Tips on using dictation software to write
Marketer or writer, you need to get text out of your mind and onto your screen every day.
Most people do that by typing.
If you’re fast, you might get 60 words a minute.
But you can talk at something like 150 words a minute: 2.5 times that fast.
That’s why I love dictation software: it can capture my thoughts much faster than I could ever type.
Dictation has been my “secret weapon” for 30+ years now!
I’ve used it to write articles, book chapters, hundreds of e-mails, and major chunks of white papers.
Over the years, I’ve seen voice recognition—aka “speech recognition” or “dictation”—get better and better.
Today it’s superb. And it’s something every marketer and every writer should use.
Because dictating to your PC will save you time. Guaranteed.
And now it’s free, built into Word, Google Docs, and your phone.
To help you get started, here are 10 tips I’ve learned in decades of using speech recognition.
Plus, scroll down to tip #3 for a free cheat sheet of how to dictate punctuation and special characters into Word.
Dictation tip #1: It’s everywhere and it’s free
Free speech recognition is now offered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
You can get free dictation apps on Android and iPhones and in Chrome, Edge, and Firefox browsers.
You can use dictation in Google Docs with Chrome by selecting Tools > Voice Typing.
And any subscriber to Microsoft 365 gets Dictation built into Word and PowerPoint. So does anyone using the free Web version of Word.
Now that it’s free, there’s no reason not to try it out.
To try it in Word, click the Dictate button on the ribbon and start talking.
Dictation tip #2: Get a good headset
A quality microphone is vital for good speech recognition. So maybe it’s time for a new headset.
Expect to pay at least $30—and probably more—for a decent USB noise-canceling headset.
And if you spent $99 for an amazing headset you use for the next five years to save you weeks of labor, I’d say that’s an amazing ROI!
Here’s a review of some good choices from Amazon.
A better microphone means the software will make fewer mistakes, so you’ll save even more time.
Dictation tip #3: Learn the basic commands
To use speech recognition, you’ll want to know a few basic commands:
New line: This starts a line, just like pressing Enter.
Punctuation: Just say the punctuation you want to include, as in:
open quotes just say the punctuation you want to include period close quotes
If you don’t, you’ll have to add punctuation by hand later.
That will sound strange at first, but you’ll get used to it in a few minutes.
With Dictation in Word, you can easily dictate any common punctuation like a period, comma, question mark, exclamation mark, semicolon, quotes, currency or math symbols… or any of the other special characters shown on this cheat sheet.
There are dozens more commands you can use to edit, move around your files, and control your computer with Windows or MacOS.
Frankly, I find the mouse fast enough, so I don’t usually bother with those.
But for anyone suffering from a broken wrist or carpal tunnel, or with limited use of their hands, controlling your computer by voice can be a godsend.
Dictation tip #4: Don’t worry about disrupting others
By the way, whether you’re working at home on the kitchen table—or back at work in a cubicle—don’t worry about disrupting your office mates or family.
Dictating text to your computer isn’t any louder than talking on the phone.
You may say strange things like, “Hi again comma new paragraph here is the latest draft of your white paper period…”
But hey, if they think that’s weird, that’s their problem.
Dictation tip #5: Think before you speak
Dictation reveals our speaking pattern, including all our tics.
So if you’re a rambling speaker who says “um… ah… you know…” every few seconds, you may not like what you see in your transcript.
But if using dictation can help you improve your basic communication style, that’s another side benefit.
It’s certainly shown me how I tend to talk in rambling, unfinished chunks of thought.
So now when I’m dictating, I generally pause between sentences to gather my thoughts on what to say next. Then I try to speak in more or less complete sentences to minimize the amount of rework later.
Sometimes I even say the same sentence twice, the second time more fluently, knowing I can quickly delete the first version as I polish.
Dictation tip #6: Use dictation to avoid retyping sources
Here’s another great use for speech recognition: managing sources.
I’ve done white papers with 100+ footnotes, where I had to type in a sentence or two from each source.
Most of those sources were in printouts with a sentence or two highlighted on a particular page.
What a pain to keep all that straight on my desk while I re-typed the text. That could take four hands!
Then I realized there was a better way.
Now I just flip to each source and read in the choice bits at the appropriate spot in my white paper draft. Then I dictate all the citation details.
