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keyboard spelling out how to use dictation

Tips on using dictation software to write

Whether you’re a marketer or a writer, you need to get text out of your mind, onto your screen, and into a file several times a day.

Most people do that by typing. If you’re fast, you might get 60 words a minute.

But you can talk 2.5 times that fast, at something like 150 words a minute. 

That’s why I love voice recognition software: It can capture speech and transcribe it into text faster than anyone can type.

And it’s 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” aka “speech-to-text” aka “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 built into several versions of Word, plus Google.

To help you get started, here are 12 tips I’ve learned in 30 years of using speech recognition.

Plus, keep scrolling to the end for a free cheat sheet of how to dictate punctuation and special characters to Word.

VR tip #1: It’s everywhere now, 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.

In Gdocs, you can use voice recognition by selecting Tools > Voice Typing.

Best of all, subscribers to Office 365 get Dictation built into Word and Powerpoint. And so does anyone using the free Web version of Word.

That means whatever device or platform you choose, you can use voice recognition. Now that it’s free, there’s no reason not to try it out.

VR tip #2: All you need is Word for Office 365

For many years I used Dragon Naturally Speaking. It was fabulous.

But now I’ve said a fond goodbye to Dragon and switched to the built-in Dictation feature in Microsoft Word.

After running some basic tests, I found it’s every bit as good as Dragon.

And it eliminates one big headache.

One of the worst things about Dragon was that it often lagged months behind any system update. So whenever I upgraded Mac OS, Dragon would often crash out and refuse to run properly… for months, until there was an update. For another $200.

So one big bonus is that now I know: If Word is running, Dictation will work.

Dictation feature in Word

VR tip #3: 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 $30 or more for a decent USB noise-canceling headset.

Here’s a review of some good choices from Amazon.

A better microphone means that the VR software will make fewer mistakes, so you’ll save even more time.

Headsets from Amazon review

VR tip #4: Start with some low-risk e-mail

To get started, try dictating answers to some e-mails.

You can do that in Word or elsewhere, then paste your text into your e-mail client. You’ll probably be amazed by how well it works and how much time you save.

I still find dictating e-mails a blast that saves me many minutes every day.

Let’s face it, we can all talk faster than we type. And now that the computer can keep up, we can dictate answers to routine e-mails in our natural speaking voices.

VR tip #5: 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 include a period, comma, question mark, exclamation mark, open quotes, close quotes, colon, semicolon, apostrophe… or any of the other special characters shown on this cheatsheet.

Microsoft Word Dictation Cheatsheet

There are dozens more commands you can use to edit, move around your files, and control your computer with Windows or Mac OS.

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.

VR tip #6: Don’t worry about disrupting others

By the way, whether you’re working at home on the dining room table—or back at work in a cubicle—don’t worry about disrupting your office-mates or family.

Dictating to your computer isn’t any louder than talking on the phone.

You may be saying somewhat 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.

Using voice recognition in an office

VR tip #7: Think before you speak

VR 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 VR can help you improve your basic communication style, that’s another side benefit.

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 delete the first version as I polish.

VR tip #8: Forget mobile apps for long-form writing

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?

Me neither.

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 speech recognition in your office on your PC.

VR tip #9: Use VR for first drafts, not wordsmithing

Most of all, I use dictation to get a torrent of words into the computer as fast as possible.

An added bonus is that when I re-read material that I dictated, I see it with fresh eyes, almost as though it was written by someone else.

That helps keep me fresh on a major project.

Then I can polish and rework that text with a mouse and keyboard.

For me, this is a fine way to operate. No one says you have to use your voice to revise or polish your text.

VR tip #10: Use VR to avoid retyping sources

Here’s another great use for speech recognition: managing sources.

I’ve done white papers with 60+ footnotes, where I had to type in a sentence or two from each source. I had most of those sources 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 would take three or four hands.

Then I realized there was a better way.

I can just flip to each source and read in the choice bits at the appropriate spot in my white paper draft. Then I do the footnote and read in all the citation details.

Meanwhile, my hands are free to sort through my notes and file away all my sources in good order.

tins cans connected by red string

VR tip #11: You can’t get everyone on a Zoom call—yet

If only some app could record and transcribe BOTH sides of a telephone interview or 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.

I have to say we’re not there yet, for several reasons:

  1. Everyone’s voice is different. It’s a big challenge for software to handle two or more different voices in succession.
  2. Accents are still a problem. Imagine a Brit speaking with a Jamaican and a Korean. Even human listeners are challenged by different accents. Those are even harder for software.
  3. The sound quality of phone calls can be poor. Especially if you’re using an online service like Zoom or Skype, or a speakerphone.

Some day I’m sure we will get to perfect automated transcription of multi-voice calls. But I believe that day is still some years away.

For example, the transcription services and can produce automated transcripts of Zoom calls… but the results are jammed with mistakes and groaners.

It still takes a human to transcribe or polish up a recorded conversation between two or more speakers.

VR tip #12: No app can write a white paper for you

Your VR software will likely shave some serious time off your first draft of any long-form content.

But after that, you’ll have some serious rewriting and polishing to do.

No app can replace the need for rigorous thinking, solid proof, and persuasive arguments. Or for polishing and repolishing your content.

As a white paper writer, you still have to provide all those essential ingredients. And that’s as it should be, right?



Text-to-speech--Woman listening as computer reads her white paper back to her

Bonus tip: Have your computer read your draft to you

Voice recognition is called voice-to-text. But consider the reverse: text-to-voice.

That’s already included in your computer… and it makes a great 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 seem to run on for far too long.

Whenever I do this, I instantly hear places where I can delete some words, smooth out some rough phrasing, or make a sentence shorter and crisper.

In Word, select the Review tab of the Ribbon, and then click Read Aloud.

On the Mac, highlight the text you want to read in any app and press Control+T.

Under Windows 10 or later, press Caps Lock+R to use the Narrator. Here’s an article that describes how to get Narrator set up.

With any of these, you can adjust the default voice or even download further voices specifically for text-to-voice.

Sure, they all sound a little bit robotic. My favorite voice is “Samantha” sped up a little faster than halfway.

Read more: Will artificial intelligence replace writers?

Try voice recognition now!

I believe the few hundred dollars I’ve spent on software and microphones over the past decades has been repaid many, many times in faster and easier writing.

And now that it’s free, so much the better.

I don’t use VR 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 cheatsheet that lists how to dictate all the most common punctuation marks and symbols.


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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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from household names like Google and Verizon to tiny startups with big ideas. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned more than 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI, the world's leading training organization for professional copywriters.

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  1. Jamesfannin on November 28, 2018 at 4:02 am

    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.

  2. John Wesley on April 22, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    Great article! Many unique points and nicely summarized.Thanks for sharing. Definitely subscribing for more such articles.

  3. Alex Gordon on November 22, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    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.

    • Angie Gallop, Managing Editor at That White Paper Guy on December 14, 2020 at 1:49 pm

      Great insight Alex! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.

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