Tuesday Toss-Up

Thus Spake the Dragon: How Useful is Speech Recognition Software for Writers/Bloggers?

*The awesome Sherry Isaac is at the Life List Club blog, talking about creating goals that really motivate us. Head on over and join in the conversation*
[keyboard cat | ORIGINAL]Some time ago, I heard about using speech recognition software for writing. One author (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) was able to dictate thousands of words daily in less than half the time it would take to type them and without the associated strain on the hands and wrists. Although it sounded impressive, I was skeptical. The software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, was not especially cheap and there were no free trial offers (I know, I’m a great big cheapo). There was an app, Dragon Dictation, available for free but I found it difficult and slow to use (or maybe I’m just slow and difficult). So, I shelved the idea for a while.

Fast-forward about a year and I found myself drowning in writing. I was working on my MIP, blogging, commenting and replying to comments on blogs and doing the social media tango. On a day when the words were really flowing or when the blog/social media scene was hopping, I found myself typing out a prodigious number words… and my hands, wrists, neck and back were not thanking me. While I could’ve gone with adjusting my computer set up or investing in a better desk chair, I also wanted to cut back on the amount of time it took me to write all those words.

I began to reconsider the idea of using a speech recognition software.

I was excited to discover that Windows has a SR software that apparently comes standard with most PCs. It seemedBroken Computer like a great way to try SR before shelling out for something like Dragon. I’ll save you the long, boring and possibly incriminating  story but the Windows SR and I didn’t exactly work out. There may have been profanity and threats of computericide involved. It was complicated and we broke up. We’re both happily seeing other software programs now. Actually, I’m seeing another software program and the Windows SR is just hanging around on my computer, moping.

After the disastrous affair with the Windows SR, I was reluctant to keep trying…but the issue of wanting to cut down on the amount of time spent actually writing kept cropping up. So, I threw caution to the wind and hooked up with Dragon 11.5 Premium. There’s a Home edition that’s about half the price of the Premium but I wanted the option of creating commands (something which I’ve ended up using a lot), the ability to use a Bluetooth headset mic (although I ended up opting for a USB version) and the ability to control the applications on my computer by voice.

Possibly the biggest drawback of SR is the amount of time it can take to fully train both yourself and the software. However, even with the minimal training required for setup, the software has so far functioned very well for me. It learns quickly, getting easier to work  every time it’s used.

I’ve had the SR a little over a month but have only really just begun to use it. I use it often for Facebook and Twitter, and have trained the software to input things like hashtags, links I use frequently and *ahem* emoticons. It’s been fabulous for commenting on blogs and replying to comments and for dictating emails. I’ve created blog posts (like this one) and transcribed handwritten pages for my MIP and novella to Scrivener.

Another challenge with using SR for writing is that it can be difficult to transition from thinking through typing or writing longhand to thinking out loud. Writing that’s naturally conversational, like comments or emails, is easy to dictate but actually writing pages…much more difficult. It feels a little like trying to learn a new language or maybe like learning to ride a bike for the first time. But I keep working on it in the hopes that eventually I’ll be rattling off several thousand words a day no problem.

Dragon-playful illustrationNote: Even though I’m still fairly slow at being creative out loud, I’m still clocking a higher writing speed using the SR than when typing. I’m certainly no high-speed typist, so when I’m really cooking my wpm is somewhere around 55. With the Dragon SR, I’m currently hitting 80-90 wpm. Rumor has it that one can reach speeds of 120+.

I definitely recommend something like Dragon for writers or bloggers although I wish there were more tutorials and information available on actually using the product for writing specific tasks. As I learn more about Dragon, I’ll share what I’ve learned with you.

Have you tried Dragon or any SR? Do you currently use it for writing or blogging? What’s been your experience? Any tips or questions?

Image Attribution (In Order of Appearance):
[keyboard cat | ORIGINAL] by Cassandra Leigh Gotto, on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Broken Computer by miss_rogue, on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Dragon-playful illustration by HikingArtist.com, on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

32 thoughts on “Thus Spake the Dragon: How Useful is Speech Recognition Software for Writers/Bloggers?