Meanwhile, my hands are free to sort through my notes and file away all my sources in good order.
Dictation tip #7: Forget mobile apps for long-form writing
So far I’ve talked about everything you can do to use computer dictation effectively.
Now for a few “don’ts” to cover a few things I don’t believe work very well yet.
A mobile dictation app can be fine for recording a few thoughts or sending a quick reply to an email.
But seriously, will you ever dictate a white paper into a smartphone?
To write long-form content, most people really need a bigger screen and a less turbulent environment.
So you’ll most likely want to use dictation in your office on your PC, not on your phone or tablet.
Dictation tip #8: You can’t get everyone on a Zoom—yet
If only some app could record and transcribe everyone on a Zoom.
Then we could sit back, sail through an interview, and get crisp, perfect transcriptions delivered to us.
Writers often ask me if that’s possible.
And I have to say we’re not there yet, for several reasons:
- Everyone’s voice is different. It’s a big challenge for software to handle different voices in succession.
- Accents are a problem. Imagine a Brit speaking with a Jamaican and a Korean. Most people are challenged by different accents. Accents are even harder for software.
- The sound quality of calls can be poor. The worse the sound, the worse the transcription. It’s as simple as that. So if half your Zoom callers are on cell phones with sketchy reception, the transcript will be degraded.
Some day, I’m sure, we will get to perfect automated transcription of multi-voice calls. But I believe that day is still some time away.
For example, services like Rev.com and otter.ai can produce automated transcripts of Zoom calls… but the results are jammed with mistakes and groaners.
I find the results still too crude to produce any quotes I can actually use in a white paper. But we’re getting there.
Dictation tip #9: No app can write a white paper for you
Using dictation can shave some serious time off your first draft of any long-form content.
But after that, you’ll still have to do the regular rewriting and polishing.
No app can replace the need for rigorous thinking, solid proof, and persuasive arguments. Or for polishing and re-polishing your content.
As a white paper writer, you still have to provide all those essential ingredients. And that’s as it should be, right?
Bonus tip #10: Have your computer read your draft to you
Another name for automated dictation is voice-to-text. But consider the reverse: text-to-voice.
That’s already included in your computer… and it makes a wonderful tool for writing a white paper.
Text-to-voice is a great way to check a draft white paper and listen for any passages that sound rough or wordy.
Whenever I do this, I instantly hear places where I can delete words, smooth out rough phrasing, or make a sentence shorter and crisper.
In Word, select the Review tab of the Ribbon, and then click Read Aloud.
You can adjust the default voice and speed to be more to your liking.
Sure, all the voices sound a little bit robotic. My favorite voice is “Samantha” speeded up a little faster than halfway so it sounds fairlyhuman.
Conclusion: Try dictation now!
I don’t use dictation every day for every project. But I love having it available as a “secret weapon.”
Whenever I need to pump out a quick first draft, or even deal with an avalanche of e-mail, I’ll likely pop on my headset and start talking into my computer.
And now that industrial-strength speech recognition is available right in Word, you really owe it to yourself to try it.
And don’t forget to get our handy cheat sheet that lists how to dictate all the most common punctuation marks and symbols.
This article was originally published in 2014 and last updated 11 May 2023. Things changed a lot during that time, including the rise and fall of Dragon Naturally Speaking, which I no longer use.
Did you ever use voice recognition to write a white paper? How did that work for you? Please share your experiences in the Comments section.
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Excellent Post! I have been used the voice recognition software some days ago it really nice software very helpful for everyone. Nice Information! Please keep sharing.
Great article! Many unique points and nicely summarized.Thanks for sharing. Definitely subscribing for more such articles.
I agree with you about retyping sources – top tip. Most advice online tends to be about composition only when Dragon is brilliant at any sort of note-taking. Speaking out loud (whether summarising or quoting verbatim) is also great for notes because it seems to make points stick in the mind in a way that writing by hand or typing doesn’t.
What unlocked it for me was getting a voice-recorder. It took me away from the screen, stopped me trying to correct as I went along and made it much easier to get the flow Dragon needs for accuracy.
Also, writing things old-school (pen and paper) then dictating/transcribing them isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Great insight Alex! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.