6 Tips for Dictating Your Writing

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by C.K. MacLeod


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

6 thoughts on “6 Tips for Dictating Your Writing”

  1. I did try dictating some time ago, using Dragon's NaturallySpeaking, and I would agree that my style of writing changed, becoming somewhat less formal than my style when typing. I gave dictation up eventually as I found it more natural to type - the result of being a journalist for 30 years, I imagine.

    1. Matt,
      Thanks for sharing! I'm not sure I'll use dictation for everything. Perhaps just enough to give my wrists a rest. I'm in the awkward stage right now. I remember feeling this way when I stopped writing with a pen and started writing with a keyboard. Now, like you, thinking through my fingers is second nature to me. Dictation, on the other hand...

  2. Unfortunately for me, the muse frequently visits when I am in the car. I use the talk to text feature on my phone to write a rough draft in the Notes section. It isn't a perfect system; my frost fairies became frost berries, but this was easily corrected when I retyped it on the computer. Almost everything I have ever written has come to me while driving...so having a way to get it down has been invaluable.

    1. Frost berries aside, you've got to act when the Muse strikes, right Charity? What kind of phone are you using? I've found the iOS speech-to-text feature to be surprisingly accurate. If you speak into Evernote (Evernote will use your phone's speech-to-text engine), you won't have to transcribe your utterances later. You just need to copy and paste!

  3. I like that first idea a lot, email a friend to get your bad dictation out of the way. Next time I go to write one of my stories or something, I should try this out. Speaking your punctuation seems a bit odd however, if it's supposed to help though, I will try it.

    1. Sarah,
      Yes, speaking out punctuation is a bit odd at first, but doing so will save you from having to insert punctuation at the editing stage. Best of luck!

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