How dictation software can accelerate your writing

Advances in speech recognition have brought electronic sensors nearly to the acuity of the human ear. Here’s guidance to help you make the most of this technology.

Speech recognition software

A professional writer might add a thousand words a day to a rough draft.

With speech recognition software, some writers can add several thousand.

That’s one reason more writers are dictating their books and other writings. Today the error rate of speech recognition software has improved to within a percentage point of a human being.

Speech recognition can be found in Google Docs, Windows 10, your smartphone and in various home devices. Dragon Naturally Speaking is the only commercially available speech recognition software for consumers, mostly because it bought up all its competitors.

According to its website, “Dragon is 3x faster than typing and it’s 99% accurate.” For higher accuracy, Dragon can be trained to recognize your voice and vocabulary.

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Try these tips for writing with speech recognition:

  • Dictate in complete phrases or sentences. Recent advances in accuracy have come not so much from speech recognition (“that’s a buh not a duh”) as from language recognition. After the words “eat” or “peel” the sounds “buh nah nuh” are probably “banana.” I can sometimes see my software rewrite a sentence once I’ve completed it, because it now has more context and therefore can recognize more words.
  • Pause between phrases, not words. Separating parts of speech with pauses (“It was… the… best of… times”) can confuse the software. It likes to sense the sentence structure as you speak. Pausing between phrases is also a good habit for public speaking, or for speaking in general. Yes, you sometimes need to pause while you think, but you don’t have to keep talking while you do it.
  • Watch the screen. If there are errors or omissions, make sure they’re not so serious that you can’t remember what you really meant to say. I can handle Dragon spelling “to” instead of “too” or “member” instead of “remembering,” but sometimes the software provides a perfectly spelled word that would make no sense later. In that case, I can usually dictate the correct word again, perhaps preceding it with “or rather” as a newscaster might. You might train Dragon (and yourself) that you pronounce “to” as “tu” and “too” as “te-yoo.” Or restate your sentence in different words. Don’t worry about polluting your masterpiece with synonyms; it’s probably faster than hemming and hawing for the perfect word. You can perfect the phrasing as you edit the text.
  • Keep a consistent tone, speed and volume. Shouting, whispering or pretending you’re Robin Williams will make the software work harder. It doesn’t appreciate or even recognize histrionics. I did a stint as a professional voice transcriptionist, repeating the speech of another person more clearly so that Dragon could understand it better. We maintained a cheerful tone as we worked, but we weren’t dramatic.
  • Don’t stop for mistakes. Keep a consistent flow, with words coming out of your mouth at about the same speed they come into your mind. Your mind will appreciate that. Don’t stop to fix typos or punctuation errors. Talk around any blatant mistakes; restate anything that’s unclear, but keep dictating. Your first transcription might not be smooth nor free of mistakes. Still, mistakes inspire creativity, because they beg you to fix them.
  • Don’t try to speak the keyboard. You’re better off just dictating words rather than trying to operate your computer with your voice.

Dictation software works better for some writers than others and for some types of writing than others. At first you might miss the feel of the keyboard or the pen, or you might be distracted by the sound of your voice. Yet for many writers, speech recognition software can set the creative process free.

A version of this post first appeared on Daily Writing Tips.

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