One of my favorite writing tools ever is voice recognition software.
In fact, I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 professional to dictate this post. I’ve used several versions of Dragon before and this one is by far the best.
The reason I think speech recognition software is a must for writers is because it does two crucial things:
1. It protects your health.
2. It improves writing productivity.
Saving Your Wrists with Voice Recognition Software
Let’s look at the health aspects first. One of the main occupational hazards for writers is carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury. Even if you haven’t been formally diagnosed, you may notice that there are times when your wrists and upper arms ache. That’s a sign that you may be typing too much.
One of the things you can do to solve this problem and prevent it from getting worse is to wear supportive wrist straps. But the main thing you need to do is rest your wrists, which isn’t always possible if you’re a busy writer. That’s where Dragon NaturallySpeaking (or Dragon Dictate for Mac) comes in. This tool means that you can dictate practically anything you need to write and avoid typing. Depending on the version you can even run your entire computer and avoid using the mouse altogether.
A good by-product of using this tool is the ability to write faster. You don’t really have to change your writing process much. If you normally write an outline, you can dictate it and then dictate the content to fill in the gaps. And if you normally just do a brain dump, you can dictate what you’re thinking just as easily.
In my experience using this tool saves me about 20 minutes in every hour which is really worth it when I’ve got a lot to do. There are some times when it’s not so easy to use this tool. For me, that’s when I have to write “bitty” content – where I am going back and forth among research sources or where have a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary to use. But you can solve this issue too if you put in a little time.
Getting Started with Voice Recognition
That brings me back to the beginning, and how this tool works.
You start using Dragon by training the software for a few minutes and setting up your audio. Out of the box it ready recognizes most of what you say whether you’re speaking with an American, British, Canadian or Caribbean accent. The thing that makes the difference is having a great headset and microphone. After trying several, the best I’ve found is a Logitech USB headset, but you may have another favorite that works just as well.
The more time you spend training the software, the more accurate the recognition. However, you don’t need to make this into a special chore. Every time you dictate and before you exit the program you are asked whether you want to save the updated voice pattern files it has created. Click ‘yes’ and the program virtually trains itself.
As well as the words themselves Dragon can handle punctuation, capitalization, numbers and spelling so you have plenty of options for getting your content onto the page. It is true that you probably spend a little more time editing the content then you would if you typed it out by hand simply because English has so many homophones. However, Dragon is remarkably clever at sorting out what you mean from the context. That’s why it’s better to dictate in phrases rather than in single words. I have tested this many times and I know it works.
Will It Work With …?
You might be wondering whether Dragon NaturallySpeaking works well with your particular word processing program. As well as a built-in window of its own where you can dictate and save text or copy it to another program you can also dictate directly into Word (though on my computer this tends to slow the program down) or (as I do regularly) into Windows Live Writer. I’ve also used it to dictate search terms into Google and URLs into my browser.
Some versions of Dragon also allow you to input text from different sources, so you can use a supported recorder to dictate text on the move and then import it into your PC program for recognition. iPhone users are very lucky because they have the option of DragonDictate which the free dictation program they can use – and I can’t wait for an Android version.
Dragon 12 has just been released and I’m looking forward to testing it. New features that look great for writers include:
- the ability to use your smartphone as an external microphone
- smart formatting rules, especially useful for those needing to follow a particular stylesheet(see the screenshots)
- complete control of popular browsers (potentially speeding up research
- better integration with your favorite email providers
- better accuracy
You can probably tell that I’m a bit of a fan of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. A few years ago I needed to complete my MA dissertation and developed a wrist problem that stopped me from typing. I got Dragon, started dictating and met all my writing commitments and deadlines – and there wasn’t a spelling error in sight, either. If you have ever wanted to save your wrists or write more in less time, it’s well worth the price tag.
What do you think of voice recognition software?