Speech to Text: How to Use Dictation Software Like a Pro (2018)

A Fool-proof Guide to Dictating Your WritingI updated this post about speech to text software and dictation in January 2, 2018

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 tried using dictation software to transcribe these interviews, but I found the software difficult to use and prone to mistakes.

More recently, I've been using the dictation software Dragon Professional Individual convert speech to text and transcribe first drafts of articles, blog posts, book chapters and more.

Dragon Professional (or Dragon NaturallySpeaking) is easier to use, more accurate, and now part of my writing workflow.

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.

Why Writers Should Use Speech to Text Software

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

I can type about a 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.

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.

The Best Speech to Text Software

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

Nuance makes Dragon dictation software.

They provide industry-standard dictation software and if you're serious about dictation, Dragon for Mac (what I use) and Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC  are ideal.

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 and OS X, is powered by Dragon. You can use it to practice dictating before you invest in premium speech to text software.

  • To activate speech recognition on a Mac, press the Fn key twice.
  • 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. You can also use it to command your computer via voice.

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

Training Dragon for Dictatation

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 giving 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.

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.

Use Placeholder Words

My daughter has a traditional Irish name.

No matter how many times I've tried, I couldn’t train Dragon 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 software, you could use this trick for one of your characters.

Get the Right Equipment for Dictation

The VSI X100 microphone I use

The accuracy of your dictation software is determined by the quality of your microphone and the surrounding environment.

I first tried using the inbuilt microphone 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're dictating somewhere noisy like a coffee shop, your accuracy will decrease too, so it’s best to speak in a quiet room.

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”.

And so on.

You’ll also have to avoid using filler words like “you know”.

Even once 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.

Don’t Expect 100% Accuracy from Speech to Text Software

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

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

In the video, 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 keep feel motivated about learning how to dictate early drafts of your work.

Other Features of Dragon NaturallySpeaking

You can also use more advanced versions of Dragon to control your computer.

The software is designed to enable people with physical disabilities to do things like surf the internet, 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 iPhone.

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.

From First Draft to a Published Work

Dictation workflow with speech to text
My dictation workflow

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 to text 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 for you, and I’m less convinced about the value of speech to text 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.

Using voice to text for writing books

Writing a book by dictation is different to 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 rewrite later drafts by typing.

Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking Any Good?

The latest version of Dragon is more accurate that 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.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Learning curve takes time
  • Accuracy isn’t 100%
  • Less valuable for edits and rewrites
  • Yearly upgrade cycle may put off some

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 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, you're less likely to face problems of accuracy, and they only take 24-hour to turn around a document.

Rev is more expensive than using dictation 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 maths of a dollar per minute with a typical book being 70,000 words long.

Common questions about Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Speech to Text

Does Dragon NaturallySpeaking need the internet?
No, once you activate your software you can dictate while disconnected.

Can Dragon NaturallySpeaking naturally speaking transcribe audio files?
Yes, you can upload an audio file to to Dragon NaturallySpeaking and it will transcribe. You may have to clean up the result. I suggest trying this writing workflow with your phone first before investing in a Dragon compatible voice recorder. (Dragon keep a list on their site).

DoesDragon NaturallySpeaking work with Yosemite or High Sierra?
Yes, I use Dragon Professional for Mac regularly.

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?

Without question, it’s Dragon Dictate also known as Dragon for Mac. Although, the Mac operating system includes in-built dictation software it’s not as reliable or fast as Dragon. If you’re on a budget, I suggest using the inbuilt dictation software first until you’re comfortable dictating. Then, consider upgrading.

What’s the best dictation app for writers?

Again, I recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking or Dragon for Mac. However, lately I’ve tried and tested the Rev app for iPhone. Unlike Dragon, a write can dictate a draft into their dictation app and upload to to Rev. There, a human will transcribe your draft at a rate of dollar a minute. It’s more accurate than Dragon but it’s also more expensive.

Can Dragon Naturally Speaking convert MP3 to text? Can Naturally Speaking transcribe audio files?

Yes, I sometimes record audio files using this Olympus voice recorder. 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 on my 2017 iMac. 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 (2018)

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home Edition  Once you've graduated past the free dictation software on your computer, this is a good entry point to premium dictation 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 through out your computer. It's the default choice for anyone who takes dictation seriously. Cost $300.

Nuance Dragon Professional Individual for Mac  This is what I use with High Sierra. Cost: $300

Alternative Speech to text software

Not ready to use Dragon? Fear not. Here are some alternative speech to text software options:

  • Siri
  • Apple Dictation
  • Google Docs Voice Dictation
  • Windows Speech Recognition
  • Cortanna
  • Listnote
  • Gboard
  • Speech recogniser
  • Rev

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

This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech to text software. I only ever recommend products and services I use personally.

