all of your revenue)?

Well, you have two options: (1) refuse it or (2) accept it with conditions.

If you accept the audio, here are 5 tips to weather the experience with more than a few of your marbles still intact:

 1. Immediately give the audio a good listen in many different spots, not just a few here and there. Do this as soon as you receive the file from the client, even if you’re not planning on starting the project right away. If you don’t, you may discover too late that what you thought would be a three-hour job will now take you all night just to meet your deadline. Listen to the audio immediately.

Don’t just do a spot check on a few areas or you may find that once you settle into typing it, you’ve actually missed most of the worst areas. Listen to quite a few areas until you are satisfied it’s something you want to take on. And let your client know! You may want to extend the turnaround time or even charge more. It’s up to you. But always, always listen first and then give your client a heads-up.

 2. When you can see the audio is going to be a real challenge, time stamp the rough spots and just keep moving forward. Don’t spend 15 minutes on one word. Highlight it and continue. Chances are good that the same word or term will come up again later in the recording, or you’ll have a lot more context around it, so it may suddenly make sense. If you continue to struggle with that one spot, however, not only have you remained stuck, but your frustration level is also going to skyrocket when you see you’re still on the 5-minute mark.

 3. Don’t be afraid to ask the client for supporting materials like handouts, worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, or anything else that pertains to that audio. Your client will love you for it if it means you’ll do a better job on the transcript! Especially when it comes to unfamiliar or highly technical subject matter, just getting the gist of the overall concept of the discussion or presentation can help enormously.

 4. Use TheRecord Player for proofreading and re-listening to the rough spots. I could not live without this clever piece of software, free to download at It’s not a transcription tool per se, but you can load your audio into it and listen to the parts you’re not quite sure about. With the ability to slow down the speed without any loss of quality and the significant decrease in background noise, I have used this software many times when I’ve been in trouble. It’s absolutely worth looking into. It can sit right on top of your Word document. I’ll bet you two Tylenol that it will help!

 5. If the client says, “Just do the best you can,” then do just that. Most transcriptionists are also perfectionists and take great pride in a job well done. Yes, it’s satisfying to figure out a mumbled word or decipher an unfamiliar term, but if that means spending most of the day doing it, the satisfaction is simply not worth the frustration and significant loss of time and revenue. Provided you have the best equipment possible (headset and transcription software) and you’re normally spot on with your transcripts, an occasional “mess” is not going to ruin your career. We don’t have super-human hearing and we’re not mind readers. We simply cannot type what we can’t hear.

Do you have any tips, tricks, or sanity savers you’d like to share with your fellow transcriptionists? Feel free to post them in the comments section.

To your transcribing success, 


August 30, 2010

Being a Successful General Transcriptionist: It’s All About Context

Intelligent Transcription?What defines an excellent general transcriptionist and places them above the rest? Is it their typing speed, their accuracy, their ability to “hear” things in the correct way?

Yes to all of the above, but most important, it’s their ability to transcribe within the appropriate context.

Any top-notch transcriptionist will attest that they often need to rely on overall context to make sense of the words they’re typing. A single word may sound like gibberish on its own, but in the big scheme of things, it can make perfect sense. A savvy transcriptionist will make that distinction and often will do Internet research as needed to clarify their understanding of the big picture.


The innate skills required to be this type of stellar transcriptionist go far beyond simply differentiating between words such as “they’re” and “their.” It’s not about Grammar 101. It’s about those advanced skills … and a lot harder to learn.

The secret? Common sense, intelligence, and patience.

Anyone with good grammar skills and a solid grasp of whatever language they’re typing in can become an excellent general transcriptionist provided they make a concerted effort to understand the overall context of the sentence, paragraph and/or document they’re typing.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s not ‘cookie cutter’ transcription either.

Picture this. You’re sitting in front of your computer, headset on and audio/video loaded. You’re raring to go, but then you are bemused by an unfamiliar term or a word the speaker says that doesn’t seem to make sense. What should you do?

Time Stamp What You Don’t Understand and Move On

In cases like these, you can put a quick time stamp on the word or phrase (even highlight it in yellow if you have to) and then continue on with the rest of the transcript. Don’t waste precious minutes agonizing over it right away. Chances are that later on in the recording you will find your answer in something else the speaker says. Especially in one-on-one interviews or teleseminars, once you become familiar with their subject matter, you will probably soon figure out what that one indiscernible word or phrase really was. You’ll get that “aha” moment and be able to fill in the appropriate word after your final proofing.

