Writing and Publishing

The Benefits of Using Dictation Software to Write

I’m a huge fan of dictation and use it for all my writing, not only my first draft but even as I edit. Using dictation, I can write about two thousand words an hour—compared to about five hundred words typing. My dictated words come out in pretty good shape, about 90 percent of the way there. 

Although some people claim five thousand words an hour from dictation, I’m not one of them. Yes, I talk fast and could dictate ten to fifteen thousand words per hour, but those words would require so much editing to make them worthless. Therefore, I slow down, think about what I want to say, and say it. I’m pleased with the results and the speed.

I pursued dictation for two reasons. One was to write faster. The other was to protect my aching wrists. Despite doing the recommended exercises and taking frequent breaks, my wrist often throbbed after writing several hours a day, day after day.

Thanks to dictation, my wrists don’t hurt anymore, but now I need to protect my voice. Drink lots of water when dictating. Avoid carbonated beverages, milk, and coffee.

By the way, I’m a poor candidate for dictation. First, you should dictate in complete sentences, but I don’t. Most of the time, I don’t know how a sentence will end when I frame the beginning in my mind. Therefore, my dictation gushes out as a disjointed hodgepodge of sentence fragments and phrases. 

Second, I don’t enunciate well. And I often pronounce the same word in two ways. This trait makes it hard for the dictation software and requires a critical eye to catch errors, which are sometimes comical, albeit infuriating. As a result, my dictated work needs a bit more editing. Though my overall production speed using dictation isn’t four times faster, it’s certainly more than three times as much.

For full disclosure, using dictation has had unexpected side effects. It has resulted in a slowdown of my typing speed and has been a further hit to my spelling challenges. Still, dictation stands as a more-than-equitable trade-off, more than tripling my production speed, while avoiding carpal tunnel surgery.

Writing and Publishing

Using Dictation Software to Write Fiction

Speaking your punctuation when dictating slows you down, but it is possible to do

So far I’ve only used dictation to write nonfiction. My next step is fiction. This becomes a little bit more complex because we must speak our punctuation. And dialogue requires much more of it.

For example, here is how I would speak a line of dialogue when using dictation software. (To make this display for you correctly, I will pause the dictation and type this out.)

Here’s what I would say:

“Open quote would you look at that question mark closed quote she asked period”

This would result in the following appearing on my computer monitor:

“Would you look at that?” She asked.

If you never tried dictation, I’m sure this seems convoluted to you. However, I recommend starting with easier things that only require basic punctuation, such as periods, exclamation points, question marks, and commas.

The sentence-ending punctuation came to me quite easily, and I mastered them within a few minutes. However, for commas. I needed some practice before I could remember to speak to them.

Using parentheses, quotation marks, hyphens, and dashes require a bit more thought and a lot more focus. However, with practice, these things almost become second nature, and over time they can begin to flow with ease.

However, I recommend starting with the basic commands and then gradually adding others as you become comfortable writing using dictation. Of course, if something doesn’t display as you intend, you can always fix it in the editing phase.

Although you can use dictation software to edit your work, too, I don’t recommend it. In fact, I’ve never heard any writer who did. They use dictation to create their first draft and then go old school by placing their hands on the keyboard. However, the knowledge that you can use dictation software to edit your work will give some writers a cause for celebration, because typing is either difficult for them or impossible. Being able to control their computer with their voice will empower them to write with greater ease.

Editing aside, I encourage anyone who writes a lot or is serious about writing faster to give dictation a try. I suspect that, like me, you will quickly embrace it is a key technological tool you won’t want to do without.

Writing and Publishing

Use Dragon Speech Recognition Software to Write Faster

Celebrate the benefits of using your voice to produce your first draft

A couple of years ago I heard about authors using dictation to write the first draft of their books. Although intrigued by the idea of using speech-to-text software to write, I dismissed it as impractical. However, as more and more writers extolled the virtues of speech recognition software, I decided to test dictation for myself.

