I seldom feel like a pioneer, but in one way I am.
I’ve been using voice recognition software for 20 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”—get better and better. Today it’s simply superb.
Here are 12 tips I’ve learned during that time.
VR tip #1: You can try it free
Speech recognition is now built into Windows, Mac OS, and offered by Google and Microsoft.
You can get free dictation on Android and iPhone smartphones and in Chrome, Edge and Firefox browsers.
In Gdocs, you can use voice recognition by selecting Tools > Voice Typing.
And subscribers to Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise get Dictation software built into Office apps like Word and Powerpoint.
That gives you a wealth of possibilities, whatever device or platform you use. Since it’s free, there’s absolutely no risk to give it a try.
VR tip #2: You get what you pay for The VR in Windows is great for navigating the desktop, controlling software, and doing consumer tasks like updating Facebook. But nearly every reviewer agrees: For professional dictation, you’ll get better results from Dragon Naturally Speaking from Nuance. The same company makes Dragon Dictate for Mac (after it acquired MacSpeech in 2010). I’ve used both Windows and Mac versions for years, and they’re both superb. For example, the latest Dictate for Mac version 6 is phenomenal! I don’t think it has made a single mistake for me yet, except for rendering proper names that may sound like something else.
For example, it’s interpreted my wife’s name “Angie Gallop” as “Angie Gallup” and “energy gallop.” That’s pretty forgivable when it gets everything else right.There’s a Windows Home version for $100, personal version for $200, and full version for $300. I recommend the full version. You don’t have to save many hours to earn back that investment. And believe me, you will save hours with it.
VR tip #2: You don’t need a specialized app
Updated spring 2020: VR used to eat up all the computing power from any regular PC, so it took a specialized app like Dragon to make the most of it. Now computers are much more powerful and VR engines are much better.
So I’m saying a fond goodbye to Dragon and switching to the built-in Dictation in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
In some basic testing I did, it was every bit as good as Dragon… and much more convenient to click.
To me, another big bonus is that once Office is running, Dictation will work.
I won’t have to wait for the update to Dragon, which sometimes lagged behind Mac OS by months.
VR tip #3: Get a good microphone
VR software is a lot more forgiving than it used to be, but a quality microphone is still vital.
Expect to pay $50 or so for a decent USB noise-canceling microphone.
The software will likely make fewer mistakes, so you’ll save even more time.
VR tip #4: Forget mobile apps for long-form writing
Yes, there is Siri and a stripped-down version of Dragon on the iPhone or Android. Yes, there is voice recognition in Android. And sure, there are some voice recognition apps for the iPad. Mobile phones and tablets really lack the processing power that a VR engine demands. For now at least, production-quality voice recognition still lives on desktop computers.
A mobile dictation app is fine for recording a few thoughts or sending a quick replying to an email.
But seriously, will you ever write a white paper by dictating into a smartphone?
I didn’t think so.
To write long-form content, most people really need a bigger screen and a less turbulent environment.
And despite the growth of mobile everything, most prospects still read most white papers on the screen of a tablet or a desktop PC.
VR tip #5: Start with low-risk e-mail
To get started, try dictating answers to some e-mails.
You’ll probably be amazed how well it works and how much time you save.
I still find dictating e-mails a real blast that saves me many minutes every day.
Let’s face it, all of us can talk much 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 #6: Don’t worry about disrupting others
By the way, if you’re working in a cubicle—or at home on the dining room table—don’t worry about disrupting your office-mates or family.
Dictating to your computer isn’t any louder than talking on the phone.
Yes, 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.
VR tip #7: Learn the basic commands
To use Dictation in Word, you’ll want to know a few basics commands like these:
- New line: Start a line, like pressing Enter.
- Punctuation: Just say the punctuation you want to include, or you’ll have to add it later by hand. It sounds strange at first, but you’ll get used to it in a few minutes. That includes period, comma, question mark, exclamation mark, open quotes, close quotes, colon and semicolon.
- Smiley face: Enters 🙂
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.
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 #8: Use VR to avoid retyping sources
I’ve had white papers with 60+ footnotes, where I had to type in a sentence or two from each source, most of them printouts with a sentence or two highlighted.
What a pain to keep all that straight on my desk while I re-typed the text.
Then I realized there was a better way.
I just flip to each source and read in the choice bits to include at the appropriate spot in a white paper draft, plus all the citation details for that footnote.
Meanwhile my hands are free to sort through my piles of notes and file away all my sources in good order.
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 for everything.
VR tip #10: 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 just delete the first version as I polish.
VR tip #11: You can’t get both sides of a phone call
If only some software app could record and transcribe BOTH sides of a telephone interview.
Then we could sit back, yack on the phone, 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:
- Everyone’s voice is different. It’s a big challenge for software to handle two different voices in rapid-fire succession.
- Accents are a problem. Imagine a Brit speaking with a Jamaican or a Korean. Even human listeners are challenged by different accents. That’s even harder for software.
- Sound quality on phone calls can be poor. Especially if you’re using a mobile device, or a web service like Zoom or Skype, or a speakerphone.
- The sound levels are different. Generally, your side of any phone call will be much louder than the other side. That creates another technical challenge for software to deal with.
Some day we will likely get to perfect automated transcription of multi-voice phone calls or conferences. But I believe that day is still years away.
For example, the popular transcription service Rev.com does automated transcripts of recorded phone calls… but they are jammed with mistakes and groaners.
It still takes human transcribers to do a competent job on any conference call.
VR tip #12: You can’t write a white paper just by talking
Your VR software will likely shave serious time off your first draft of long-form content. But after that, you still have serious rewriting and polishing to do.
No software can ever replace the need for rigorous thinking, solid proof, and persuasive arguments.
As a white paper writer, you still have to provide all of those essential ingredients.
Bonus tip: Have your computer read to you
Voice recognition is voice-to-text. But a text-to-voice option is already included in your computer… and it makes a good tool for white paper writing.
In Word, select the Review tab of the Ribbon, and then click Read Aloud.
On the Mac in any app, highlight the text you want to read and press Control+T.
You can adjust the default voices, and even download further voices specifically for text-to-voice.
Sure, they all sound a little bit robotic. My favorite voice is “Samantha” turned up a little faster than halfway.
Under Windows, you can use the built-in text-to-speech app called Narrator. Here’s a video that describes how to set it up.
I much prefer the free Natural Reader app which gives you a floating toolbar that can read Word, PDFs, and Webpages.
But really, most of us write in Word so its built-in Dictation is fine.
Remember, text-to-voice is a great way to check your draft.
Whenever I do this, I instantly hear places where I can delete some words, smooth out some rough phrasing, or make a sentence crisper.
Try it now!
I believe the few hundred dollars I’ve spent on software and microphones over the past 20 years has been repaid many, many times over 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 so accessible right in Word, you really owe it to yourself to try it.
Did you ever use voice recognition software to compose a white paper? How did that work for you? Please share your experiences in the Comments section.