  1. This is SO interesting and innovative. It makes me want to get my voice around something like this. 😉 great post!

  2. I love my dragon. Thinking I should name him. Sometimes he misbehaves and types a word I didn’t say or even think. He has increased my productivity. I even use him for commenting on blogs, email and facebook. Saves my shoulders and wrists that way.

    It’s still hard to say (comma, period, new line) though.

  3. I’m so behind the times when it comes to new technology but this sounds like a real time saver, if you have the patience to get through the training.

  4. Interesting post. I haven’t tried Dragon but I have some experience with Windows SR. I found it fun to start with, going through the learning process and understanding all the commands. I even managed to get to the stage where I could successfully “write” without too many hiccups.

    The thought process was very different from using a keyboard, and whilst I found it interesting and challenging to use I haven’t used it all that much since those first few weeks. The main drawback for me was the editing part. When typing it’s second nature to hit the backspace button, caps button etc, but with SR you have to think about it and remember (or look up) the voice command “Undo That” or “Delete That” etc.

    I guess over time, and with lots of practice, the process may become second nature like using a mouse and keyboard. On the whole I enjoyed the challenge, and even wrote a post about, if you fancy reading – http://davefarmersblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/are-you-talkin-to-me/

  5. I have wondered about voice recognition software and how it might change the writing process for some people. However, I’m not a slow typist; the last time I tested, I was at 95 wpm. So I doubt this would be a good use of my money and time just yet. I’m so glad you covered it, though, Sonia. I’ll keep my ears to the ground.

  6. I also used the free one that came with the computer (I’m also cheap) but found it slowed my thought process down as I spoke/wrote… I’m still much faster and it flows better when I simply type… need to train myself, I guess.

    Armand Rosamilia

    1. Yeah, I’m still struggling with the slowdown too. It definitely is vastly different than typing out your thoughts or handwriting them. I’m hoping to learn though.

  7. I started hearing about Dragon SR years ago when I was a medical transcriptionist. They kept threatening to put us all out of business – didn’t happen 🙂 I’m pretty quick on the keys so not sure about using it, though I can definitely see the benefits. I’m sure they will keep improving it, too.

  8. My husband bought me the Dragon for Christmas. After five months, he finally decided to install it on my laptop, because the whole idea intimidated me too much to even open the box. I’ve finally performed the tests, and it recognizes my voice now, so I’ve made headway. But I’m still afraid of it.

  9. We have a version that is now a few years old. Maybe I should get it out and try it? It was bought for our son, but he never had much luck in spite of hours of training it – we can only assume that because his voice was changing at the time it didn’t recognise him properly. 🙂

  10. Can the software read text back to you? As far as the writing, I’d do better just typing it myself. I thinking the software could be a good tool for proofreading, though.

    1. I’m not sure. I think it has that function will have to check it out. I think you’re right that having the text read back to you like that would be good proofreading tool.

  11. This might be something I’ll consider when I start the new book. I wonder if it will help me write faster, or if it’ll still be chaos. A home version is available for about $100.

  12. I have Dragon Dictate (the Mac version of Naturally Speaking) and I used it to complete NaNo a couple of years ago. It went through an upgrade after that, and I cannot get the thing to recognize my voice. It would be ideal for me (because I only have one hand to type with), but it’s just too frustrating, and I start yelling at the computer and swearing at it – Which is another thing: it doesn’t recognize common profanity. Something besides the manual and the command cheat sheet would be very useful.

  13. Very interesting, Sonia. I have a friend, a lawyer, who has a lot of problems with his wrists and had SR installed in his office computer. It worked very well for him, and I used to ask him lots of questions about it.

    However, like Julie, I am a fairly fast typist, so not sure how beneficial good SR (I wouldn’t have any of the other stuff–my tolerance for poorly made or conceived technology is very low) would be for me. Since I have diabetic neuropathy, though, and it has now started in on my hands, who knows what the future brings. Thanks for your report. I look forward to future ones.