Aside from the promise of being able to write faster, there’s also the realization that by using my voice instead of my fingers for my first draft, I save my wrists from the hint of strain that sometimes plagues me.

Google Docs: For my initial test, I sought a no-cost evaluation. Accessing Google Docs from a Chrome browser presents the option for “voice typing” under the tools tab. Its basic command set results in a short learning curve. Within minutes I wrote my first blog post using dictation. Even with my first attempt, I realized the time-saving benefits of dictation.

To achieve increased accuracy, I bought a USB headset, which helped quite a bit. For a couple of months I continued to use the voice typing feature in Google Docs to do my first drafts. Then I would copy the results into Word for editing and proofreading.

Dragon: My next step was to get serious with dictation, and I bought the highly recommended Dragon dictation software. All the basics I learned using Google Docs applied to Dragon. However, Dragon with its vast degree of power and flexibility also carries with it a more detailed command set and with it a longer learning curve.

Though I’m still learning some of Dragon’s more powerful capabilities, I’m already seeing great results with the parts of the software I am using. In fact, I like using dictation so well that it seems a chore to type out my words.

Overall, I have reduced the time it takes to produce a first draft by at least 50 percent, possibly up to 75 percent. I must point out, however, that I do have to spend more time editing the words when I dictate. Overall, I presently have about a 33 percent increase in output when factoring in the time saved with dictation and the time added for more editing.

I’m sure that as I continue to use dictation, my speed and efficacy will further increase. I can’t wait!

Writing and Publishing

UR Turn: Have You Used Dictation Software to Write?

Authors who use dictation claim a much higher writing speed

I’ve recently been experimenting with using dictation to write and bought a USB headset to reduce dictation errors. So far I’m excited about the process and anxious to get better at it. To accomplish this, I’ve bought Dragon speech recognition software and will begin using it.

What are your thoughts about dictation?

Have you considered it? Did you try it and give up?

If you do dictation, what software and hardware do you use? What are the benefits? What advice can you offer?

Please share your input in the comments below.


Writing and Publishing

Why You Need a USB Headset for Dictation Success

A quality headset reduces dictation errors

Last week I shared my first steps at using dictation as an alternative way to write. To test dictation I didn’t invest any money in software or hardware, as I merely wanted to do a proof-of-concept before I spent any money.

I used Google Docs, a Chrome browser, and a cheap analog headset that plugged into the audio port on my computer. Though a less-than-ideal configuration, it did confirm that dictation was a viable solution to creating first drafts. Given this arrangement and the fact that I’m new to dictation, I wasn’t discouraged with my accuracy rate of about 80 percent.

Of course, I wanted better. The first step was to try a different headset. However, going from a wired headset to a wireless headset made things worse. So I ordered a mid-range priced USB headset. I’m using it today, and my accuracy rate is increased to the low-90s. I’m elated over this progress.

My next step is to buy Dragon software, a highly recommended dictation tool for writers. With this, and once I train it to my voice, I expect my accuracy rate to go even higher. Of course, my productivity will increase with it.

With dictation, I had to learn to speak my punctuation. Google Docs includes six punctuation phrases, which we need to speak to make them appear on the page. These are period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, new line, and new paragraph. (I understand Dragon software has a greater array of commands.)

I was amazed to see how quickly I got used to saying these punctuation codes. After only a few sessions, they flowed quite easily.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, the focus is on the headset.

I needed a better one. My old analog headset, which didn’t work so well, cost about $20 some seven years ago. The wireless headset I tried, which also plugged into my computer analog port, was even older.

The recommendation to minimize dictation errors is to use a USB headset. This has a digital interface instead of analog, which allows for better volume consistency for dictation.

With my analog headsets, I would frequently get warnings that the software was having trouble hearing me. When this happened my error rate increased or the recording stopped. Once I switched to the USB headset these problems went away.

