I seldom feel like a pioneer, but in one way I am.
I’ve been using voice recognition software for more than 20 years now!
I’ve used it to write articles, chapters of books, hundreds of e-mails, and of course, major chunks of white papers.
Over the years, I’ve seen voice recognition (VR) software get better and better both for Windows and the Mac. Today it’s superb on both.
Here are some tips I’ve learned during that time.
VR tip #1: Now you can try VR for free
Basic VR is built into Windows, so you can try it on a new PC for free.
And Mac OS has pretty reasonable VR built in.
When it’s free, there’s little risk in giving 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 #3: Get a good microphone
VR software is a lot more forgiving than it used to be, but a quality microphone is still vital.
If you don’t get a bundled headset with your product, expect to pay at least $50 for a decent noise-canceling microphone.
Nuance supplies a certified headset if you buy the packaged software (not the download) and offers a list of compatible hardware here.
VR tip #4: Forget mobile apps, for now
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.
All these are fine for recording a quick note or asking Google for the nearest gas station.
They may even give you a glimpse of the amazing possibilities of VR technology.
But seriously, will you ever write a white paper by dictating into a smartphone? I didn’t think so.
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.
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, don’t worry about disrupting your office-mates.
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 your software
I’m not a power user of Dragon by any stretch, so I know there’s much more I could be doing with the software.
But you’ll want to know a few basics commands like these:
- New line: Start a line
- New paragraph: Start a paragraph
- Period, comma, dash, question mark: You can either dictate the punctuation you want in your text, or add it later by hand
- Scratch word: Delete the last word you said
- Scratch that: Delete the last few words you said
- Search Google for [whatever]: Search for [whatever] with Google
- Scroll up, scroll down: Scroll a webpage
- Wake up: Activate your microphone
There are dozens more commands you can use to edit, move around your files, and control your computer. 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.
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 detailed 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 everything 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: Don’t imagine you can write a white paper just by talking
Your VR software will likely shave serious time off your first draft. But after that, you still have serious rewriting and polishing to do.
No software, for any price, can 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.
VR tip #12: 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 tell them 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, a VOIP service like Skype, or a speakerphone.
- The sound levels are different. Generally, one side of any phone call will be much, much louder than the other. That creates another technical challenge for software to deal with.
Some day we will likely get to perfect transcription of multi-voice communications. But by then, I’m not sure transcriptions will be so exciting?!
At that point, marketers will likely be doing much more through virtual demos and online face-to-face talks—perhaps with automated avatars—or through new mediums that haven’t even been invented yet.
Bonus tip: Have your computer read to you
Voice recognition is voice-to-text. But a text-to-voice option is included in your PC, and it makes a good tool for white paper writing.
Under Windows 7, press the Windows key+U. With Narrator running, put your cursor in your draft and press Insert+F6 to read the current paragraph, or Insert+F7 to read the current page.
On the Mac, 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. But text-to-voice is a great way to check your draft.
Whenever I do this, I’m alerted to numerous little fixups that can make the phrasing smoother and the sentences crisper.
Background: Did you know that traditional “proofreading” was a two-person operation?
One person read from the original manuscript, while the other looked at the typeset proof. The reader used a pencil to indicate punctuation: one tap for a comma, and two taps for a full stop.
In a strange way, that brings us full circle to today, when we have to say “comma” and “period” when dictating to our PCs.
Why wait for spring? 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 composing.
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.
Try it yourself, and see.
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.