How To Speed Up Your Transcription Turnaround Time (TAT)

Turnaround time (TAT) is a big deal for transcriptionists. The more you can increase your transcription speed, the more you can make as a freelance transcriptionist. Quick turnaround times also make you more attractive to employers and clients.

But, how can you work faster?

One of the more common myths about transcription turnaround times is that typing speed is the biggest factor in how fast you transcribe. Sure, being a hunt and peck typist isn’t going to help you. And it seems logical to say that a speedy typist should automatically be capable of a shorter transcription TAT.

But it’s not the case.

Why?

Because most online transcription jobs require far more than just typing. They also involve listening, research, comprehension, mind reading (wait, was that my outside voice?) and the ability to handle all of those things at once without missing a beat.

According to OBCAI’s Industry Production Standards Guide, a standard transcription time estimate is anywhere from three to eight times the length of the recording, depending on various factors.

So, let’s take a look at six real factors that might affect your transcription job turnaround speed. First, we’ll touch on factors that are important to understand, but outside your control. Then we’ll look at what you can actually do to improve your transcript turnaround time.

 

6 turnaround time factors outside your control

1) The number of speakers

A one-speaker file is generally easier to transcribe than one with many participants. Having said that, there are always exceptions. For instance, if someone is speaking fast, has a heavy accent and is discussing highly technical terminology, you’ll spend longer transcribing the document.

2) The audio quality

Obviously, subpar audio quality requires continual rewinding and re-listening to understand what is being said. The better the audio quality, the better shot you’ll have at a shorter transcription turnaround time.

3) How fast the speakers are talking

This is another one of those factors that’s outside your control that you might not have considered. You can’t control how quickly people speak. Consider the difference between a slow, clear speaker who takes long pauses versus an auctioneer. Guess which one will be faster for you to transcribe?

And fast isn’t always better. Consider the case of Coach Bobby Bowden who has been called “the toughest man to transcribe in all of sports.” He speaks at 350 words per minute. Yikes!

4) The time it takes to proof a transcript

Checking for accuracy is a must. Many transcriptionists proof as they go and then do a final once-over to catch anything they might have missed.

Others proof to audio, meaning they listen through an entire file a second (or third) time while looking over their completed transcript to weed out any remaining errors.

Either way, proofing takes time and has to be figured into your overall turnaround ratio.

And make sure your headphones aren’t making proofing more difficult than necessary. If you’re straining to hear too often, check out our recent post on some of the best headphones for freelance transcriptionists.

5) The amount of research required

No matter what type of transcription job you have, some degree of research will always be necessary.

If you’re working with highly technical material and have to stop every other word to look up unfamiliar terminology, that 10-minute file might well take you over an hour to complete—regardless of your experience.

Familiarity is the key to efficiency, so if you run into many of the same terms and phrases repeatedly in your online transcription job (as is often the case with insurance transcription), consider yourself lucky. You’ll be in an excellent position to create shortcuts and enhance your productivity.

6) The transcription style

Think about the different types of transcription styles out there—clean-read verbatim versus verbatim versus non-verbatim…and the list goes on.

It might seem that having to capture every utterance or sound would be more time consuming than being able to breeze along and leave those things out of the transcript. But, that’s not always the case. Creating a clean-read transcript from audio that is chock-full of false starts and tangents can be arduous as well, creating a drag on your transcript turnaround time.

Yes, there are many factors in your transcription job that are simply outside your control when you receive an audio file, but the good news is that there ARE steps you can take to improve your turnaround time.

 

3 Ways to speed up your turnaround time

1) Use transcription productivity tools to increase your output

One of the simplest ways to improve at your online transcription job is by utilizing Word’s AutoCorrect or Macro features. Word expander software such as Instant Text or Shorthand can also greatly increase your productivity and reduce your turnaround time. And a foot pedal is a must-have.

2) Practice with dialects and accents

There are many dialects and accents out there. If you’re not personally familiar with them, it’s hard to know if you’re hearing what you think you’re hearing. Ear training comes with practice. But, in the meantime, it can slow you down.

The International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) website has an extensive, freely-accessible database of audio and corresponding transcripts, covering English-language dialects and accents as heard around the world. Here you’ll find a huge inventory of audio categorized by a person’s original language. You can listen to the speaker audio while viewing the transcribed text. Practicing here can help you improve your ear—and your transcript turnaround time.

3) Improve your office ergonomics

Your neck and shoulders ache, you have an eyestrain migraine, and your wrists zing every time you strike a key on that keyboard. Needless to say, if your setup isn’t ergonomically sound and you’re feeling discomfort, you might find it hard to be productive and efficient.

