Dictating can help any writer produce more words in less time. Use the nine dictation tips in this guide to improve your workflow.
These days, dictation forms a big part of my writing workflow. I outline articles in advance using bullet points, on index cards or via writing software.
I dictate the first draft using dictations apps like Dragon Anywhere on my iPad or iPhone in the morning. In the afternoon, I edit my drafts while sitting at a computer.
Dictating takes skill and practice, but it can save you quite a bit of time writing. It’s also a good strategy if you suffer for RSI (like I do) or if you simply want to avoid spending all day at a writing desk.
If you’re finding this way of writing tricky to learn, fear not. It took me many months to adapt. Yet with these tips, you can start using your iPhone, iPad or tablet to write faster, without a keyboard and mouse.
- Why Learn to Dictate?
- 1. Practice with Free Sofware
- 2. Invest In a Quality Headset
- 3. Learn Basic Dictation Commands
- 4. Outline in Advance
- 5. Practice With Smaller Writing Projects
- 6. Avoid Rambling
- 7. Use Voice Recognition for First Drafts Only
- 8. Use Placeholder Words
- 9. Don’t Worry about Formatting
- Dictation Tips: The Final Word
- Dictation Tips FAQS
- Voice Dictation Resources
Why Learn to Dictate?
An increased daily wordcount is the biggest benefit of dictation. It takes most writers an hour or longer to write two thousand words via typing. However, with a solid outline, you can easily dictate that much in as little as ten minutes. Continue to dictate and those gains will compound over time.
Dictation is also healthier than writing while sitting down at a desk. You can take a smartphone and your notes out with you for a walk and dictate as you go. It’s a good approach if you regularly find yourself getting cramps or repetitive strain injury from typing or using a mouse. This way of working also unlocks fresh thinking and creativity.
1. Practice with Free Sofware
Apple, Android, Google, and Microsoft Word all have free dictation Options. There are also apps available for Chrome, Edge, and Firefox browsers. You can even find voice recognition in Google Docs.
Find your preferred platform and its voice recognition options, and try them out. This will give you the chance to practice dictation.
You can practice dictation for free with:
- Google Voice
- Microsoft Cortana speech recognition
We’ve tested all of these options extensively. They won’t deliver 100% accuracy and are unsuitable for larger writing projects, but they’re useful if you’re learning the basics of dictation. When you’re ready, try premium software like Otter.ai or Dragon Anywhere.
2. Invest In a Quality Headset
The accuracy of your dictation software is determined by the quality of your microphone and the surrounding environment. There are three types of microphones for dictation software: built-in computer mics, wired headsets, and wireless headsets.
I first tried using the inbuilt mic in my computer for dictation, but my accuracy was below 50%.
Then I tried using a cheap headset that I had in my wardrobe. That didn’t improve the quality much either. So, I spent just over $100 on a professional dictation headset and that had a dramatic increase in my accuracy.
If you are looking for a cheap option, the Koss Communications CS100-USB is rated as a reliable headset and is offered in both USB and 3.5mm adapter forms. It is highly rated by call center employees who take customer calls and speak to people throughout each day. I also find Apple AirPod earphones deliver good accuracy.
If you are using the dictation solution provided by Google, then the accuracy is a bit higher. Just open Google Docs from your Chrome browser, go to Tools, open the Voice typing feature next to the microphone icon, and you are good to go.
If you’re dictating somewhere noisy like a coffee shop, your accuracy will decrease. Background noise, such as a conversation or the honking of a car tends to mess with many digital dictation systems, so make sure you are in a quiet room.
3. Learn Basic Dictation Commands
One of the tricks of transforming audio files into documents is the need to include formatting. How does your dictation program know to add a comma here or quotation marks there? Voice commands tell it what to do, and here are some basic ones:
- New Line. This tells the system to start a new line, similar to hitting the Enter key.
- Punctuation. If you need to add a period, question mark, semicolon or comma, simply say “period” or “comma” where you need one.
- Quote That. This command adds quotations before and after whatever you just said.
- Comma. This command inserts a comma. Good dictation software will usually insert the apostrophe automatically.
- Hyphenate That. Similar to Quote That, this command inserts a hyphen between the last words said.
- Numeral. Makes the number show in numeral form rather than text form.
- Cap. Say this before a word to capitalize that word.
4. Outline in Advance
Dictation software like Dragon works best if you speak in complete sentences.
Get into the habit of thinking what you’re going to say before you say it. All of this is easier if you know what your article or book chapter is vaguely about in advance.
You can draft an outline by using a bullet-point list. Alternatively, you could create a mind map. Whatever your approach, keep your outline nearby so you can look at it while speaking.
In this video, you can see how I dictated an early draft of this post. On the left-hand side of the screen, there’s an outline of the blog post. In the centre of the screen, you can see me dictating as I go.
5. Practice With Smaller Writing Projects
To practice with your dictation program, start simple. Send a low-priority email, and instead of typing it, speak it. This will give you practice without pressure.
In the beginning, view your dictated message as a first draft. Always proofread before sending or publishing to ensure you got the nuance right and every parenthesis and comma is in the proper spot.
6. Avoid Rambling
We speak differently than we write, so you will need to train yourself to speak using proper grammar. Similarly, you need to stop saying fillers like “you know” or “um” while dictating. Unfortunately, dictation software adds those words to your final document.
Remember to pause but avoid filling the space with nonsense words. Speak in complete sentences, so you can avoid the need to spend lots of time revising.
7. Use Voice Recognition for First Drafts Only
Voice recognition software can help you save time and energy writing a first draft. Use it to get your ideas on virtual paper. It allows you to get words on the screen quickly, then edits for clarity later. Unless you’re familiar with dictation commands and using premium software, it’s usually easier to edit with a keyboard.
By adding voice recognition to your workflow, you can work more efficiently. However, always proofread and edit your copy thoroughly. It will need polishing.
Check out our self-editing checklist
8. Use Placeholder Words
A placeholder word replaces tricky names and terms that dictation software gets wrong regularly.
For example, my daughter has a traditional Irish name. No matter how many times I’ve tried, I couldn’t train Dragon’s vocabulary to recognise her name. I tried spelling the name and various other tips and tricks, but Dragon still insists on mangling it.
So now whenever I’m writing a journal entry, and I use her name, I speak a placeholder word that Dragon recognises.
For example, I call her “Sarah” or I call her “my daughter”.
Then when I’m editing the journal entry, I do a search for the word ‘Sarah’ and replace it with my daughter’s name. If you’re writing fiction with speech to text transcription software, you could use this trick for your characters.
9. Don’t Worry about Formatting
I usually don’t bother adding italics, bold or other formatting styles while dictating. It’s easier and faster to do this during the editing and publishing process. Plus, this offers a good opportunity to clarify what I said. However, I make an exception for bullet points as it’s easy enough to dictate these.
Dictation Tips: The Final Word
Dictation takes practice to learn, but a voice recorder that transcribes your work can save quite a bit of writing time. If you invest in a good headset and quality voice-to-text software like Dragon Anywhere, you can avoid paying for transcription services or even writing in pain.
Dictation Tips FAQS
How can I get better at dictation?
To get better at dictation, practice regularly with a good headset. Like any skill, it will take time to develop. Outline your work in advance. Dictate short articles, emails, and blog posts. Invest in premium software when you’re ready. Over time, dictation will become part of your writing workflow.
How Can I dictate on a Mac?
To dictate on an Apple computer, use either Siri or Dragon Anywhere via your iOS device. You can also use Otter.ai via a web browser.