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Required skills for transcriber candidates

NOTE: The typing speed requirement for the Basic Skills Course increased to 60 wpm as of Feb 2010, because slower typists have considerable difficulty providing adequate communication access.

Why are there stringent requirements for the Basic Skills Course?

Many of the required skills are ones a person must have firmly mastered before taking the course. Even otherwise very capable people will fail as transcribers if they lack these basic prerequisite skills.

We developed our course requirements by measuring and tracking thousands of past students. Students who are missing even one of these skills are usually unable to transcribe well, and either drop out or flunk out of the course after weeks of frustration.

Think of the skills learned in the TypeWell course as the top of a pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid consists of basic, prerequisite skills that took years for the candidate to learn: typing accurately at high speed, writing correct English, and quickly understanding complex spoken English. We can't teach those prerequisite skills in the transcribing course, so we can accept only those candidates who already have those skills firmly developed.

For instance, we sometimes have candidates who get only 53 words-per-minute (wpm) on our typing test, 7 wpm short of the minimum. That doesn't seem like so much, does it? Unfortunately, raising one's average typing speed by a solid 7 wpm is much harder than managing some bursts 7 wpm higher. Raising the core of one's accurate typing speed above 60wpm is what's needed before entry into the course, and this much increase can take hundreds of hours of practice: more time than the entire transcribing course! Only those with a solid base of all the listed skills can succeed in the course, and go on to provide good communication access for deaf students and others.

If a candidate is lacking any of the speed or experience listed below, then they lack the complete pyramid as a base, and they'll never become a good transcriber. They will likely flunk out mid-course after wasting a lot of money and time.

Required Skills

To be accepted for the course, a candidate must:

  • Have good listening and memory skills (able to understand and restate fast, complex English).
  • Have good English skills (able to write complex English as quickly, clearly, and effortlessly as a well-educated native English speaker).
  • Type at least 60 words per minute, with no errors, as measured by our typing test (follow the Qualify & Apply link above for details). 60 is a minimum requirement; for best performance, a speed of 65 wpm or higher is recommended.
  • Have basic computer knowledge
  • Have no history of pain in the arms or wrist that might suggest a tendency toward repetitive motion disorders. This is not a requirement but is a strong recommendation.

Note: Practicing court stenographers, legal- and medical-transcriptionists, and others who produce verbatim transcripts of audio information generally do NOT make good candidates for the TypeWell transcribing course. The verbatim processing required for those tasks is fundamentally different from the meaning-for-meaning processing that a TypeWell transcriber must do. As a result, using those verbatim-processing skills interferes with the ability to master meaning-for-meaning processing. Of further concern, the conflict between the two processing methods can undermine already-established verbatim processing skills, hurting the quality of the verbatim work. However, a person who was a verbatim transcriptionist in the past but no longer does that kind of work could be an excellent candidate for the transcribing course.

Also, people who currently provide traditional notetaking services, either by hand or by computer, are usually not good candidates for the TypeWell Course. The habit of doing the "high-points only" kind of processing required to produce traditional notes, coupled with the telegraphic style of recording information for traditional notes, seriously hinders the mastery of the processing required for rich meaning-for-meaning transcribing.

A candidate should also have these characteristics in order to be a good transcriber. Administrators should look for these when checking references and interviewing:

  • A quick mind and good problem-solving skills.
  • Comfort working in a school setting.
  • Demonstrated professionalism and flexibility.
  • Ability to work as part of an educational team.
  • A high-school diploma, with an overall record of As and Bs in most classes.
  • Experience at the school level in which he or she will be working (e.g., personal college experience is strongly recommended for transcribers who will work at the college level).

An Anecdote for Administrators

Over and over, we see administrators make the same mistake as "Supervisor Trudy". We've changed the names in this all too common story.

Supervisor Trudy has two candidates for the transcribing course, Sarah and Jane, both of whom passed all our qualifying tests. Jane types slower and less accurately than Sarah. Jane also got a lower score on our English writing test than Sarah. However, Jane has worked as an assistant in Trudy's office, and everyone likes her. Jane says she knows she can work hard to do better with her typing and English. Trudy decides to hire Jane. After all, Jane passed the application tests, right?

Jane does ok for the first couple of weeks of the course. Then things get hard. It takes Jane extra time to pass each lesson. She begins to turn in assignments late. The quality of her work becomes steadily poorer. Blame is passed around, excuses are made, and frustration mounts.

Eventually, 2 or 3 months after starting, Jane flunks out, completely demoralized. All that time and money, wasted. Trudy is under severe pressure to provide services, any services, and has to choose an expensive temporary solution.

Fortunately, there's a happy ending. 3 months wiser, and under pressure to make sure it works this time due to the expense of the ongoing temporary solution, Trudy starts again. This time she picks Amber, the most qualified candidate from a group of several possibilities. Amber types much faster than Jane, and scores much better on the other application tests. Amber graduates from the transcribing course in a month and a half and goes on to be a great transcriber. Trudy swears to listen to good advice from the beginning, next time.

Learn from Trudy's mistake: if you can't afford a 3-month experiment, don't simply choose an available person who barely passes our tests, even if it is someone you know and like. Instead, choose a candidate who does excellently on the application tests and the other measures we recommend (e.g., reference check and face-to-face interview). If you don't know how to interpret the application test results to choose the candidate that is most likely to succeed, please contact us! We've seen thousands of candidates, and are pretty accurate in determining who is most likely to pass. We're very happy to help you make the best choice!

How to Find Good Candidates

If you can only seem to find poor or borderline candidates, you may need to offer higher pay. A transcriber candidate must be a fairly skilled person, and such a skilled person would be eligible for many other jobs. Thus, it may be necessary to pay more than you first expected to attract ideal candidates.

If you can't attract the types of candidates you need, then the extra few dollars per hour will be worth it. The most successful sites pay at or above the rate local sign language interpreters are paid.

It may be difficult to offer more money for a starting position, but the alternative is to spend more on turnover with transcribers who drop out after a few months. Pay for the skills, not the seniority.

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