Speech to Text: Use Dictation Software To Write Fast

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Are you looking for a dictation software? Or do you want a way of transcribing speech notes into text in real-time?

Speech to text software will enable anyone to transcribe and write text much faster than typing.

Over the past few years, it's become more affordable and accessible. Transcription services are another popular choice.

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Industry-standard speech recognition by Nuance
  • ✓   Accurate and fast
  • ✓   Ideal for anyone with RSI or a disability
  • ✓   Best speech to text software for authors

When I was employed as a journalist, I spent a lot of time interviewing people. One of the most painful things I had to do was transcribe long interviews using a keyboard.

My fingers ached after spending an hour pressing play and pause and play and pause… and typing what the interviewees were saying. I also found messing with playback speed a pain. These days, I use dictation software like Dragon Professional and transcription software like Rev.

The former converts speech to text and transcribe first drafts of articles, blog posts, book chapters and more. The latter is ideal for getting transcripts of my work from typists.

Using both types of software is useful for avoiding the physical pains of typing and is a fast way of creating documents, memos, emails, and speeches.

What is Speech to Text Software?

Speech to text or voice dictation software describes speech transcription technology that converts spoken word to text. It allows you to write articles, speeches, books, memos, emails and more with your voice.

Whereas virtual assistant apps respond to voice commands and complete predefined tasks, speech to text technology is specifically for the purpose of writing a spoken word or phrase.

Also known as dictation software, it may include assistive technology features for controlling your computer. It's sometimes available as a mobile app or a desktop app and is compatible with multiple devices.

Why Use Speech to Text Software

Dictation or speech to text transcription is far faster than typing.

I have the ability to type about five hundred to thousand words in 30 minutes if I know what I’m writing about. On the other hand, I can dictate up to three or four thousand words in 30 minutes.

Talk about workflow management and turnaround time!

With technology, you don’t need to invest in expensive screen reader software or pay hefty fees for english transcriptions. Artificial intelligence has enabled new dictation solutions.

With features such as mobile dictation and advanced speech recognition software, spending your days hunched over your keyboard typing away in Microsoft Word may be coming to an end.

Digital dictation software is not only a real time-saver, but it gives you the freedom of not being dependent on a keyboard to put words on paper.

With the help of artificial intelligence and cheaper dictation devices, digital dictation is the future for many writers.

If you suffer from RSI or get pain in your fingers from typing, dictation is ideal. You can dictate standing up, while walking around the room or even without having to use your hands.

Dictation is also ideal for writing first drafts, but if you're not ready for premium speech-to-text software, I'll explain what you can use instead.

The job of any first draft is simply to exist. When you're writing your first draft, you shouldn't stop to edit yourself.

With dictation, it’s harder to edit and write at the same time meaning you're more likely to hit your daily target word count and get those messy first draft out of your head and onto the blank page.

You can’t stop dictating, to check your email, browse Facebook or to do something else that has nothing to do with writing.

You can use your computer’s inbuilt dictation systems, or other speech recognition programs to start speech to text. You can also use mobile apps – for Android and iOS – to dictate on the go.

Remember to modulate your dictation voice to make good use of dictation devices.

Speech To Text Software Vs Transcription Services

Speech to text software is typically powered by machine learning and is automated.

A popular but more expensive option involves recording an audio file and sending it to a human or AI-powered transcription service.  Examples include Rev and Otter.AI.

Buyer's Guide

If you’re going to invest in dictation software, do your research and ensure that you are investing in a quality product.

How Accurate is it?

Voice typing is not science fiction anymore. In recent times, voice-to-text software has improved, and dictation and transcription have become a lot simpler.

That being said – some dictation software is still buggy or inaccurate, and can be difficult to use.

When choosing a software, look out for accuracy. You want to invest in software with a speech recognition engine that accurately detects most of what you have spoken.

For example, Rev will ensure near 100% accuracy, but it's not cheap. Dragon Naturally speaking is more affordable, but you'll need to train it. 

Is it Compatible With Your Devices?

Check if the speech to text software in question is compatible with your devices. Some voice to text apps only adapts to certain operating systems, while others are versatile and can be used on many different systems and devices.

Web apps, on the other hand, are accessible everywhere with internet access.

Remember the difference between personal assistant apps and voice to text apps that I mentioned earlier?

Lucky for you it is becoming more and more common that the two types of apps are converging into one. Many dictation software apps now come with assistive technology features that can send you reminders, set dates in a calendar, and search your browser for information.

