Looking for a dictation software? Or a way to transcribe your speech notes into text?
In this post, I’ll explain:
- what you need to know about speech to text software.
- the best speech to text software available today.
- how you can dictate a first draft of your book or blog post using Dragon and other dictation software.
- the practical tips that make dictation work.
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.
I tried using dictation software to transcribe these interviews, but I found the software difficult to use and prone to mistakes.
Using dictation software is not only great for avoiding the physical pains of typing, but it is a fast way to create documents, memos, emails, and speeches.
What is Speech to Text Software?
Speech to text or voice dictation software is a speech transcription technology with an ability to convert 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 made specifically for the purpose of writing a spoken word or phrase.
If you’re lucky, you may find dictation software that has assistive technology features as well.
Voice dictation software is available as a mobile app or a desktop app and is compatible with multiple devices.
Why Writers Should 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 transcription. 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.
What to Look for in a Voice Dictation Software?
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.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Is it Compatible With Your Devices?
You will also want to make sure that it is compatible with the devices that you plan to use. 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.
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 Enough for Writers?
Be sure to choose a software that is easy to use. 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.
Consider how much money you want to invest in the software. If you are just getting into speech recognition software, it may be best to start with free or cheap software to see if it suits you. For those who are ready to invest in spoken word technology, spend time finding what you are looking for at the best price.
Pros & Cons of Voice Dictation Software
Dictation software is a game changer for writers. In many ways it will improve your writing process and make your life easier. Are there any drawbacks to the software?
Let’s see both pros and cons:
- It speeds up the writing process and is a real time saver.
- Dictation software gives you the ability to write in a more conversational style, which is ideal for speeches and proposals.
- It is great for multitasking – Dictate and make notes while you cook, clean, or exercise.
- You can jot down notes and ideas without having to stop what you are doing.
- Dictation software is beneficial for those who lack the ability to use their hands.
- It takes time to learn the process and customize your software.
- Some speech recognition engines have trouble detecting and reading foreign names and words.
- Dictation software won’t work correctly if there is background noise.
- You will have to go back and spend time editing your documents and formatting them.
The tone spoken while dictating may be completely different than how you typically write, meaning it can take time to learn how to blend the two.
The Best Speech to Text Software – Dragon NaturallySpeaking
If you're wondering ‘What is Dragon Naturally Speaking?', it's premium speech-text software that many writers use.
Nuance makes Dragon dictation software.
However, I realise new writers may not yet be up to spending several hundred dollars on voice recognition software.
Here’s the good news:
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 recognise 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.
Training Dragon for 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.
Tips on Using Your Dictation Software Like a Pro
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
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.
Expectations From Your Speech to Text Software
1. Do not Expect 100% Accuracy From Speech to Text Software
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 Time 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.
Using Voice to Text for Writing Books
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 in 2019: A Definitive Guide for Writers.
From First Draft to a Published Work
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 or dictation software is ideal for writing practice and for first drafts because you can’t stop to edit yourself.
Now, it’s possible to edit your writing 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 won’t solve all of your writing 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.
Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking any Good?
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.
- Great for first drafts
- Gotta love that word-count
- Ideal for anyone with RSI or a disability
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking works great in popular writing applications like Scrivener
- Learning curve takes time
- Accuracy isn’t 100%
- Less valuable for edits and rewrites
- Yearly upgrade cycle may put off some
Common Questions About Dragon NaturallySpeaking
Does Dragon NaturallySpeaking need the internet?
No, once you activate your software you can dictate while offline.
Can Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribe audio files?
Yes, you can upload a personal audio file or one from social media to Dragon NaturallySpeaking and it will transcribe. You may have to clean up the result. I suggest trying this writing workflow with your phone before investing in a Dragon compatible voice recorder. (Dragon keeps a list on their website).
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. I've included a list of the latest versions below.
What’s the best dictation software for Mac?
If you’re on a budget, I suggest using the inbuilt dictation software first until you’re comfortable dictating. You could also use Rev.
What’s the best dictation app for writers?
Again, I recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking.
Lately I’ve tried and tested the Rev application for iPhone.
Unlike Dragon, a writer can dictate a draft into their dictation application and upload it to Rev. There, a human will transcribe your draft at the rate of a dollar per minute. It’s more accurate than Dragon but it’s also more expensive. Temi.com is another option.
Can Dragon Naturally Speaking convert MP3 to text? Can Naturally Speaking transcribe audio files?
Yes, I sometimes record audio files using the Olympus voice recorder from Olympus Dictation. Then, I transfer these audio files to my computer and open Dragon. It transcribes the MP3 files to a text folder on my computer.
A twenty minute audio recording takes about three to five minutes to transcribe. If you do this, you should speak punctuation and so on into your voice recorder. You may have to find and fix some errors in the final text file.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking Versions (2019)
Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium This version contains more advanced featuresfor 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.
Alternative Speech to Text Software
Not ready to use Dragon? Fear not. Here are some alternative speech recognition programs:
- Apple Dictation
- Google Docs Voice Dictation
- Windows Speech Recognition
- 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.
Free Speech to Text Online Notepad: SpeechNotes
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.
A Human Alternative for Speech to Text
There’s a premium alternative to Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the speech recognition software in your computer that comes without any learning curve and near 100% accuracy.
You can use Rev transcription service to transcribe an audio recording for a dollar 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.
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.
Other Transcription Services
I also hand-picked a few other speech-to-text transcription services so you don’t have to get your hands dirty.
- Transcription Panda
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.
Want to become a better writer? Check out How Can I Become a Better Writer? 7 Easy Ways That Work Fast
This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech to text software or try Rev. I only ever recommend products and services I use personally.
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