‘Secretary’, ‘Audio Typist’, ‘Transcriber’: What’s the difference?

transcriber definition

Let’s clarify! A secretary or audio typist is commonly someone who types single speaker dictation for one person or a team of people (also known as a typing pool), producing work such as letters, reports or memos, and who is typically familiar with doing the same type of work on a daily basis. 

At Outsource Typing, we work with all three of the above types of people – secretaries, audio typists and transcribers, but our team have almost always made the transition from secretary/audio typist to transcriber to enable them to work as a freelancer at home.  Secretaries and audio typists will have gained background experience in their careers working in various business sectors.  Their accuracy, attention to detail and typing skills can be transferred over into transcription work. 

When a secretary or audio typist leaves the arena of single speaker dictation, in addition to continuing with audio typing, there is a world of work out there for them if they can skilfully type a range of varied recordings that might involve anywhere from 2-20 people (or more) speaking on a single recording.  It is what is formally known as audio transcription and the people who produce the work are called transcribers.  They might typically go on to specialise in legal transcription, court transcription work, medical transcription or ‘general transcription’. 

General transcription covers a wide area of the industry.  A transcriber may go from typing an informative webinar or a light-hearted podcast one day, to the next day transcribing an employment disciplinary hearing, a focus group with several participants involved in discussion, or a police PACE interview, for example.  

Good typing skills are essential, but transcription involves so much more than this.  Here are just a few examples of what is expected of a professional transcriber:

  • Punctuation and spelling. The transcriber will be expected to have the necessary skills and experience to ensure that the transcript is accurate in terms of punctuation and words are spelled correctly, so that the text makes sense. 
  • Indicating speech nuances. Not only to represent accurately what was said, but also how it was said.
  • Identifying individual speakers. Often, the client will not only want to know what was said, but also who said it, and each time there is a change in speaker, it needs to be marked up within the transcript.
  • Attention to detail and following instructions closely. There are a few fairly standard styles of transcript across the industry, depending on what information and/or data the client needs to capture. All of the formats require to be produced alongside the transcription company’s instructions and client requirements.  The transcripts can often be quite technical and so attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions closely is essential. 
  • Making sense of difficult or challenging recordings. Often, where there are many participants on a recording, they will talk over one another.  There might be background noise on the audio recording, such as dog barking, café noise, traffic noise, etc., and it’s important that the transcriber knows what to do in order to represent this properly within the transcript.
  • No editing – strict verbatim. Sometimes no editing of a transcript is permitted, particularly with a verbatim requirement, and there is usually a strict set of instructions to follow that require great care and attention to detail. 
  • Editing required. Sometimes the transcript requires to be edited or ‘tidied up’ by the transcriber to make it easier to read, and it takes great skill and care to know how to do this correctly to produce a high-quality transcript for the client.
  • Attitude. You will need to have patience, a willingness to learn, initiative and good research skills – the subject matters you will be requested to type will be wide ranging and you may not always be provided with any background details.  It takes time to work through a transcript and produce it correctly.       
  • Good health – hearing. A lot of people overlook this crucial aspect and I seldom see mention of it in other articles or instructional literature. Get a hearing test. An audiologist will be able to tell you where your hearing falls on the scale in terms of being able to pick out speech.  If you need an improvement in this area, there are many ways in which you can adjust your software to help you hear the audio better.  Further information on this can be found in our e-book: Improve Your Career With Time-Saving TechIf you are struggling to hear the audio, we’d highly recommend following these two steps.
  • Correct use of software. It’s important to use the software and equipment you have to maximise the audio quality so that you can capture all of the information and data within the transcript for the client. Sometimes audio quality can be poor. The transcriber should take the initiative to use the sophisticated tools they have at their disposal to improve the audio quality to make it clearer and more comfortable to listen to.
  • Correct use of equipment. Choice of headphones is also very important.  I often see people incorrectly recommending noise cancelling headphones for use with transcription.  In most cases, these are not the correct choice. I make recommendations on the best headsets to use in my e-book that cater to a range of budgets.  Unsuitable headphones can also be detrimental to aural health.  A transcriber will be wearing a headset for long periods of time and so it’s important to make the right choice.   

To sum everything up, what makes a good transcriber is someone who can really listen to what is being said on the recording in an effort to help them best represent this within the transcript, for example, knowing where and how to edit, e.g. where to separate sentences properly and natural paragraph breaks. 

As an audio typist, a vast majority of work done on this basis for a single speaker of course needs to be accurate, but there is the luxury with this type of work that the professional who dictated it will be responsible for editing the final copy at the end of the day. Within transcription, the transcriber is responsible for the editing. It has to be correct and an accurate record of what is said by its very nature! So there is a greater responsibility in terms of really listening and accurately representing what is being said, rather than simply ‘drafting’ copy for someone else to edit later on. This is the real difference between basic audio typing/secretarial work and transcription

If you are looking to train with us as a transcriber, as an SME we are rarely able to take the time to teach transcription on the job.  We look for applicants to have at least one year’s previous experience in formal transcription, as well as having your own setup in terms of equipment and software.  For information on this, check out our sister site The Home-Based Typist, where you will find information on how to work from home doing audio typing and transcription work. 

If we can assist your business with transcription projects both short- and long-term, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a quote fiona@outsource-typing.com

Using Video Content For Your Business

Using video content for your business

You might be thinking about live streaming video for your business or brand via Instagram Live Video or Facebook Live. If the video is going to be informative and lengthy (both features allow up to an hour), why not screen record your live video, send it to us to transcribe (type up!). You can then turn the content into useful marketing info on your website or social media.

Likewise, if you pre-record and edit video footage for use on your website or social media, or record your webinars, get in touch and send us the video file to have the audio content typed up.

Click here to find out more about our media transcription skills and services.

One final interesting thing! Why not be at the start of something new and get your videos and content out there by using LinkedIn’s new LinkedIn Live.  Not yet launched and still in the pilot scheme stages, they are selecting a few business to take part and this could be you! Click the link to take you to their online application.