Try Dragon today

A FOOL-PROOF GUIDE TO DICTATING YOUR WRITING

Get your 101 writing prompts today

Need help getting started writing? Use these proven writing prompts. I'll also send you practical writing advice and more as part of my newsletter.

Powered by ConvertKit

26 thoughts on “Speech to Text: How to Use Dictation Software Like a Pro (2018)”

  1. Hi Bryan,
    I must say at the beginning of the article I was thinking to myself if everybody buys Dragon, what’s going to happen to me – you see my main income is from transcribing.
    But I was glad to see that you said: “Because the transcribers are real people, you’re less likely to face problems of accuracy…”
    Although I don’t work at Rev, I can assure you my work is also top quality and I’m a whole lot cheaper [wink] – if you ever do want a 70 000 word book transcribed.
    But back to serious business thank you for sharing this great article that is well researched and full of awesome advice.
    Linda

    1. HI Linda,
      Nice to meet a transcriber. I am glad you liked the article. My main takeaway from using Rev and also Dragon is that a real transcriber is more accurate than software but not every new writer can afford to hire someone. The cheapest option is the use inbuilt dictation software, followed by Dragon followed by hiring someone.

  2. Hi Bryan, Thanks for introducing a new dictation Software. I will definitely use it. I seen the video. It’s wonderful. Do you have any idea for other software?

  3. My son is 12 and wants to be a writer. He has amazing ideas and an incredible imagination. He also has dyspraxia which makes it challenging for him to get his thoughts down on paper. I would like to get him a speech to text program and wanted your advice – is Dragon Dictate something a youth could use? He’s been using a computer for the past 3 years.
    Thanks
    Kathryn

  4. Insightful and motivating post Bryan.

    I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking on and off for a for a few years now but just recently got back into it seriously this year. After a brief spell of typing practices to increase my speed, I decided that it will be a better use of my time to train the Dragon. You just cant beat the word count and as I use the software mostly for my blog, long content beats short content most of the time (For Google keyword rankings) so Dragon is a perfect fit for me.

    I’m currently dictating this blog comment with my dragon 13 and for short content creation I actually get more than 99% accuracy with it.

    Thanks again.

    Rob

      1. Yeah Bryan.

        Dragon gets a few words wrong and it can be demotivating to go through the whole text looking for these mistakes especially if the text is over 2k words long. I just stick with it as its a great investment in my blogs/writing future.

        Very happy with the results considering that my accent is a huge mix and not standard at all.

        Rob

  5. esthercampionhotmailcom

    Thank you so much. This is a very useful post. Glad to hear you dictating in our shared accent. Very encouraging.

  6. I used to use Dragon. Steep learning curve for a southern drawl. I stopped writing and closed my blog due to health issues. I still have an old blog that isn’t monitored.

    I stumbled across this article while taking a break from the horrible ebook I’m trying to read.

    It reads like a first draft that was published without proofreading or editing.

    The plot is good, as are the characters, so I intend to finish it since I bought it, but I will leave a nice review.

    It didn’t cost much, but if I’d read a review (My mistake) I would have bought something else.

    Your article really describes the pros and cons beautifully. Thank you.

  7. You indicated you would have a list of dictation microphone at the end of this blog post. I didn’t find them. Would you Post an updated list of suggested, relatively reasonably priced dictation microphone’s – including ones that you can move about the room with. Thank you

  8. i want to buy Dragon professional speech to text software..
    I want a trial version for 30 minutes atleast,..may be on a nominal payment, before i invest 300 dollars.
    secondly, after having paid , i can install the software in how many devices…??
    My requirement is around 200 such software. or more.!! This is in one city of India only.
    There are many courts in many cities in India,the potential is huge,.
    as i want to train many assistants of lawyers and judges,
    who really face serious problem. Daily i am seeing their plight.
    can i make business venture in partnership with you??
    PLEASE do reply me.

  9. HI Bryan- I’m trying to transcribe old speeches of mine for articles. They’re on cassette tapes! I’m playing them “to my iPhone” – the built in voice recognition works but only for 30 seconds. Of course, there is heavy editing as there aren’t any grammar commands in my speeches- but they are first drafts. Would Rev be a better choice? Or Dragon for Mac? Thanks – Donna

    1. Good question.

      If you’re on a budget and have time, use Dragon.

      If it’s urgent and you don’t mind paying a few dollars, use Rev.

      If it were me, I’d just send the speeches to Rev. I only use Dragon these days for first drafts.

  10. Thanks for sharing, can you please also guide me about Academic Writing in detail? because I’m among those students who face difficulties while writing Assignment. I appreciate it for sharing as you have made things much easier for me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.