6 Tips for Dictating Your Writing

Blue Snowball mic

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated.

Dictation has become increasingly popular with writers who want to improve their writing productivity. As a writer and editor, I struggle with achy wrists from too much typing, tapping, and mousing. I know I'm not alone. To save my wrists, I've decided to take dictation for a spin. Here a few tips for using dictation, if you decide to give it a try:

Try it with short-form writing first.

Email is a great way to begin. Email a trusted friend who will forgive you for any fumbling and inexplicable wordiness. When I first dictated this article, it was a beast of a thing. Before I took out my editing hatchet, that is.

Work from an outline.

Take three minutes to plan what you want to say. A short, point-form list should do the trick. If you understand where you're going, you're less likely to wander into a verbal thicket.

Remember to speak out punctuation.

Say “comma,” or “period” when you want to insert punctuation. To start a new paragraph, say “new line.” It feels awkward to speak out punctuation, but it gets easier with time.

Think before you speak.

Your mom was right. Thinking before you speak is not only wise, but it makes for more accurate voice dictation. Monica Leonelle, author of Dictate Your Book: How to Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter, recommends pausing while dictating, and then speaking in phrases instead of word by word. For some reason, speak recognition engines record phrases more accurately than individual words. So take time to gather your thoughts. With voice diction, awkward pauses are okay!

Get ready to edit.

If your dictation is wordy or disorganized, you will spend more time than usual editing your writing. Because speaking and keyboarding involve different neural pathways, and may engage different areas of the brain, your writing and speaking styles may differ.

When I first learned to write, I needed to conserve my words—in other words, to not write like I speak. Now, in learning dictation, I need to learn to speak more like I write!

Use editing tools.

Dictation may help you get more words on the page, but you’ll need some objectivity to help you decide which words should stay there. Revision and proofreading tools can show you where your writing needs pruning.

Final Thoughts

I've found that dictation works best as a first-draft exercise for getting first thoughts on a page. Once those thoughts are there, I can use my keyboard to make them intelligible. So, add dictation to your repertoire of tools, but don’t feel it has to replace the keyboard.

There are lots of options for trying dictation. I've written about Windows Speech Recognition  and Google's Voice Typing on this blog. Keep checking back for more reports on my adventures with dictation.

Image by Vincent Diamente

Dictate Your Writing with Google’s Voice Typing

Blue Snowball mic

by C.K. MacLeod

Dictation has become popular with writers who are interested in improving their writing productivity. Google recently introduced “voice typing” for Google docs, so writers can dictate their writing while on-the-go.

As a writer and editor with achy wrists from too much typing, tapping, and mousing, I decided to take voice typing for a spin.

From the get-go, Google Voice Typing is dead easy to use. Open Google Docs, go to the Tools menu, and click on Voice typing. An orange microphone icon pops up in the left menu bar. Click on the icon and begin speaking.

Google Voice Typing

Voice typing had no problems picking up my Canadian accent. In fact, I was surprised to discover that it produced far fewer pronunciation errors than I had expected. If there were any errors, they were mine.

I am, admittedly, less fluent when my writing is produced by mouth, instead of with my fingers. But I remember a time when keyboarding felt disfluent to me, so dictation may be a skill I can learn with practice.
Here’s my quick review of Google’s Voice typing:

Pros

  • Free for anyone who has a gmail account
  • Easy to use
  • Surprisingly accurate from the first use—at least for my Canadian accent
  • Cloud-based

Cons

  • Doesn’t recognize commands for open and closed quotes, ellipsis, and semicolon
  • No spoken editing commands (e.g., delete that, go to)
  • Works best with a decent quality mic (I use a Blue Snowball)
  • Potential privacy issues — who has access to your dictation?

Conclusion

If you’re a writer, and you want to give dictation a try, Google’s Voice typing is a nice, basic tool to begin with.

If you’re an editor who’s trying to ease your wrists, you could use Google’s Voice typing to write margin comments (which you can then feed into a text expander) or client emails, but you may prefer a dictation tool with editing features.

Not sure how to begin with voice dictation? See 5 Tips for Dictating Your Writing.

Do you use voice dictation? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Image by Vincent Diamente