The USB headset I bought was a mid-range product. With shipping, it cost less than $50. The result of my increase in dictation quality was worth the investment.

I’m now pursuing dictation with even more excitement, and the introduction of professional dictation software should help make the process go better and faster. I can hardly wait.

I’ll share more once the software is installed, and I begin using it.

Until then, happy writing.

Writing and Publishing

Should You Use Dictation to Write?

Writers claim to dramatically increase their writing speed by speaking instead of typing

In listening to podcasts and reading blogs, I’ve heard a lot about writers using dictation. This intrigued me. There are two reasons why I wanted to try dictation instead of typing when composing my first drafts.

Why Diction?

Increased Speed: The most attractive reason for dictation comes from the promise of increased output. Some writers claim to hit speeds of up to 5,000 words per hour when using dictation. Though I have no expectations of hitting that number, the idea of creating content faster really intrigues me.

Protect Wrists: The other reason I’m curious about dictation is for an alternative to typing to reduce repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, there are times when after too many days of logging too many hours of typing that my wrists grow tender. When this comes it’s too late to do my wrist exercises to minimize the impacts of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Being able to speak my words instead of typing them provides an alternative data-entry method. And it’s always good to have a backup plan if for some reason I must ease up on my typing. In fact, concern over tender wrists is one reason why I take a break from writing on Saturdays. I want to give my wrists a rest from the daily strain of typing.

Why Not Dictation?

However, despite these two benefits to spur me forward, there have also been three reasons why I was reluctant.

Voice Strain: My first concern is voice strain. Perhaps because I don’t have a reason to talk much throughout my workday, I find that it’s very easy to strain my voice. Sometimes even giving a half-hour presentation will be enough to cause my voice to falter. An hour is about as much as I can speak without going hoarse. Perhaps with practice, I can extend this time, but I’m not sure.

Speaking Quality: My next concern is the quality of my speech. My diction is not great. I can pronounce the same word in different ways and pronounce different words the same. This presents a problem. However, my speaker-independent smartphone seldom misunderstands my verbal instructions, so I’m no longer as concerned. And with professional dictation software that I can train to learn my voice, I could minimize this potential problem even more.

Writing Style: The third reason I was hesitant to try dictation is that my speaking style is different than my writing style. I feared that I would spend too much time editing my dictated words that I would negate the time savings from using dictation.


Despite my apprehension, the allure of increasing my writing output and saving my wrists was enough to cause me to seriously consider dictation. But before I spent money on software and hardware I wanted to do some testing before making an investment.

Without spending a penny, I did just that. When accessing Google Docs through the Chrome browser there is a dictation feature (go to “tools” and select “voice typing”). For hardware, I used a standard headset I already had. Though this was not the ideal test, it would be enough to let me see if dictation held potential for me.

I’ve tried it, and I liked it.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing all my blog posts and articles using dictation. Even though I’m new at it, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. And as I get better, I expect an even greater boost in output.

Next week I’ll share more about my process, and how I’m moving forward with dictation. But for now, I wanted to share my initial thoughts so you could consider dictation.

Until then happy writing.

(By the way, the first draft of this 650-word post took me under ten minutes using dictation; typing would have been at least 45 minutes.)

Writing and Publishing

How to Be a Healthy Writer

8 tips to staying physically fit while spending hours at the keyboard

I’m not a medical doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. But I have compiled a list of what it takes to be a healthy writer. Some I’ve learned through research, others through experience and a couple by common sense.

The main thing is that as writers we need to not only care for our minds but also our bodies:

Rest Your Wrists: Many years ago I did a stint as a tech writer, going from typing sporadically throughout the day to keyboarding for forty hours a week. Soon my wrists grew tender, and I lost much of my grip. In lieu of carpal tunnel surgery, my doctor prescribed wrist exercises and avoiding typing on the weekends. That got me through it. Now, at the first hint of discomfort, I relax my wrists for a bit and resume the exercises. Some hardcore writers have added dictation into their mix to spare their wrists and reduce their need to type.

