How to Learn Dictation

Accurate transcription work requires a quality set of headphones and a good ear.
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Many professionals -- health care and legal especially -- employ transcriptionists to listen to their voice dictations and type them word-for-word into written reports. Though many in-office administrative support personnel might be expected to do transcriptions, the job is well-suited for an at-home professional who is looking to make a reasonable income as a remote contractor. There are a number of ways to learn the job and get a start working in dictation transcription.

Understand Types of Transcription

    Because transcription needs vary, the experience and transcription training required also vary. General transcription, for example, requires a strong grasp of English grammar, but since it involves transcribing general audio like market research studies or phone interviews, it typically doesn't require additional training. Academic transcription -- dictation provided by a student preparing a thesis or an educator delivering a lecture, for example -- might require someone with a degree or experience in the field of study. Similarly, both medical and legal transcription employ special terminology, requiring a transcriptionist who is familiar with the practices, abbreviations and expressions used.

Educate Yourself

    Though a bachelor's degree is rarely required, most companies and clients seeking transcriptionists will appreciate a background in English or a grammar-related field. For medical transcription, a medical terminology certificate will likely be required. Legal transcriptionists and court reporters typically have to attain similar training in legal terminology or paralegal studies. Most community colleges and technical institutes offer certificate programs, though it is common to find similar distance-learning opportunities online.

Invest in Quality Equipment

    Appropriate equipment will likely be provided for you if you work in an office, but if you are an at-home transcriptionist you will need to invest in your own. A high-quality set of headphones is a must, as is a computer with a reliable data connection, since most audio files are delivered by email or streamed over the Internet. For speedier transcription, purchase specialty foot pedals, which relay commands you make with your feet -- "Play" or "Rewind," for example -- to the program playing the dictation recording.

Improve Your Typing Proficiency

    Transcription work is production-based, which means the more lines you produce accurately the more money you make. As such, typing speed and accuracy is crucial. In fact, most companies and clients won't even consider a candidate who can't handle at least 60 words per minute with 97 percent accuracy. Test your typing skills online, and use resources -- typing games and activities, for example -- to improve your speed and accuracy. Typing tutor software is also available.

Practice, Practice and More Practice

    The best way to learn transcription is to practice. Download free transcription software -- Express Scribe is widely used -- and become familiar with the process of simultaneous listening, foot-pedaling and typing. Use your cell phone's voice recorder and record yourself reading something. Transfer the recording to your computer and transcribe it. Software makers like NCH offer dictation samples for download and practice -- and be sure to try your hand at a few with heavy accents as well.

Essentials for Success

    When you feel like you have gotten the hang of dictation and transcription, try doing it while you time yourself. Aim for a four to one ratio -- in other words, you want to be able to type one minute of dictation within four minutes. If you can produce verbatim and accurately spelled reports within this timeframe or less, you have the potential to earn at least an entry-level salary.

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