One of the most frequent enquiries I receive in my practice is for transcription services - digital, microtape, standard tape - not just from potential clients but from new VAs wanting to ‘get in on’ what seems to be a burgeoning niche in the Virtual Assistant industry. So, here are a few tips and facts to help clients understand the costs of providing transcription services, and ‘newbies’ who want to add this service to their practice.

A: Transcriptionist -v- Typist

There are varying typing speeds, varying levels of expertise - both with WP software and with PC-based player software - and as a result, varying charge out rates. If you are a client looking for transcription services who cares about the resulting product without having to do too much post-transcription checking, you need to find a professional service. The skills of a transcriptionist vary from a typist. According to the Industry Production Standards (IPS) Guide:

“Tape transcription is a specialised service, very different from general text keyboarding [which] relies on visual processing and can be measured as words or characters per minute; then corrected for accuracy. Transcriptionists however, must rely on aural processing, and the rhythm of the work depends on the person doing the original recording. The keyboarding portion of the tape transcription process includes a certain amount of editing ‘on the fly’ by the transcriptionist - ie paragraphing, insertion of punctuation, capitalisation, correction of grammar (in non-verbatim transcripts) and sometimes aural identification of speakers”.

So what should you look for when assessing candidates?

1. Someone with at least 2-3 years of business, office or secretarial experience;
2. Keyboarding speed of around 70 words per minute (wpm);
3. Good language/grammar skills;
4. The software skills to handle the project;


5. Someone with a minimum of 2-3 years basic transcription experience;
6. Mastery of advanced language skills, including grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure;
7. Exceptional level of accuracy;
8. Excellent independent judgment and decision making skills;
9. Superior on-screen proofreading and editing abilities;
10. Ability to recognise errors and inconsistencies in dictated material while transcribing;
11. Proficiency in clarification of dictation without altering meaning or style;
12. Hearing acuity and language discrimination skills, including familiarity with and understanding of accents and dialects, and recognition of voice inflections within a document.

These are the identified requirements of a professional transcriptionist. If you do not partner with an operator with this skill set then you can be sure that not only will transcription time be longer, but your post-transcription proofing and editing of the document will defeat the purpose of outsourcing the job in the first place.

B: Transcription Time Determinants

Understand that transcription time is determined by the quality of the audio - any noise, accents, multiple speakers, poor tape quality, or poorly positioned recording device, will increase transcription time. If you have an hour of audio it is NOT going to take an hour to transcribe - even for someone with a typing speed of 120wpm. Conversational English is in the vicinity of 200 to 250wpm - add to that relistening to identify speakers in multiple-speaker audios or any undue background noise and things start to slow down.

The IPS place transcription time for a straightforward, single person, clear audio file (think, dictating a letter) (Class 1) at 1:3-5 - ie for very minute of recorded audio it will take approximately 3-5 minutes to transcribe. This means an hour of audio will take approximately 3-5 hours to transcribe. The range covers things like complexity of the recording, whether it contains jargon or technical language, if the speaker has an accent, and whether there is any looking up of addresses, internet searching and so on. This range goes up to 4.8 to 8 hours for a Class 5 file.

Clients can decrease the amount of the final invoice by ensuring that their audio files are recorded in the best possible circumstances: better quality = less time to transcribe.

©Lyn Prowse-Bishop

Author's Bio: 

Award-winning virtual assistant, Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA ASO CAVB PVAA is owner/manager of Executive Stress Office Support (eSOS), specialising in medico-legal digital transcription, virtual author support and executive personal assistant services for clients around the world.

One of Queensland’s most respected and well known virtual assistants, Lyn is also founder of the Australian Virtual Business Network, serves as Australian representative on international committees looking at standards and certification for the VA industry, and is a foundation steering committee member of the annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention. She hosts Australia’s first internet radio show/podcast for the VA industry – Virtual Business Show – and is Queensland representative on the Board of Independent Contractors Australia.

How can you spend less time in the office and more enjoying life? Visit her site or email to find out.