If you’re interested in making ergonomic improvements to your workspace setup, check out our post about transcriptionist ergonomics for work-from-home transcriptionists.

One more bonus tip—don’t give up!

When I was first starting out as a transcriptionist, I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful professional mentor whose wise words I’ve never forgotten. I experienced a very rough first day at my transcription job in which my turnaround time was way too embarrassing to divulge here.

I felt like I was never going to be able to do this transcription thing!

She told me that even very experienced transcriptionists, when faced with a new job, account, or type of transcription, felt just like I did that day—as if they’re starting all over. She explained that it came with the territory, that the speed and efficiency would come with familiarity and time, and that there would always be days like this. But there would also be much, much better days.

In that moment, instead of feeling inadequate and awful, I felt hopeful. She was right. And her advice still holds true to this day.

 

So, what TAT should you aim for?

Shoot for a 4:1 or 3:1 transcript turnaround time

There is no hard and fast rule for how long any given unit of audio will take a transcriptionist to complete. Many transcriptionists, myself included, shoot for a 4:1 or 3:1 TAT, finishing an hour of audio in three to four hours. But that’s an average—sometimes you’ll have files you can complete in less time, and sometimes, you’ll just have one of those days. Just remember, the more experience you gain, the more efficient you’ll become overall.

So let’s hear from you now. What’s your average transcript turnaround time?

 

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15 Comments

  1. Thank you! I’ve been transcribing for very technical electrical engineers. Being married to one for thirty one years definitely made it easy for me. When faced with a speaker that was you know, um, like, um, you know, speaks so differently, through me for a loop. I’m now learning more everyday! Thanks for your help!

    Reply
  2. I’m new to transcription work (as of last summer), and I basically started with no help. Your blog is fantastic though and a great help! I do sermon transcriptions and I’ve gotten my turnaround time right in the middle of the 3:1 to 4:1, depending on how many Bible verses I have to look up and the clarity of the speaker. One of my favorite pastors has a New Orleans accent that throws me for a loop now and then!

    Reply
    1. Liz – I want to eventually transcribe sermons too. The organizations that do that are very strict. I have to know my bible well and be able to do research. I just got signed up with Morling College, Australia, bible classes. Boy, college has sure gotten a lot harder and more complicated from over 20 years ago. I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into, but it should improve my understanding a whole lot. It has been a desire of my heart to transcribe for over 20 years, and it is a burning desire to do sermon transcription. So I believe it will be worth it. Where did you get the idea to start sermon transcription and how did you get into it? I sure could use some ideas. -Anita- p.s. I am taking an online transcription course, so I am a true newbie. When I get my certification, then I will look for work.

      Reply
  3. When I first started transcribing, my turn around time was horrible. I did not have a foot pedal and I knew nothing about autocorrect. Once I started using auto correct, my turn around time increased dramatically. Word’s autocorrect is a lifesaver.

    Reply
  4. What a great article. I can’t thank you enough for bringing to light the lie that typing speed is what’s most important. I get so tired of people thinking we’re just typists or that typing fast is all that matters!

    It is so refreshing to learn that everybody deals with all these various adjustments. I would have actually paid money for this article 10+ years ago when I was first starting out in this industry and didn’t know any of these things. I used to agonize and worry that it was just me. That mind reading comment/joke is spot on too!

    Reply
  5. Hi, I am very interested in learning to do this. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and can not work out in the field and I am looking for something to do at home. I also have a difficult time sleeping. I feel that this would help me. I have always wanted to learn how to do this and ran across this site and started reading. I am so excited and would definitely like to give this a try.

    Reply
    1. Hi Katie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Sorry to hear about your arthritis. Transcribing can certainly be a great work-from-home option.

      Reply
    2. Katie – Sorry to hear about your arthritis too. I know, with any arthritis, they tell you to exercise to have better mobility and to reduce the pain, but that is hard to do when you are hurting. Hope the transcription work will help. Plus you can make some money. I understand not sleeping. I quit sleeping when I turned 40 because of hot flashes and night sweats. For 20 years. I was finally starting to lose memory and it was affecting my job at the post office. I finally got desperate and went to the doctor. I advised I had this issue, plus restless leg syndrome, and diabetes. They got me on gabapentin. It helps with all those issues. I am finally sleeping and my mind is finally improving too. If we want to keep on working, we have to have sleep! Hope you start getting some sleep.

