Practice, practice, practice.
While I realize that my review of Macworld Expo was not very complementary, I did get a first-hand look at one really good software product: Dragon Dictate. Dragon Dictate offers the possibility of being able to do something that all writers dream about: to dictate what I want to write and having the computer type it for me.
My first exposure to Dragon Dictate was with the iPad app, which is called Dragon Dictation. I blogged about it a while ago. The software has a few shortcomings. For example you can only translate short bits of text at a time. It requires an Internet connection. You really can’t use it for long dictation. It’s more of a novelty. But what it showed me is how well the Dragon line of products might be able to understand what I’m saying. I was very impressed.
The folks at Nuance Software had a booth at MacWorld Expo. I sat through one of the demos. The man doing the demo was very good. He recited some rehearsed text, but also ad-libbed, made changes to the text, and did other things that went far beyond rehearsal. It helped confirm what I thought was true: that the software was ready for prime time and might understand what I could dictate to it.
I bought the software.
Using voice-recognition software is more than simply dictating to your computer. While this software is very good at understanding what I have to say, it isn’t perfect. One of the problems with the software is that you cannot combine keyboarding with dictation. If you try to do this you get all kinds of weird errors. So if you’re serious about using it, you need to learn not only how to dictate properly to it, but how to issue the commands that you’ll need to edit the text as you dictate.
The best way to learn how to use the software is to try some dictation with the manual handy to help you edit as you dictate. The manual that comes with the software is 174 pages long. I printed it two pages per sheet of paper and then cut each sheet in half and inserted it in a binder. I can now access this information as I work with the software to help me edit the text as I dictate.
What I’m finding as I dictate this is that the software gets about 99% of what I say exactly right. I’m extremely impressed by this. The training process before I got started was actually pretty quick. I’d say that the software was ready to use within 15 minutes of installing it. This says a lot about the training process, but it also says a lot about the software’s ability to understand what people say. I should also mention here that I’m using the headset that comes with the software as I dictate to my laptop. On my desktop, I use a much better microphone. Either way, the recognition is amazing.
The 1% of dictation that is not understood or that contains errors must be corrected. Correction is tricky. The software recognizes a certain group of commands. If you use the wrong command the software will simply type what you say. This is very frustrating. If you use the correct command, the software may or may not do what you expect. It’s always great when it does what you expect. But it’s very annoying when it does what you don’t expect.
One of the things that bugs me is when I issue a command that I believe will do a certain thing and the software does something completely different. I think this is a matter of me learning the commands. The software definitely understands most of what I have to say, so the problem is probably me issuing the incorrect commands.
So it’s all a matter of practice. I dictate text and as I dictate I watch what the software types. Then I make corrections as necessary. There aren’t many corrections to do. Having the manual nearby helps me find the correct commands to make the corrections I need to do.
Another challenge is to be able to dictate exactly what I want to say. When I first began writing when I was in my teens I didn’t have a word processor. Back then, I had the ability to compose in a linear manner. In other words, my brain dictated to my hand and I was able to write in full sentences and full paragraphs exactly what I wanted to say. Little editing was needed. But word processing has changed the way I write. Nowadays, I get out the basics of what I want to say and then go back and edit. I insert words and paragraphs, I make changes to sentence structure and paragraph structure. I rearrange text. If I can’t think of how to start, I start with the middle and insert the beginning later.
For a long time now, I’ve been thinking about what a blessing and a curse word processing is. As I struggle to work with dictation software, it seems like more of a curse. Word processing has made it difficult for me to write in a linear manner. Because of this, I struggle with dictation.
I do have to say, however, it’s a real thrill to see the words that I dictate automatically typed for me. The accuracy floors me. So far, everything you’ve read in this blog post has been dictated. Not only have I dictated this text, but I’ve also corrected and edited everything that you see. I have not touched the keyboard once. Yes, I have paged through the manual—that’s the main reason for writing this post—I wanted to learn to use the software better. In a way, this blog post is an exercise. I’m hoping that it will help me to learn the software while letting me practice dictating what I want to say. Practice makes perfect.
I will continue using Dragon Dictate to dictate many of my blog posts. And with practice, I’ll be able to master the software and increase my own productivity by being able to dictate what I need to write. Although I’m a quick typist, Dragon Dictate is a lot faster.