For most transcriptionists, time is linked indelibly to money, as the wages they earn are directly proportional to the amount of work they are able to complete.  You become keenly aware of the opportunity cost of any kind of slowdown: a stuttering or rambling interviewee, a scratchy recording, or even the limits of your own skills.  This is why, if you aren’t using text expanders, you are literally leaving money on the table.

Of course, no speed trick is useful if it deteriorates your accuracy.  Fortunately, a well-planned, disciplined approach to text expanders should actually make your work more accurate.  Read on to find out more.

What Are Text Expanders?

“Text expanders” is the term for any shortcut that allows a typist to generate full words or phrases after only typing part of the required text.  Although they come in many forms, from plug-ins to downloadable programs to scripting macros, it is our opinion that the most useful one for transcribing is already built into your word processor.

Microsoft Word, Open Office, and Pages all have an autocorrect function built into their programs.  These autocorrect routines come pre-loaded, and behave similarly to an autocorrect function you’re likely already used to: the one on your phone.  Whenever you type a word or phrase that is flagged as incorrect within the autocorrect database, the program will automatically replace it with the correction as soon as you move on (via adding a space or punctuation).

The autocorrect options screen in Microsoft Word.

While this built-in service is nice, the incredible advantage these programs afford to transcriptionists is that the autocorrect functionality is entirely customizable.  This means that you can create and edit an entire library of shorthand targeting your transcription work.  This can be as simple as shaving a couple of keystrokes off of ubiquitous words like “okay” all the way up to programming entire common sentences, like a phone greeting or an adjuster’s outro.

What Makes Text Expanders So Great?

Text expanders’ value can be summed up with some simple logic: the less keystrokes you have to make, the less time you spend typing.  By extension, the less time you take completing your transcription assignments, the more assignments you are able to complete, making you a more efficient earner.

“More efficient” could be an undersell.  Within six months of encouraging text expander use among our transcriptionist base, our average transcriptionist’s speed increased by 33%.  That was with a portion of our transcriptionists already using them.  In my personal experience, I was able to increase my own speed by about 50% in less than three months.  Imagine giving yourself a 50% raise!

I should mention here that text expanders take some time to incorporate into your workflow.  In the best-case scenario, you can import an autocorrect list used by your company, or a fellow transcriptionist, but it won’t become effective until you’ve taken the time to memorize all of your shortcuts.  This can be done over the course of your work, but expect your speed to dip slightly.  You should expect it to dip significantly if you’re creating the shortcuts for yourself.

Do it anyway.  I experienced my improvement while stopping and creating my shortcuts on a whim, without any real plan, and I still saw massive improvement in a very short amount of time.  It’s worth the investment.

What About Accuracy?

I’ve heard some feedback from transcriptionists who were hesitant to incorporate text expanders because they were worried it would adversely affect their accuracy.  I understood their sentiment.  ACS holds itself to a standard of quality well above other transcription services, and consistently audits their transcriptionists’ work.  What’s the point of earning a few more dollars per hour if the quality of the work no longer met company standards?

The truth of the matter is that text expanders should improve your accuracy, not diminish it.  It isn’t akin to something like speech-to-text, where a misheard sentence by the program may not be caught by the spell check or grammar check and thus slip through the proofing process.  If you are sure to use shortcuts that are not also English words, a shortcut that fails to trigger will show up immediately in spell check. 

Furthermore, you can and should customize your autocorrect list to include words you have difficulty spelling, or words that you use in the wrong context (like your and you’re).  Put a context clue in your shortcuts, and you’ll always use the correct version.  On top of that, text expanders don’t make you type faster- they make you type less.  Less keystrokes means significantly less opportunity for mistakes.

AI, artificial intelligenc
As machine learning paves the way for automated speech recognition, the role of the transcriptionist will change.

What About the Future?

The transcription industry is no exception to the steady flow of technological progress.  At one time, you were behind if you didn’t use hotkeys for playback.  Then, if you didn’t use a foot pedal.  Then came speech recognition.  And now, we have automated speech recognition (ASR) beginning to dig a foothold.

A recent study from Descript  makes the claim that its service understands speech as well as any human, but their in-house study shows an average of just 93% accuracy.  An ACS transcriptionist that turned in 93% accuracy wouldn’t have their job for very long.  It’s also worth noting that 8 of the 11 audios used in the study are single speaker and all the audios are very clear, including the radio interview Descript transcribed at just 84% accuracy.  Still, it’s important to realize that Descript can be transparent with these results because they know time is on their side.

As soon as ASR reaches the point where it consistently creates multi-speaker transcriptions that have the desired 98-99% accuracy benchmarks, the work of human transcriptionists will transition to one of editing and proofing.  Until that benchmark is consistently reached, text expanders will remain the most efficient method of increasing your typing effectiveness, particularly when you are consistently generating consistently similar content.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions about using text expanders more effectively, message us on Twitter @acsacc!

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