Comfort Your Back: My back used to bother me from time to time, so I invest in a quality chair, one fully adjustable and with lumbar support. It only takes a few minutes sitting in a bad chair to bring about discomfort. (I also use an inversion table for a few minutes every day, which I think is essential for me.)

Many people advocate a standing desk (and even a walking desk). But my back bothers me after just a few minutes of standing, so I can’t consider that. As a result, I have no problem spending a couple of hundred dollars on a quality chair.

Two related issues are monitor placement and desk height. Sometimes raising or lowering the level of either one helps a great deal.

Guard Your Eyes: Staring at a computer screen for eight to ten hours a day causes fatigue. Proper lighting is key. I’ve tried indirect lighting without success, so adequate direct lighting is essential. Also important is monitor placement to eliminate glare.

Take Frequent Breaks: I take a break about once an hour, while some advocate writing for no more than thirty-minute stretches. My break maybe a trip to the bathroom, a meal, or a walk to the library. Or it could be as simple as a walk around my chair or some quick stretches. The point is to not log long writing sessions without breaks.

Relax Your Shoulders: Years ago I hurt my shoulder as I pushed myself to paint our house during a weeklong vacation. The damage became permanent and some level of pain is always present. Using a mouse exacerbates this situation, so I am presently learning to mouse with my left hand (the muscle memory has been a bear to overcome).

Also during intense writing sessions both of my shoulders can tighten up. I do exercises to relax.

Stay Hydrated: As with anything drink plenty of water. I don’t do coffee or tea and soft drinks are out. Water is my go-to beverage.

Sleep Well: Being well-rested is vital. It’s also an ongoing struggle for me, but not for a lack of trying. As an alternative, I sometimes take a power nap to help keep my mind focused and add energy for the rest of the day.

Exercise Daily: I have a moderate exercise routine that I do each day. It serves as one of my morning breaks.


Writing and Publishing

Have You Ever Used Dictation to Write?

Last week we talked about the importance of knowing how many words we write per hour. I’ve heard experienced fiction writers who say they consistently clip along at 2,000 words an hour. They write four or more books a year. This boggles my mind.

In the stratosphere of word counts, I’ve heard other writers claiming to push several thousand words per hour, which they do via dictation and speech-to-text software. In this way, these folks claim to “write” 5,000 words an hour. I’m intrigued, partially as a writer but mostly as a technologist.

What they don’t say is how long they can keep this up. One person does this in bursts, which never approaches an hour, so his 5,000 words in an hour is a misleading outcome. Another admits that an hour is about all he’s good for.

They do say this requires careful prep work, but they don’t factor that time into their speed claims. It also requires cleaning up the recording since the software is only about 95 percent accurate at best. Again they also don’t factor this into their calculations. And, as with all writing, they still have normal re-working, editing, and proofing to do. I wonder how much time they actually save.

This may work fine for writers who have also accomplished speakers, especially if they don’t require much prep work before they talk. Some people are like that; I am not. I also know that clear diction is key. That’s another strike against me. Plus my speaking style is the opposite of my writing style.

In my first contract job, I needed to write an hour-long presentation. Then I would have my presentation videotaped in a studio as I read from a teleprompter. The timeline was short and in an effort to streamline things, I made an outline of my talk and recorded me speaking from my outline. I paid for a transcription. Then I edited it. It required many edits. It seems I rewrote just about every sentence. It took hours. In the studio, I kept stumbling over my written words. I couldn’t speak what I had written.

Though arduous, they must have liked the outcome. They asked me to do a second recording. They wanted me to write it the next morning. We would group edit it over lunch, and I would record it in the afternoon. I still made my flight that evening. In the end, I spent far less time writing and editing my second talk then I spent on my first one where I tried a shortcut using dictation.