Whether you’re a marketer or a writer, you need to get text out of your mind and onto your 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-to-text software: It can capture me talking and transcribe it into text faster than I could ever 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 free, built into Word, Google Docs, and your phone.
To help you get started, here are 12 tips I’ve learned in decades of using speech recognition.
Plus, scroll to the end 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.
In Gdocs with Chrome, you can use voice recognition by selecting Tools > Voice Typing.
And any subscriber to Office 365 gets Dictation built into Word and Powerpoint.
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.
Dictation 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 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 if Word is running, Dictation will work. To use it, just click the Dictate button on the ribbon and start talking.
Dictation 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 at least $30—and probably more—for a decent USB noise-canceling headset.
So what if you spent $99 for an amazing headset that you use for the next 5 years to save you weeks of time. I’d say that’s an amazing ROI!
A better microphone means that the software will make fewer mistakes, so you’ll save even more time.
Dictation 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.
Dictation 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.
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.
Dictation 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 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 #7: 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 can 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 #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?
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.
Dictation tip #9: Use it 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.
Dictation tip #10: Use VR 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. 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 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 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.
Dictation tip #11: 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.
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 #12: No app can write a white paper for you
Your dictation 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?
Bonus tip: Have your computer read your draft to you
Dictation is called 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 seem to run on for far too long.
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.
In any app on the Mac, highlight the text you want to read and press Control+T.
Under Windows 10 or later, press Caps Lock+R to use the Narrator once you set it up. 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” speeded up a little faster than halfway.
Try dictation 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 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 cheatsheet that lists how to dictate all the most common punctuation marks and symbols.
This article was originally published in 2014 and last updated in April 2022.
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.
Want to know when there’s a fresh article on this site? Subscribe here to stay in the know about long-form content. And you can unsubscribe at any time.