If you want to get more done in less time, a dictation software with such features is in your best interest.

Is it User-Friendly?

Choose software you like using. There’s no use investing in a product that frustrates you every time you work with it.

If you feel that you will need technical support along the way, ensure that the software you choose offers the tech support you are looking for.

While some companies conduct tech support through customer calls, others offer helpful videos and tutorials that make solving your tech issues easier.

Does It Meet Your Budget?

Consider how much money you want to invest in software or a transcription service.

If you're getting into speech recognition software, start with free or cheap software to see if it suits you, for example Google Docs. For those ready to invest in spoken word technology, consider if you want software or a transcription service. 

For example, the popular transcription service Rev costs $1.25 a minute for a human transcription. Otter.AI, an AI-powered version, costs $.25 cents per minute.

Pros & Cons

Dictation software is a game-changer for writers. In many ways it will improve your writing process and make your life easier.

Pros
  • Speeds up the writing process
  • Good for writing in a more conversational style
  • Dictate while you cook, clean, or exercise
  • Record notes and ideas without having to stop what you are doing
  • Ideal for people with disabilities
Cons
  • Takes time to customize
  • May have trouble detecting and reading foreign names and words
  • Won’t work correctly with loud background noise
  • Editing is more time-consuming

Best Speech to Text Software for Everyone

If you're wondering ‘What is Dragon Naturally Speaking?', it's premium speech-text software that many writers use.

Nuance makes provide industry-standard dictation software, and if you're serious about dictation, Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC  is ideal.

New writers may not yet be up to spending several hundred dollars on voice recognition software. However,  the inbuilt speech to text software, in Windows is powered by Dragon. You can use it to practice dictating before you invest in premium speech recognition software.

To active speech recognition on a PC, open Control Panel, type speech into the search box and select Start Speech Recognition.

I recommend using your computer’s speech-recognition software to explore the benefits of dictation before spending any money.

So, why use Dragon NaturallySpeaking?

Well, the advantage of Dragon dictation software over inbuilt-software is you can train it to detect certain words, and it will become more accurate the more often you use it. It can also control your computer via voice commands.

Yes, it's expensive, but consider it an investment in your writing.

Best Dictation Software for Authors

Dictation workflow with speech to text
My dictation workflow

Dragon Naturally Speaking is also the best choice for authors who want to dictate their books. 

It's ideal for first drafts because you can’t stop to edit yourself.

You can edit your book using Dragon NaturallySpeaking by commanding it to select and replace words. I found this part of dictation slower than editing by hand.

So when I’ve finished my first draft, I teach Dragon a few words and make some corrections using my voice because I want to improve the accuracy of my profile.

However, I do the bulk of the editing and rewriting by hand.

In the end, dictation software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking is useful if you want to increase your daily word-count, get through a first draft and overcome problems like writing in pain.

Voice recognition software for writers won’t solve all of your problems, and I’m less convinced about the value of speech recognition software for rewrites and edits.

However, like any good tool, Dragon will help get more of the right things done… if you use it correctly.

Advanced Features of Dragon NaturallySpeaking

You can use more advanced versions of this dictation software to control your computer.

The software is designed to enable people with physical disabilities to do things like surf their web browser, use common applications on a computer and do everything you can do with a keyboard or mouse.

To be honest, I don't use Dragon for any of these things. I'm more interested in using Dragon to write first drafts and to prevent any problems that I have with RSI.

You can also import audio files into Dragon, and it will transcribe them for you. I tested this using an audio-file I recorded on my smartphone.

The accuracy was lower than what I could have achieved using my headset and computer, but it’s a useful feature if you’re stuck.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Versions 

The latest version of Dragon is more accurate than previous versions, and unlike older versions of Dragon it doesn't crash often.

I'm able to use Dragon in my favourite writing programmes including Pages, Scrivener, Word, Ulysses and IA Writer, and the accuracy appears to be better.

With this new voice software, I am able to dictate a sentence and then start typing the next one without confusing Dragon  (doing this in previous versions caused problems). The user interface has also been streamlined and is faster and less intrusive than previous versions.

My only caution is that Nuance releases a new version once every twelve months meaning there is a noticeable cost of ownership. As I was a Dragon 5.0 customer, I paid USD100 for an early upgrade.

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home Edition  Once you've graduated past the free software on your computer, this is a good entry point to premium voice to text software. Cost: $59.

Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium  This version contains more advanced features for writers and bloggers i.e. application support. You can also speak basic voice commands. Cost: $129.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Individual Edition This PC version enables dictation and voice control throughout your computer. It's the default choice for anyone who takes dictation seriously. Cost $300.

Check out the links to the websites above and explore which option is best for you.

Pros
  • Great for first drafts
  • Gotta love that word-count
  • Ideal for anyone with RSI or a disability
  • Works great in popular writing applications like Scrivener
Cons
  • Learning curve takes time
  • Accuracy isn’t 100%
  • Less valuable for edits and rewrites
  • Yearly upgrade cycle may put off some

Dragon Naturally Speaking: Popular Alternatives

Computer-Based

Not ready to use Dragon? Fear not. Here are some alternative speech recognition programs that work on your computer or via  web app:

  • Apple Dictation
  • Google Docs Voice Dictation
  • Windows Speech Recognition
  • Cortana
  • ListNote
  • Gboard
  • Speech recogniser

Mobile Dictation Apps

If you want to write on the go, then here are 3 mobile apps designed to help you in your speech transcription needs that you should check out.

  • Siri: Available for all new iOS devices. Extremely intuitive. Needs a good internet connection to work.
  • Google Docs: Easy to use and syncs seamlessly to your google account. Available on Android.
  • Dragon Anywhere: Available for both iOS and Android. Works well even if you speak with an accent. A bit on the expensive side.

Web apps

SpeechNotes is a free browser-based dictation software that allows you to convert your speech into text directly in your Chrome browser.

It is super easy to set up, and once you give it permission to use your mic, all you have to do is click on the microphone icon and you are good to go.

Even if you upgrade to its premium version, SpeechNotes is more cost-effective than using a transcription service. You can export your files to .doc or .txt, or upload it to Google Drive. It is also available as a mobile app.

Transcription Services

The Rev transcription service is a human-powered, comes without any learning curve and guarantees near 100% accuracy. It costs a $1.25  a minute.

To use Rev to dictate your book or writing, prepare an outline in advance, and then record yourself dictating the first draft using your phone your computer.

When you finish dictating this first draft, you can upload the audio file to Rev. Because the transcribers are real people reading your work, you're less likely to face problems of accuracy, and the turnaround time for a document is typically only 24-hours.

Rev is more expensive than using speech transcription or voice recognition software. I’ve used Rev to transcribe interviews and short posts, and typically a 1000-word, ten-minute file costs me ten dollars.

I worked out it would cost me approximately $700 to dictate a first draft of an entire book. That's based on the math of a dollar per minute with a typical book being 70,000 words long.

More recently, I've experimented with dictating drafts of articles into the Rev iPhone app and uploading them for transcription. This approach enabled me to write twice as fast and on the go.

Pros
  • Near 100% accuracy
  • Fast
  • No learning curve
  • Great mobile app
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for multiple drafts

Using transcription services might be a tad more expensive than buying a voice-to-text software, but the end result, the quality of finished documents, speaks for itself.

I also hand-picked a few other transcription services so you don’t have to get your hands dirty.

  • Scribie
  • Temi
  • Transcription Panda

What To Expect From Speech to Text Software

1. 100% Accuracy Not Guaranteed

Although speech to text transcription or dictation software has improved dramatically since I used it several years ago, you shouldn’t expect 100% accuracy.

Your accuracy with speech recognition software will increase over time as the software becomes accustomed to your voice, but it won't recognise every spoken word, particularly technical terms and words affected by your accent.

In the video above, you can see some of the mistakes or issues Dragon has with my accent. This is a good indication of the quality that you can expect when starting off.

Tracking your word-count from each session as compared to when you write by hand will help you feel motivated about learning how to dictate early drafts of your work.

2. Allow for a Learning Curve

Like any new skill, it takes time to learn how to dictate a book or a chapter.

It took me some trial and error to figure out how to integrate dictation into my writing workflow.

For example, you have to speak punctuation commands. So, when I want a full stop, I have to say the words “full stop”. When I want to start a new paragraph, I have to say “new paragraph”.

This is true for even advanced speech recognition software such as the one used by Google docs. Google docs’ speech recognition engine is also very picky about dictation commands such as “new line” or “full stop”, and often confuses it with other words in its vocabulary, especially if you speak with an accent.

So make sure you keep a list of dictation commands handy and master them using a couple of test paragraphs before you put your voice recognition software through its paces.

You can get the dictation commands that are commonly used from your software supplier, and, as speech recognition programs become more advanced, you may someday be able to bid farewell to Microsoft Word.

