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.


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 TypingPal, the average typing speed is 40 wpm. This would translate to roughly 4-8 time 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 was called “the toughest man to transcribe in all of sports.” He spoke 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.

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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