The Difference Between a Typist, Transcriptionist, and Stenographer

Global Communication Blog, Language Service Provider (LSP)

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In the language services industry, not unlike other industries, there is a lot of jargon and terminology. When you decide to enlist outside help for your next language project, you may be wondering what you really need. What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter? Do you need to hire a typist, a transcriptionist, or a stenographer?

These are valid questions to ask, but unless you want to spend the better part of your afternoon Googling terms, you might be left in the dark. Fortunately, this article has you covered. We’ll dive into the main differences and skill sets to look for in each below. Here’s what you need to know:

A Typist’s Talents Are Speed and Accuracy

Although the work of a typist need not be limited to typing, were you to hire a typist (or word processor) you would expect to find someone exceptionally fast with the computer keyboard. 

While the average person can type about 30-40 WPM (words per minute), a skilled typist can turn out 65-80 WPM. Of course, typists can’t simply be fast, they also need to be accurate. 

Many typist positions are work-from-home gigs these days. Typists often work on a computer typing up documents like email correspondence or meeting minutes. Traditional in-office typists also typically have other office duties including proofreading and editing documents, filing, answering phones, printing and copying, data entry, and submitting documents electronically.

If you’re looking to hire a typist, you will want to find a number of specific skills and traits crucial for success:

Computer skills: Knowing how to do more with a computer than simply use word processing software is important. Especially for an at-home typist, the ability to install new software, log-in to a company’s system remotely, upload files, and troubleshoot basic home computer and connectivity issues are key competencies.

Fast and accurate typing skills: Obviously, speed and accuracy are key, as we’ve already discussed. But the requirements for different kinds of typing and transcription jobs varies. For example, with an entry-level position, a speed as slow as 60 WPM may be sufficient. Whereas real-time transcription (more on this below) or at-home video captioning work may require speeds up to 300 WPM!

Good hearing and listening skills: The ability to understand others with accents is important when speaking with clients or transcribing audio files, especially.

Proofreading skills: Knowledge of proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, and English skills is a must when finalizing a project or emailing a client.

Communication skills: Whether composing a memo, writing a proposal, or talking with a client over chat or video conference, at-home typists must express ideas and directions clearly and succinctly.

Organizing/prioritizing skills, self-discipline, and focus: These are especially important skills for anyone who works from home. At-home typists don’t have a boss who tells them what to do and when to do it. So, it’s important to work smart, be organized and disciplined, and tenaciously hone in on the project that’s due.

Ability to maintain confidentiality: You also want to hire a typist you can trust. This person will likely have access to sensitive client or business information at some point.  Keeping information secure and confidential is critical, especially when sensitive data, such as patient information, is involved.

Transcriptionists Produce an Accurate Written Record

If you are looking for transcription help, you will want to vet transcriptionists for similar skills as the typist. The work is similar in nature. Whereas typists may type up notes or turn notes into a memo or client communication, transcriptionists produce a written record of an audio recording. Transcriptionists also tend to have skill sets related to a particular subject matter. For example, a medical transcriptionist may have been a nurse’s assistant or even a nurse at some point. Other common specialities include legal transcription, typists for court proceedings, and academic transcription.

Large life sciences organizations may hire full-time transcriptionists. But smaller operations often outsource transcription work. Whenever you hire a transcriptionist, whether in-house or through a language services agency, make sure they sign a confidentiality agreement and follow a set of strict privacy policies. Transcriptionists often have access to sensitive health information and medical data for patients or clinical trial participants. It’s imperative that they understand the nature of this information.

Stenographers Keep a Written Record of Real-Time Situations

Most are familiar with court stenographers. This professional sits in the courtroom keeping track of court proceedings for future reference. While transcriptionists produce a written document based on audio recordings, a stenographer types up real-time situations in courtrooms or perhaps academic settings. 

Since stenographers keep a running, concurrent record, judges or lawyers sometimes call upon them to read back what was stated. It’s their responsibility to keep the record straight. While stenography jobs used to be location-specific, thanks to advances in technology, stenographers can now work remotely. 

What is stenography? Rather than using a computer with what’s known as a QWERTY keyboard, stenographers use a steno machine to write in shorthand for speediness (this is really the only way to get up to something close to the 300 WPM mentioned above). The goal with stenography is to be able to write as fast as someone can speak. Steno is not the same as typing. Instead, steno creates a special lettered code (professional stenographers learn this code), which must then be “translated” into English.

    What language services are you looking for? At DTS Language Services, Inc., we are so much more than a document translation company. We are your language consulting partner. We are here to help you wrap your mind around your language project. Whether you need a typist, a transcriptionist, a stenographer, an interpreter, or a translator, we can help! Contact us to get your quote. We’re always happy to provide translation samples for a minimal fee.