      Reply
  6. I am a newbie. I just started transcribing for another online company about two weeks ago. I am learning a lot and grateful for the opportunity, since I had absolutely no experience as a transcriber, unless you count being a secretary for the meetings in our office.

    In two weeks, I’ve gotten to a 6:1 TAT. I’m proud of that, but I am looking for ways to improve, which is what led me to you.

    I was encouraged that you believe typing speed is not the most crucial skill a transcriptionist can have. Frankly, I max out at around 65-70 wpm. I feel I make up for it by exhibiting an excruciating attention to detail, fierce researching skills, and a broad and eclectic vocabulary.

    Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to see how they improve my TAT.

    Reply
    1. Sorry to say, but that makes me feel better. There is hope for me yet! I will just keep on practicing my online course and will gradually get faster. Thanks for putting that out there. Those of us who are just starting and want to give up because we are so slow will know there are others like us. Keep up the good work. You will get faster!

      Reply
  7. Am yet to begin my transcription in Uganda was chosen to be a Team Leader but your blog has taught me a lot.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you

    Reply
  8. I started transcription in January of this year. In the beginning a 6 min file would take an hour and a half. I’ve got that down to 30 – 45 min with 98% accuracy, most of the time. I did my first hour long script the other day and it took 6 hours.
    I had been wanting a change for a long time and I love transcription Before I stated I typed around 56 women, now it’s 68.
    Not had a lot of encouragement for other but I know I can make a full time living.
    Bonus, I learn something interesting every day.

    Reply
  9. This article has been so helpful! I just started transciption, and it seems like I will never be fast enough to make it worthwhile. This article gives me hope and a goal to shoot for. Thanks!

    Reply
  10. I clearly remember my first transcription jobs taking me 8 hours for 25 audio minutes!! And remember thinking, whoever assumes transcribing is easy or to label us as “typist” were INSANE! Transcription requires very many skills, along with an extreme amount of patience and dedication! Even the fastest typists can, and will, fail amicably, if they can not hone in on their mind-reading abilities* (time-travelling comes in handy, as we all know.) Many who are great at spelling have poor grammar skills, or vise-versa.

    The great thing is that there are no tricks/hacks or “insider secrets” you need to obtain. Experience, is and will always be the BEST teacher here. So, do not be discouraged with slow TAT’s. Just try and not leave your wand at home!

    Reply
  11. I just accepted an assignment to transcribe someone’s book into written form. It has been years since I have done this and while I am a good and quick typist, this will be different. I am going to do a test to see how it goes for myself and the author. Any suggestions? I do not have a headset or foot peddle, so I will have to wing it with what I have. I work as a freelancer and am used to doing research and content writing and did not know this was an audio project until after I had been accepted for the job. I thought I would be transcribing from written notes. Is there any quick, cheap way to convert to text on line? I would have to pay for that , but it may be worth it.

    Reply
    1. Hi Vivian,

      Sounds like an interesting project. You can use various voice recognition software, but going back through and editing to clean up the copy can often take more time. It might be worth experimenting with transcribing from the audio versus using voice recognition software and then manually editing.

      Reply
  12. I could pretty much “ditto” Marisol in that I am a complete newbie as well (one week with another online company), with very little experience (save for a summer job in college that I can barely remember, let alone call valid experience 🙂 I especially appreciated her comments about “making up for [typing skills].” Although, I must say, I always thought 70 – 80 wpm was above average, so I don’t think you’re that far off at all in that regard, Marisol!

    I haven’t kept super close track of my TAT so far, but will definitely do so now, so I can look back and see “how far I’ve come” in the weeks ahead 🙂

    I’m excited to follow this Blog in my journey to become an outstanding transcriptionist!

    Reply
  13. OMG, I am so glad I found this site! I just started and SERIOUSLY wondered how people do this! I’m a pretty good typist, but my first job which was about 15 minutes took FOREVER!!!! I do not know my TAT (Just learned about that), but its nothing to brag about. I do know an it takes hours. I will have to keep track of my next job.

    I want to tackle longer projects like an hour, but I’m just too terrified that I will be at the computer for days! Now that I know about the foot pedal, I intend to invest in one.

    Is there a particular brand that most transcriptionists swear by?

    I am doing this to earn some extra money on the side. Is it possible to make a real living off of this?

    Reply
    1. Hi Lori,
      The Infinity USB-2 foot pedal is the most commonly used universal foot pedal. It takes determination and dedication to get there, but, yes, it is indeed possible to make a real living doing transcription. Good luck to you!

      Reply

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