Using Dictation for Professional Writing

Typing can be a pain. Literally. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has brought down more talented writers than “writer’s block” over the last couple of years. It nearly took me down as well – until I discovered a solution.

Dictation software has become a favored party trick for people to use when creating text messages or performing simple searches on their phones or tablets. However, few stop to consider how it can be used to further their creative potential in the humble word processor.

I experienced dictation for the first time through a quickly-discontinued app on the Mac App Store, Dragon Express. I was young, had $50 to spend, and was already experiencing the pain that comes from joint damage.

It revolutionized how I approached writing. My process before was highly intellectual, filled with five-dollar words that drove editors and teachers (still in college) alike up the wall. I had to insert my own “voice” into the piece, bringing the vernacular down to a level that the average person could enjoy.

Dictating eliminated that problem, at the expense of forcing me to have to go over and edit every line! 2010 may have been a tad too early to dive into dictation! However, after eight years of experience I have learned a couple of things that you can use if you choose to apply dictation into your workflow:

You Get What You Pay For

Dictation tools are available for every platform, and without exception, they suck. Limited ability to edit the copy, learn from mistakes, and control your computer creates a system that will have you reaching for your keyboard every few moments.

Other tools, predominately among them the software available from Nuance, do not have these limitations. Since their sole purpose is to enable you to control your computer and create accurate copy, they put a heck of a lot of research into creating the right software engines and plugins to get the job done right.

You Need to Be Ready to Edit

Mistakes happen. Dictation software may reduce the number of issues you experience, especially after you develop an accurate profile, but it does not eliminate the human element. You may misspeak, mumble, have a brain fart… or the software may just goof. The number of issues I have experienced has gone down significantly over the last several years. However, it is still imperative that you keep an eye out.

After all, even if the software is perfect… your speech will never rise to the polished level expected in published works.

Plan Ahead

The single most significant challenge you will face when dictating is keeping your thoughts flowing smoothly. By knowing what you will cover next, and what needs to go there, you will be able to plan ahead by the sentence and paragraph.

This is exactly what everyone had to do in school – create an outline. Regardless if you are typing a letter or writing a novel, doing this will make the process a smoother and less stress-free event all around.

Use a Good Microphone

The right microphone can make the difference between success and defeat when it comes to dictating your next best seller. Find one that has noise cancellation features and works best for your situation. I have a variety, ranging from my main USB headset to a Bluetooth earpiece and desktop microphone. All are used whenever the situation best warrants them.

Don’t be afraid to experiment – though be warned that microphone quality often depends extensively on what you spend. Ten-dollar mics from eBay will not perform as good as the name brand pieces available on professional audio recorder sites.

Learn How to Speak in Public

By and far, this means avoiding verbal pauses that liter normal communication. Things like, “Ah,” “Eh,” or “what was that phrase?” all mess up your copy and create lovely editing challenges later on. There is a reason why speech is a required class in many colleges! Use the skills taught then to help you get the most out of your investment today!

Use a Voice Recorder

You do not need to be at your computer to take advantage of the dictation software. Most smartphones include a built-in voice recorder. Pair it with a pair of earphones to dictate on the go. Just remember to speak clearly, include punctuation, and think before you speak.

After you get home, it is as simple as having the software analyze your recording and create a document ready for editing. Of course, there will be some issues that need to be ironed out. However, it is vastly easier to maximize the time you spend rather than sit bored out in public only to come home and spend more time dictating.

What Do You Think I Missed?

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