I didn’t write this article. Instead, I spoke it using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Speech Recognition for PC* and edited it by voice with a little help from my mouse.
I had used Dragon before, maybe 15 years ago, and found it clunky and unrewarding. But when my wrists started to ache after prolonged keyboarding, I thought about Dragon again and called to ask some questions of the sales agent. She was knowledgeable and didn’t pressure me at all, and I was hooked. The new software was fairly easy to install and comes with a comfortable headset and a microphone that’s very sensitive.
It’s almost scary, even a bit creepy, how the software learns what I’m saying. For example, in paragraph 2, I had spoken the word “incipient,” and Dragon typed “in Serbian.” I chuckled and corrected the text manually. When I spoke that word again in this paragraph, Dragon had learned how to type it correctly.
Dragon keeps asking me for permission to scan all my other files and e-mails in order to build a larger vocabulary, but to date I have not allowed him to do that. (Notice I said “him”? I am anthropomorphizing this software in a way I never would with software that I merely type into. Weird.)
Maybe I’m trying to justify my purchase, but I really believe that Dragon allows me to produce text faster than when I type it by hand. I’ve timed myself in both modes and found the process of dictating to Dragon to be about 15% to 30% faster than just typing, including editing in both modes. Dragon certainly works better than typing when I’m dictating “stream of consciousness,” as in a journal entry or when I’m angry. Such flow is particularly helpful when still in brainstorming mode because I can really talk myself through what I’m really trying to say.
And that’s actually the second reason I purchased the software. I’ve been reading Peter Elbow’s immense tome Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. Elbow is a prolific and respected academic who has addressed the differences between the spoken and written word. That’s too long a discussion for this article, but I think we all realize that there is a difference, which he reinforces and verifies in his latest book.
After many years of being a “manual” writer, I wanted to experiment with being a “spoken” writer. I’ve tried dictating to a digital recorder and then transcribing it; Dragon has allowed me to skip that extra step. For example, I am staring out the window now at a beautiful March snowfall in the Rockies that we so desperately need, and somehow all the falling snow is planting ideas in my mind. If I were typing this manually, I would somehow be focused on the material, the keyboard, and the screen, the mechanics of my writing. But because I can ignore those things, new ideas are flowing almost as fast as the snow is falling. I can see how valuable this would be when writing scripts, either for plays or for narrators in recorded e-learning classes.
Of course there’s a learning curve—Dragon’s and mine. But for anyone else who is more technically savvy than I am, the learning curve would probably not be as steep.
I’m sure there are other voice recognition software programs―if you’ve used them, would you share your experiences in a comment? And if you’ve used Dragon and would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment as well.
*Please note: I have not received any money from Nuance (the maker of Dragon) for this review, and I paid full sales price for my software. I never accept any money, discounts, or gifts for reviewing any writing products that I share with you.