Depending on the type of transcription you offer and whether it’s a primary service for your Virtual Assistant business, will determine which piece of software and equipment your choose to invest in.

If it is your primary service then perhaps investing in high end professional equipment would be beneficial to ensure you have a wider range of audio enhancements available for poorer recordings, larger variety of settings, better ease of control, etc. But for Virtual Assistants like me who provide transcription as part of their service offering on more of an ad-hoc basis (or if you’re just starting out) then a very good free alternative is Express Scribe.

I stumbled across Express Scribe when I first started thinking it’s bound to be rubbish if it’s free! But this isn’t the case at all. In fact I’ve never felt the need to upgrade.

Here are 7 reasons why Express Scribe offers me everything I need from transcription software:

1. Accepts all common audio files: wav, mp3, wma & dct. I’ve never had to accept any other type of file, although I know dss files are also quite common, so if you wanted to receive those you’d need to subscribe to their paid product.

2. Automatic ‘hotkeys’. Within the system there are functional keys set up to help you play, stop, forward and rewind more easily i.e. F4 for stop, F9 to play etc. This is great if you don’t have a foot pedal, so rather than having to use the mouse to navigate back to the control panel to stop, you simply press the F4 key. However I strongly recommend investing in a foot pedal if you’re doing any transcription work of over 5 minutes! Whilst it’s great to have hotkeys as an alternative, using them is pretty hard going since you don’t want to have to take your hands off the main keys as well as remembering which button to press! In my experience, it also increases the time to complete each piece of transcription.

3. Compatible with foot pedals. Having a foot pedal makes transcription so much easier. Simply plug it in to a USB socket on your computer, set it up as you prefer within the settings i.e. right pedal for forward, left pedal for rewind and you’re good to go. To save time  and RSI problems, I highly recommend investing in one. They’re not overly expensive. If you’re only doing transcription every so often it may seem like a high cost, but you can pick up 2nd hand ones through VA forums or eBay – although obviously taking care to make sure the equipment actually works before you buy.

4. Control of play speed. Really important when you come across files where the audio is a little trickier to make out. By slowing down the speed at which you hear it you get a better opportunity to pick up on any missed words.

5. Noise reduction. This is a fab little setting and will help reduce any background noise such as buzzing, traffic, people talking outside etc. Simply take a snippet of audio without any background noise, click the ‘Noise reduction’ button and the software uses that as its source therefore removing all other background noises.

6. Automatic playback. Another fab setting that can automatically be set to whatever you prefer, so when you pause the audio and restart it goes back X amount of seconds before beginning again, rather than starting exactly where you stopped. Great to ensure you don’t miss anything and means you don’t have to keep rewinding unnecessarily.

7. Receives and sends encrypted files. This isn’t really a reason why I chose Express Scribe since I specialise in HR transcription, but if you work in law or medical transcription and need to receive and send encrypted files you can do that using this software – for free!

For more information on Express Scribe or to download your free software click on the following link:


  1. I’ve used Express Scribe for nearly 8 years now and I’ve never felt the need to upgrade. Transcription is a large part of the service I offer, and it is brilliant. I would certainly recommend, especially with a foot pedal.