Keep Your Internet Search Engine Handy ALWAYS

Always have Google or some other Internet search engine running in the background while you are transcribing. With today’s ever-changing technology, today’s “BlackBerry” may become tomorrow’s “Palm Print,” if it hasn’t already. An excellent general transcriptionist will keep up with the latest technologies and be prepared to transcribe accordingly. If you’re not up on the latest and greatest in your client’s field (both in acronyms and phraseology), the words you type may not accurately reflect what they intend to say to their audience. and your client will have to proofread, edit, and generally spend a whole lot of time correcting the errors made in your transcript. If you’re not sure of what they’re talking about, don’t hesitate to ask your client for handouts, etc. Most will be more than willing to do so.

Context is KING and QUEEN!

Context is one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of producing a truly accurate transcript… a transcript that your clients won’t have to spend their own precious time editing later on. Your clients are relying on you to make that very important distinction between words that make sense and those that don’t, regardless of whether or not you heard them clearly.  If you can do that, you’re going to be a transcriptionist they’ll want to keep for a very long time.  Just make sure that you charge accordingly!

August 3, 2010

General Transcription: Effective Proofreading

By Guertin ~ The Go-To Writer

If there’s one thing I find I spend a lot of time on, it’s proofreading. This is especially true when it comes to transcription. If there is one thing I hate to see on a page when I’m working on transcripts, it’s those [inaudible]s and timestamps. I don’t like to see them when I’m working, and I certainly don’t like to have them there when I send my documents back to be officially proofread.

What I used to do – and for some reason I don’t think I’m alone here – is get totally hung up on figuring out what the word or phrase was before I would go on. Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. Then I’d start talking to myself of course. “Come on now, it can’t be that hard. You should be able to get this.” Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play.

All of a sudden I’d have people peeking into my office asking if everything was okay. Apparently I have been mumbling at my computer – aloud no less – and my children are starting to wonder if they should be calling Dad. Mom definitely needs some sort of mental help or something.

It’s quite easy to waste 20 minutes or more trying to figure things out this way. When you don’t know the speaker you’re translating or what’s coming next, it’s often very frustrating. Two or three of these [inaudible] monsters in the same document can not only drive me a little nuts, but they can also make my transcription time run way over what it could be. Time is money folks, and you’re not making much of it when you’re holding yourself back from head-butting your monitor or screaming at your speakers.

In comes Mentor of the Year. She sees what’s happening and asks me a question. “How do you do your proofreading?” Now, I’m quite perplexed by this question. I’m not THAT new at this you know.

Well, this woman is a genius. Effective proofreading 101 – she should write a book. Until she does, here’s a fantastic tidbit of information that might help keep you sane a little while longer. Let me tell you there’s no need to fear the [inaudible] monster anymore.

When transcribing and you hit that area you’re not sure of, I do recommend you try to figure it out, but only twice or three times. No more than one or two minutes should be spent here at this point. After that, by all means use the [inaudible] with a timestamp and keep going. Chances are you’ll either hear something further into your audio or video that’s going to make your [inaudible] all of a sudden make sense, simply because the typical speaker will repeat the same information at one point or another in their dialogue.

If they don’t repeat the same thing, they may say something else which makes the entire grey area turn into a crystal clear thought or sentence. Finally, by hearing the entire audio or video you’re transcribing, things may ‘click’ better when you do your own proof of your document before sending it on.

By continuing with your transcription instead of beating your head on the corner of your desk to get through that small section of troublesome audio, you’re not only saving yourself time but a boatload of headaches as well. Tempted as you may be to sit there and work at it until you figure it out, move on and listen to it with ‘fresh ears’ afterwards. You’ll notice, I’m sure, a big change in the amount of frustration as well as time spent.

Happy transcribing!

Guertin ~ The Go-To Writer
Guertin Go-To

April 13, 2010

General Transcription: Creating a Reader-Friendly Document

If you are a general transcriptionist, what do your clients expect from you?

Many of our clients use their transcripts as standalone documents, i.e., training manuals, as part of their product. This is particularly important for companies who offer online audio/video programs where transcripts are bundled into the final package offered to their students.