  14. I want to try it again, but I was burned with two previous versions. Each time I was assured that I’d be off and running in no time and each time I couldn’t hang in long enough for it to pay off. Maybe the new version really is The One.

  15. @EllieAnn: Is still learning process but I love it so far.

    @Diana: I love the idea of naming my Dragon. I agree with you on the punctuation. I’m still getting used to that.

    @Literate: There is still the Windows version. You minority have it on your computer. I didn’t really get the hang of it but I also didn’t have a very good microphone at the time.

    @Emma: I started with the minimal training. Even that worked really well. And I’m adding to the training as I go.

    @Dave: I hear you on the thought process and the editing. Those of and really tricky for me to learn and I’m still working on it. Thanks for the link. I’ll go check it out.

    @Julie: Wow! Impressive wpm! I’m pretty sure I’ll get much faster with the Dragon as I learn to think out loud or maybe talk faster. LOL

    @Sheila: There are still some drawbacks. Dragon doesn’t recognize every word perfectly. Sometimes the results are humorous. You’d probably still need human editors for important documents.

    @Cordelia: I started pretty slow. You can ease into it with something like Twitter or Facebook. Or even leaving comments on a blog or replying to comments. Because all of those are more conversational.

    @Margaret: Yeah, you have to learn how to talk in a way that Dragon can recognize. It does pretty well, at least the newest version. But it’s a good idea to train yourself to talk “like a newscaster”

    @Linda: Agreed. It wasn’t until I started using Dragon that I realize my pronunciation was and always the clearest. So now I’m working on that too.

    @Voice: I’m definitely working towards using it more effectively. I’d love to be a would run a lot of my computer applications with it. I just have to learn how.

    @John: That’s what happened to me with the Windows version. LOL. I don’t know if the Mac version is different than the PC version. It should be possible to delete your older user profile and create a new one. It would be great if those of us using Dragon would start posting tutorials, perhaps even collaborate.

    @Sandra:If you’re typing whiz, it’s possible Dragon may not cut your writing time not much although I hear that people can speak upwards of 120 wpm. It definitely saves on physical strain though.

    @Chazz: I think they made a lot of improvements. I never tried any of the old versions though so I can’t really compare. This one seems to be working pretty well for me, at least so far.

    Well, I just made all these comments the Dragon and it worked pretty well, once I figured out how to direct it to do the @ along with someone’s name so I didn’t have to type it LOL. Another thing I’ve noticed about using Dragon, is that I don’t have to stop as often and correct my own spelling… Apparently Dragon spells better than I do.

  16. Someone got me Dragon Dictate as a gift, and it was okay, but I found it slower. Maybe I just needed more time to get used to it. I couldn’t figure out how to make it follow the command features so I could use applications like email and Facebook, and it specifically says if you try to use your mouse with the software, it will get confused. So, it was frustrating. Granted, it did come in handy when I had a minor wrist injury and couldn’t type very well. But I type 80 wpm anyway. Still, I might revisit simply because I do need to take care of my wrists, not just from writing, but because I get the double strain from sign language interpreting.

    Interesting discussion.

  17. Wow, great information. I could relate to the neck and shoulder problems with so much typing (add headaches). This sounds like a great idea I will have to check out. Thanks Sonia.

  18. I’ve thought about SR software, but don’t have the money to spend on it right now. I’ve wondered, though, whether the quality would decrease for me based on the fact that I’m accustomed to writing with my fingers rather than articulately speaking my thoughts. When you’ve had more time to try the software for blogging and fiction writing, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

  19. Hmmm. Very interesting discussion. I tried voice recognition a while ago for another purpose, but was not happy with it. It took time for the program to recognize my voice, and I had to edit more carefully. Still, I am intrigued. I’d like to read more discussion on it. It sounds like it could help with responding to blogs. Maybe I’ll give it another try at some point. I imagine that once you got used to it, it could open the floodgates of creativity!

  20. Personally, I have never even considered going this route, but I think I’m developing Carpal tunnel syndrome so maybe I ought to give it a go.

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