You’ll also have to rid your spoken vocabulary of filler words like “you know”.

That’s not all.

If your internet connection is patchy or if the dictation voice is not loud enough, dictation and transcription can become that much more difficult.

Even after you've figured out how to integrate dictation into your workflow, know that dictation will change how you write.

I found dictation leads to a more conversational type of writing. Because I’m ‘speaking’, I'm less likely to use bigger words or to turn to complicated language and turns of phrase.

Dictation is ideal for writers who gravitate towards conversational writing (and those who write online).

I imagine literary fiction authors would get less value from dictation.

How to Ensure High-Quality Dictation 

Before you start using Dragon, you’ll need to train it (and yourself). Dragon includes some tutorials you should complete before you start using dictation software.

These tutorials teach you how to use dictation software as well as give Dragon a chance to learn how you speak.

The initial tutorial for Dragon NaturallySpeaking takes 90 seconds to complete and should get you up and running. The other ones take about ten minutes to complete, and doing these will increase your accuracy.

You can also import some of your writing into Dragon so it can study how you write and learn commonly used words and phrases.

1. Outline Your Writing 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, which is what I did for this post. Alternatively, you could create a mind map.

Whatever your approach, keep your outline near where you're dictating so you can look at it while you speak.

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.

Be sure to enunciate very clearly and punctuate as you speak to avoid spending tons of time editing. It is best to face the mic while dictating and give it a test beforehand.

Also be sure that your software is still listening while you pause when speaking, as some dictations software apps only listen for about 30 to 45 seconds at a time.

2. Use Placeholder Words

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.

3. Get the Right Equipment for Dictation

A dictation headset
The VSI X100 microphone I use

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.

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.

Writing a Book By Dictation

Writing a book by dictation is different than typing out a draft or even relying on pen and paper.

For example, I dictated some of my last book The Art of Writing a Non-Fiction Book. For this to work, I had to outline much of the chapter before-hand on index cards.

Then, I had to train myself to dictate the entire chapter without stopping to edit typos or fix issues. In effect, I dictated the first draft and then edited and rewrote later drafts by typing.

As explained earlier, voice typing is only good to get your first draft on paper. You still need to edit and format your book, something voice-to-text software can’t achieve.

While dictating your first book:

  • Keep background noise to a minimum.
  • If you are using a mobile device or smartphone, use a headset with a microphone.
  • Make sure you have a fast internet connection, especially if you are using Google docs on a chrome browser.
  • Leave editing and formatting for the end, and do it manually.

Want tips on how to write a book? Check out How to Write a Book: A Definitive Guide for Writers.

The writer Natalie Goldberg recommends new writers practising their craft follow her mantra to “Keep your hand moving.” When it comes to dictation or speech recognition software, keep your mouth moving!

Speech to Text Software: The Final Word

A variety of voice-to-text software for writers exists, such as the ones mentioned above, as well as Deskshare’s Dictation Pro and the Philips SpeechExec Pro.

I've used some but not all of these. For me, Dragon offers the best speech recognition software at a premium.

If you're really concerned with accuracy and speed and have a larger budget, consider using Rev to transcribe your articles.

To find out if dictation software is right for you, try a free version and see how it fits your style. Once you are confident, make the investment and take your writing career to new heights.

Speech to Text FAQs

Does Dragon NaturallySpeaking need the internet?

Once you activate your software you can dictate while offline.

Can Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribe audio files?

You can upload a personal audio file or one from social media to Dragon NaturallySpeaking and it will transcribe it. You may have to clean up the result.

Does Dragon NaturallySpeaking work with Mac Yosemite or High Sierra?

Nuance has discontinued their software for Mac. Currently, I use Rev to transcribe my writings and articles. I also have an old copy of Dragon software for Mac.

How much does Dragon speech to text software cost?

Dragon costs anywhere from $59 to $300. It depends on which version you buy.

What’s the best dictation software for Mac?

If you’re on a budget, use the inbuilt dictation software first until you’re comfortable dictating. You could also use Rev.

What’s the best dictation app for writers?

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a good dictation app for writers as you can train it to recognize character names and unusual words. Rev is a popular transcription alternative.

Can Dragon Naturally Speaking convert MP3 to text?

Yes. A twenty-minute audio recording takes about three to five minutes to transcribe if you have a modern computer. Speak punctuation into your voice recorder. You may have to find and fix some errors in the final text file.

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