Sometimes this may pose a challenge to the general transcriptionist because while their transcript is perfect in the sense of accuracy of the spoken word, it may not be perfect in the sense of readability.

There is usually an agreement between the transcriptionist and the speaker as to how the final transcript is to be offered as a paid product. The transcriptionist is normally expected to edit for clarity, reduce repetitions and make the speaker sound as intelligent as possible, without losing the speaker’s personality or the use of excessive paraphrasing.

Here are a few tips:

  • Chunk up your paragraphs as much as possible. Six to eight lines is much easier to digest than 14 to 18 lines. Having said that, if it’s not possible to reduce the paragraph to such an extreme degree, never try to break up a single, logical thought. It’s okay to have longer paragraphs when necessary.

  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. If what you just typed doesn’t make sense to you, it likely won’t make sense to the reader either. Listen again. If you still don’t get it, don’t just type in any old thing… mark it as [inaudible] with the time stamp, of course, so the speaker can fill in the blanks as to what they had originally said.

  • When you are given a template, use it to its full advantage. Make sure you maintain the proper font, paragraph spacing, line spacing, etc. according to the instructions you were given.

  • Use your common sense. As you listen to the speaker(s), make sure you understand the essence of what they are saying. When you do your final proofread (which you should always do, by the way) sometimes you may need to proofread to your own audio as well.

    It doesn’t really matter whether you can type 40 words per minute, 60 words per minute or 90 words per minute. Your success as a general transcriptionist and your ability to turn an audio/video into a reader-friendly document depends more on your listening ability and your comprehension skills than it does on your typing speed.

    Typing 100 words per minute, while impressive, doesn’t really mean much if the reader can’t grasp the overall gist of the content or you can’t portray the main points in your transcript.

    As always, I invite your comments and suggestions.


  • March 23, 2010

    What Are Your Most Burning Questions About Becoming A Successful Virtual Assistant?

    I am gearing up to speak at the International Association of Adminstrative Professionals (IAAP) in June and I want to make sure I address everyone’s most burning questions about becoming a successful virtual assistant.

    First, we have to define our version of ‘success’. For some, it might mean providing a part-time supplemental income for their family. For others, it might mean making a huge leap into the virtual world and relying on it to become their only source of income.

    The term ‘virtual assistant’ (VA) can be easily interchanged with ‘freelancer’ and ‘independent contractor’ on the web. While many VAs provide administrative services such as day-to-day calendar management, customer service, transcription, proofreading, editing, ghostwriting, etc., a lot of others provide web design, shopping cart administration, copywriting, graphic design, web hosting, social media administration and so on.

    The possibilities are truly endless given today’s technology. At the same time, the competition can be pretty fierce. Folks are not only competing on their home turf, they are now competing on a global level. The same opportunities are wide open to everyone.

    Now that the internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) have opened up numerous possibilities for every freelancer and independent contractor on the planet, websites like Elance, Guru, JobShark, Monster, etc., have flourished. The playing field is no longer limited to one’s own backyard. The playing field has become much more competitive – there is always someone out there who can offer more for less.

    In my four years of building my VA business, I have seen a lot of VAs come and go. Either they weren’t prepared for the competition or they decided that being their own boss wasn’t for them. Perhaps they didn’t make enough money, weren’t charging enough money, or were undersold for the services they offered. Freelancing isn’t for everyone.

    At the same time, I know copywriters, speechwriters and white paper writers who have excelled online. I know virtual assistants who have excelled online as well. Tawnya Sutherland of Virtual Assistant Networking ( is one. Kathie Thomas, THE Blog About Our Industry ( is another. Elayne Whitfield and Janice Byer of the Canadian Virtual Assistant Connection ( are others, just to name a few.

    Their secret? One of their most basics secrets is they just stuck to it. Their clients told two friends, those clients told two friends, and so on.

    Success as a virtual assistance is hard to judge in the first few years. It might take another year before you think to yourself, “I could make a living at this.”

    Please email me offline or comment on this blog post with your burning questions about becoming a VA. If I don’t know the answer, I will refer to the experts to get it to you.

    I appreciate your help. Thank you!


    January 19, 2010

    Becoming a Successful Virtual Assistant – Step 1 – Basic Research

    There are no magic bullets when it comes to becoming a successful virtual assistant (VA). It takes a lot of hard work and patience in the beginning. At times, you may feel virtually ‘invisible’. Don’t despair. Over time, your business will flourish if you persist.

