The path from typist to scribe

If you’re a fast typist you may be interested in learning to be a scribe. Below is a clear outline of the pathway for becoming a scribe.

What is ‘scribing’?

  • ‘Scribing’ means transcribing what people are saying while they are saying it.
  • Scribing meetings (e.g. producing minutes) is sometimes called ‘minute-taking’.
  • Scribing while one person speaks (e.g. correspondence) is sometimes called ‘taking dictation’.

If you want be a scribe, here’s how to get started.

1. Touch-typing speed: 90 – 100 wpm

Get your speed up to 90 – 100 words per minute before you start scribing.

To scribe what people are saying as fast as they’re saying it, you need to be able to touch-type at about 100 words per minute. Because while you don’t need to get down every single word, you do need to be able to get down all the most important words no matter how fast they’re talking.

However, you don’t need excellent accuracy during the scribing process. Scribes generally fix their typos afterwards, during the editing stage.

2. Good vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation

You must have a good knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation in order to produce high quality reports or minutes. You also need a broad vocabulary because if you don’t understand what people are saying you won’t be able to scribe it.

If you don’t have a very good handle on grammar, spelling and punctuation, undertake a basic writing or editing course to upskill as an important step towards your goal of being a scribe.

3. Practise scribing

A good way to practise scribing is to invite a couple of friends to come over and have a discussion, at normal conversation pace, with you scribing into your laptop as they speak. If you can almost keep up, keep practising and you will get faster.

Handy hint: if you create macros, or if you prefer, auto-corrects, of commonly-used words or phrases, it can greatly increase your typing speed. e.g. if you’re scribing material that is related to the Department of Business, create a few macros such as ‘DB’ (which will automatically type out as Department of Business’); ‘org’ (which will automatically be typed as ‘organisation’); or ‘dept’ (which will automatically be typed out as ‘department’).

4. Practise editing your drafts

Immediately after you’ve scribed your friends having a conversation, edit your draft into a transcript of what was said, or at least of what they intended to say (which isn’t always exactly the same thing). In the early stages, your transcript can be in dot point form, or in whole sentences – whatever you find easiest.

Now listen to the recording of that conversation while reading the transcript. Have you captured the essence of what was said – all of it? If not, keep practising.

If you wish to work as a scribe, you’ll have to be able to present your transcripts in the way your clients want them presented – as dot points, case notes, beautifully written minutes, reports or whatever other style of document they need. So make sure you practise editing your drafts in narrative form (correctly written sentences) as well as dot point format.

5. Work out what you are worth

Once you are confident you can scribe accurately and edit your drafts into professional reports or minutes, you will be ready to take on a paid scribing job.

But what should you charge to scribe someone’s minutes or reports?

As a fairly new scribe, you will probably take longer than an experienced scribe to edit your drafts. As you gain experience, you will become much faster at editing and producing high quality reports and minutes. Many early-career scribes charge a low rate initially, then once they have gained more experience and picked up speed, they increase their rates.

You can work out what you’re worth (per hour) based on what your competitors charge, how much you need to earn, and what constitutes good value for money for your clients.

Helpful links to other articles about scribing

Why pianists make good scribes

The skills you need to start up a scribing business

How to become an on-site scribe

How I became a scribe

How to prepare for scribing minutes

Sally-Anne Watson Kane has over 20 years’ experience scribing interviews, meetings, discussions, seminars, testimonies and oral histories. She produces selection reports and referees’ reports, submissions and applications, and minutes.

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