October 5, 2018

Transcription Equipment and Software

One of the most frequently asked questions I get by people wanting to start in transcription is what equipment and software are needed to transcribe. So I thought I’d share my list.

(Please note that Amazon links do contain an affiliate code. I use income generated by Amazon to support a family in need by providing them with gift certificates to buy everyday essentials.)


-An ergonomic setup with proper desk and good task chair like this one, identical to one I currently have:

You want the chair to be fully adjustable so you can sit up straight and be well supported.

-A transcription foot pedal to control the audio:

You can start doing transcription using “hot keys,” but you will gain significant speed once you have your foot pedal. Many transcriptionists buy their pedals with the profits of their first jobs.

-A mechanical keyboard:

You can of course start with the keyboard on your laptop or something cheap. But you will be surprised by how poorly you type on most laptop keyboards and how quickly you go through cheap keyboards. A high quality mechanical keyboard is a professional tool that will last you the bulk of your career and speed up your typing. I bought my Das Keyboard (Mac version) four years ago and it improved my typing speed from an average of 100 words per minute to 120 because each keystroke is true. This was the best investment I made for my business.

Note that a wired keyboard is preferable to a wireless one to avoid lags, connection issues, and batteries running out at the most inopportune times!

Noise-canceling headphones:

(These are just illustrative and not the exact pair I own).

You will have audio in your ear all day. Buy the best quality headphones you can afford to be physically comfortable and to be able to hear what is said even if there is ambient noise.

-An external hard drive for backups:

Mac users should be taking full advantage of Time Machine’s hourly backups. Windows users should take heed to back up their work regularly. In the event of a catastrophic event with your computer, you will not lose an entire day’s work.

The rest is really up to you in terms of your computer needs. I currently work on a 13″ late 2015 Macbook Air and that is more than enough computing power for the transcription field.


All of these are available for Mac and Windows and are what I’ve found to be the best Mac options.

-For transcription software to play audio that is controllable with a foot pedal, the standard on both platforms is NCH’s ExpressScribe. It has a limited-feature free version and then two tiers of pay versions. The software is buggy and the company is quite dodgy, but for Mac users, there is really no alternative. PC users do have pricier alternatives, but except for clients who only do legal work, ExpressScribe seems to be what everyone uses. Start with the free version and upgrade when you need to.

-For word processing, unfortunately there is only one option, Microsoft Word. Their Mac version gets worse with every iteration, but clients report issues when I export from Apple Pages and you will run into similar issues exporting from Google Docs. The Office suite is shoddy and overpriced, but it’s what everyone is using, so you might as well buy it.

-You will also want a text expander application to speed up your typing by enabling you to type shortcuts that will open into longer words, sentences, and even paragraphs. But wait, you say, Word has this built in with macros. True. But macros require many steps to set up and can quickly get unwieldy. As you gain more clients and a bigger database of shortcuts, you will want a way to manage them. I use an app called, appropriately enough, TextExpander. Their current version is cloud-based, which is not good for transcriptionists as we often process sensitive information, but you can still get the older version that stores “snippets” locally and that older version is still supported. I’ve gone through a few text expander apps and this is the one that has stuck.

-You will also need accounting and invoicing software. This is highly personal and will depend on the structure of your business. Some folks do just fine using Excel spreadsheets. Other people need a full accounting suite. There are not many choices for accounting suites for Macs and they are very expensive, so adapting personal finance software to my needs makes more sense. Quicken for Mac is the financial software that I’ve settled on to track my income and expenses. It’s just one of many options.

Invoicing for Mac has been difficult as developers will create and then stop supporting apps. The few long-standing solutions have not had the features I need. A few years ago, I had enough of constantly having to start over with a new invoicing solution and I spent what felt like a small fortune on FileMaker Pro. I then started to build off of the free FM Starting Point solution to custom build an invoicing platform that works for my business. This solution has grown to be a database that contains client account and job information, helping to justify the hefty price tag for FileMaker Pro!

-Not so much software as it is a file sharing service, you’ll want an account with Dropbox. There are other solutions out there, but this is the most commonly used one because, quite simply, it is the best. I’ve moved a lot of clients over to Dropbox, despite them protesting that there are cheaper solutions out there. All were immediately charmed by the ease of use and reliability of Dropbox.

With that, I leave you with a common thread to my recommendations: buy the best tool you can afford to get a job done. When it comes to software and services, that’s generally the tool built by a company specialising in just that tool. Free tools by companies like Google are often half-baked because the company has its fingers in too many pies (pardon the clichéd metaphor). There is a cost to doing business and you are a professional. Buy professional tools. You wouldn’t expect a carpenter to try to build a house with a plastic hammer, and yet that is what I see many of my clients doing by insisting on using “free” solutions that cost them time and effort or by refusing to buy equipment that will make them more efficient.

I hope this list has been useful to you! Please drop me a note on Facebook if it has.