    Today’s topic is research.

    Before you even give a second thought to becoming a virtual assistant, you must do your research. You have to determine whether there is a strong market for your services. If so, then you have to determine which of your talents stand out better from the rest.

    An easy way to do research is to Google certain key phrases such as “virtual assistant”, “web designer”, “transcriptionst” or “freelance writer”, for example. This will give you a feel for what the search engines are favoring and how much competition is out there.

    You can also join excellent organizations for free, such as The Virtual Assistant Networking Association (VANA), the Canadian Virtual Assistant Connection (CVAC) or The Canadian Virtual Assistant Network (CVAN).

    No matter where you are located, there is a network of fellow VAs to welcome you, support you in your quest to become a successful VA and point you in the right direction. As you delve further into the VA world, you will find out how important these connections with your peers are. Chances are, if you have a question, the same question has been asked time and time again and has also been answered by some very wise veterans in this industry.

    Research is also important in determining whether your own skills are as up-to-date as possible in your chosen field. If your passion is preparing PowerPoint presentations, for example, then make sure you are also aware of the latest and greatest applications such as SlideShare, an application that allows one to share PowerPoint presentations in social networking sites.

    If your strongest skills and interests are in transcription, do you also have the software to transcribe videos? Do you have a way to upload/download extremely large digital files via your computer?

    If you are offering customer support or telemarketing, do you have the set-up to do so? It’s fine to say, “Sure, I can do that for you,” but if your long distance bill becomes sky high or you don’t have a way to access your clients’ email system even on the most basic level, you need to do more research in this area.

    Yes, you can do things on the fly, but is that the foundation on which you want to build your business? The time you spend now on research will save you a lot of time and money and frustration in the long run.

    No matter what service you are offering to your potential clients as a virtual assistant, a certain amount of research is required to determine:

    • The market’s demand for your skills
    • What you want to specialize in and brand yourself as
    • Whether you can offer your chosen services with the resources you already have or whether you need to upgrade and/or further your education in those areas

    This is the bare bones of it. There’s absolutely no way around the research part of becoming a successful VA.

    This is just a preliminary introduction to starting a successful VA business. I realize it is skeletal. That’s because I want you to start from the very beginning, absolutely from scratch. I want you to build your business from the ground up based on the essentials before you jump into all the logistics like business registrations, taxes, websites, etc.

    I want you to really think about this from the most basic level:

    1. Do you have skills that you are passionate about and will love performing as a virtual assistant over the long-term?
    2.  Are you prepared (or can you afford) to be patient while you are doing your research even while the bills may be piling up?
    3. Are you committed to creating a real business and taking it to the next level when that growth is required?
    4. Is this just a temporary thing for you? If so, then don’t commit to becoming a virtual assistant because it’s definitely not just a way to earn extra cash while you’re between jobs. That would make you a ‘temp’, not a VA.

    Becoming a successful VA means that you are absolutely committed over the long-term. It is an industry of professionals committed to offering their skills and services as independent contractors, not temporary employees. This requires a serious effort to research their target audience and become what their clients need them to be.

    Much more in later posts… thanks for reading!

    As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

    Until next time,


    January 9, 2010

    Yes, Virginia/Virgil, You Can Become a Virtual Assistant!

    A virtual assistant (VA) is someone who works from their home office, doing essentially the same things they would be doing at a client’s site. The difference is that they are not employees or telecommuters. They are small business owners hired as independent contractors.

    Being a virtual assistant can be one of the most rewarding and lucrative careers you’ll ever have. Even if you’ve spent all of your previous working life in a corporate brick-and-mortar environment, there’s nothing like being your own boss.

    Almost any experience or skill that you’ve learned can be well-utilized in the “virtual” world. Whether you have awesome administrative ability, amazing Word, Excel or PowerPoint knowledge, or simply an excellent command of the English language and a good grasp of grammar, your services can be effectively sold as a service over the internet.

    There are so many clients that need your expertise and standard of excellence.

    Almost every week, I receive inquiries from aspiring VAs. Invariably, they ask the very same questions that I asked in my early days. “How do I start? How do I get clients? What basic equipment do I need?” and so on.

    Stay tuned. In later posts, I will share what worked for me and what didn’t. While I’m not the final word on how to become a successful virtual assistant, as an introduction, I want to share a bit about my own journey into this exciting and lucrative field. I hope some of you will explore this opportunity as well. You can do it!


    January 3, 2010

    New to Transcription? Join Transcription Essentials

    Filed under: transcription — officesupport911 @ 5:05 pm
    Tags: , , , , , , ,

    If you are a budding transcriptionist and want a free resource that pretty much covers most of your questions and needs, I would highly recommend joining the Transcription Essentials forum.

    Whether you are a legal, medical or general transcriptionist, you will no doubt find a lot of value in this forum. Here is the gist of their main page:


    Transcription Essentials is a community of transcription professionals who pride themselves on their commitment to excellence.

    Whether you specialize in medical, legal or general, you will find valuable, relevant information that is useful regardless of your skill level. Register today to find out why we are the most comprehensive transcription resource on the web!

    Plus, we have a great sense of humor! 

    To be honest with you, I wish I had known about this forum before I embarked into the transcription world. In addition to the great support from your peers that you will receive here, you will also be alerted to numerous transcription opportunities posted by the forum owners as well as their subscribers.  

    Every topic under the sun with regard to transcription is discussed in this forum. In fact, sometimes when I am stuck on something with regard to grammar, I check this forum first. More times than not, I am directed toward the right answer.

    Overall, Transcription Essentials provides an all-in-one resource for folks who are already in the transcription world or are just now considering it as an option. If you have a question, your response will receive many qualified answers… I guarantee you that.

    The most important thing with regard to this forum, I think, is that it provides a great starting off point for newbie transcriptionists, but at the same time, still provides ongoing support for the more seasoned veterans.

    In my mind, if you are a transcriptionist, this forum should definitely be on your list of ‘must-haves’.

    As always, I appreciate your questions and comments. Please feel free to share them with me and our fellow readers.


    December 27, 2009

    General Transcription – It’s Not All About Your Typing Speed

    Recently, I was recruiting some new transcriptionists to add to my team and I noticed that many candidates indicated their accurate typing speed as 70 wpm, 80 wpm and even 90 wpm and beyond.

    While I appreciate one’s ability to type accurately at the speed of light, what is more important to me is the ability to really listen and comprehend what the speaker wants to convey in their message. At the end of the day, as a proofreader of the final piece, I need to ensure that it flows and makes sense.

    Needless to say, I didn’t hire any folks solely based on their typing speed. That was not the most important skill to me in terms of finding the best candidates. In fact, that skill fell far behind others such as:

    • The ability to comprehend the gist of the message
    • The willingness to re-listen to the passage if what they just typed didn’t make sense even if it was spoken aloud
    • The down-to-earth common sense to get into the speaker’s head and truly understand what they meant to say

    The above skills are not something that can be taught overnight, but they can be taught if one is willing to learn. It may take a few extra moments to make sense of what one just typed, but it’s well worth the effort… both to you and your client.

    If you are not typing a verbatim transcript and you recognize that your speaker has made an obvious blunder within the context of their presentation, fix it.  If they meant to say ‘black’ but they instead said ‘white’ accidentally and you are certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they meant ‘black’, it’s okay to fix it within reason. If the content of their presentation is to later be shared with others and they just happened to have had a verbal ‘hiccup’, it’s okay to fix it. Just make sure to never paraphrase or change the speaker’s personality.

    Many transcripts that are provided as part of a course, teleseminar or webinar are provided to the presenter’s students, members, paid subscribers or participants as a PDF file which they will later save to their computer, print out or view online. A good transcriptionist will always keep this in mind and ensure that everything within that transcript makes sense.

    A good general transcriptionist will have common sense and a keen ability to listen to more than just the spoken word and the wisdom to decipher between when to edit and not to edit based on context, the overall purpose of the document, its longevity and what the client expects, and a sincere desire to keep true to the intended message of the speaker.

    Typing 90 words per minute… Well,  “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” Duke Ellington as sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

    As always, I invite your comments and questions. I would take a 40-word-per-minute (40 wpm) typist any day if they had the above skills to begin with. Typing speed comes with practice. The rest, the really important common sense stuff, well, that is something that you can either teach someone or you can’t… you’re sure to find out pretty quickly.  


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