Get the Most Out of Dictation With These Tips

Hello to all the story Empire readers. I hope everyone had a good Memorial day weekend. For those of us not on vacation, it’s been back to work and with that in mind I thought I would provide a few writing-tips to get the most out of your dictation.

One of the main reasons to begin using the dictation as a writing tool is because of workload. In my case, my new job reduced my ability to accomplish enough writing so dictation became necessary. Otherwise, you may find that your writing demands have increased and you simply must accomplish more in the available time. Here are some ways to transition to dictation that I found helpful.

Follow a Script

ListWhen I began using Dragon several months ago, I quickly realized there was more to dictation than simply speaking words into a microphone. Without some preparation, I tended to have numerous pauses to gather my thoughts so I soon chose to use a script for dictation.

As an example, I might sit down the night before my next day of dictation and dictate some notes about specific details. I can’t refer to these notes while I’m driving, but I can read over them before I begin my commute so I know where to start and what my goals are.

I create a script as a guide to keep me focused. Writers who are plotters will easily adapt to this process while pantsers may find it a bit more difficult. You can write as much or as little detail as you want, but some sort of script will help you dictate faster than you would otherwise.

What should a script look like? For me, I want to keep the list as simple as possible so I don’t spend a lot of time on punctuation or even using names. I will often abbreviate character names to just the first letter. If I find a particular character conversation needs my attention, then I tend to script more of the dialogue. Then as I dictate I try to have in mind how the characters are reacting to one another but I may note some of these points in the script. Sometimes the more detailed I am the faster I dictate. However, I try to keep the script to short statements in a numbered list for ease of use.

Bonus Tip: Read over where you ended the day before to jar your memory. You’ll find you start more smoothly and transition into your script with ease.

Edit Later

Mistakes are a part of writing, even when typing. When dictating, I may misstate a name or word while I’m speaking. I may also forget to add various punctuation commands at the appropriate time or even forget to go to a new paragraph. At first, I often hesitated when I made such mistakes. But I quickly learned that, much like doing some sort of performance, it’s best just to keep going and ignore the mistake. If you can restate a word it will help you make the correction when you’re editing. If you spend a lot of time worrying about the mistakes, you will not get much out of dictation.

One of the problems that we have with dictation is that when we make a mistake, we hear it. Such mistakes are jarring for a writer to hear (which is a good reason to read your work aloud during editing). We self-edit while speaking very often, but many people will begin to think that they’re making far too many errors in dictation and that it’s just not worth their time. However, you may be giving more weight to what you’re hearing for the wrong reason. True, you do hear your mistakes, but when you are typing you do not notice your mistakes as much. It’s the nature of speaking and hearing versus typing. For that reason, dictation can actually be more accurate than keyboarding, but you just notice the mistakes as more glaring because you hear them.

This brings up another point regarding dictation. One of the main goals that people have when they are writing for NaNoWriMo is to complete a rough draft. When you write this way, you learn to spend less time correcting yourself and more time pushing ahead to the end. Many people fall into the need to edit while they are writing a rough draft. This can actually slow you down quite a bit because editing is a different task entirely than that of composition, one which requires critical thinking versus creativity. The two different tasks often conflict with one another so that you can actually hinder your creativity. I separate my creative writing time from editing time so that I don’t have as much mental distraction between the two.

Use Dictation Often

Use dictation as often as possible when you are writing, no matter what you’re writing. As I noted in a recent post on my own site, I had to learn to trust my dictation process more. One particular day I needed to get a lot done, but I floundered because of the amount of work. Once I allowed myself to trust dictation with all of my writing tasks, I began to make progress. I found that what I thought would be a full eight hours of writing work was actually less than three hours of dictation. Because I finally chose to fully commit all of my writing jobs to dictation, I was able to accomplish far more in less time over a wide range of tasks than I thought I would. My dictation now includes freelance writing assignments, blogging, my WIP and my dictation editing (this last one is a process in development about which I will share at a later time).

Take Time to Train Dragon

If you find that you run into several problems with dictation, it’s best to make some adjustments. In the resources  listed at the end of the post is a book which also covers troubleshooting and addressing other problems technical issues. However, there are several tools in Dragon which can help you improve your dictation accuracy. From the Dragon menu you can click on audio and see a number of tools in the menu. You can click on “Check microphone” to help alleviate any problems you might have with the configuration of your hardware. You can use “Improve recognition of word or phrase…”, a tool which allows you to add words or phrases while pronouncing them. Try some of the other tools on the menu but be aware that reading text from other sources may actually reduce your accuracy.

I recommend clicking on Vocabulary, then “Learn from specific documents…” which allows you to feed your writing into Dragon as a custom source. I write fantasy so this is a big help as Dragon has something to use for my custom words, often getting them correct. Re-load updated versions for improved accuracy over time. Also, add new words and phrases from newer WIPs.


Minimize Competition for Computer Resources

Because Dragon uses so much memory, you may find that you have some specific problems with software or system crashes. It is important to turn off unnecessary applications that Dragon will be able to function with as much memory as possible. Also, only have Dragon open when you intend to transcribe or dictate. Exiting Dragon will update your profile but also save your computer resources. If you are like me, and you don’t necessarily reboot your laptop a lot, you may find it helpful to do so more often.

And one last note for Apple users, Dragon NaturallySpeaking was not originally developed on the Apple operating system so there may be particular problems that you run into in that regard. There are any number of online resources that are available to assist you including those from Nuance. However the resourced title in my list below provides some specific pointers and troubleshooting tips for anyone using Apple devices.

Thanks for reading today. If you use Dragon already, what tips do you have that helped you improve your dictation? Do you think Dragon will help your writing production? Please leave your questions and thoughts in the comments and I’ll respond as soon as I can.


P.H. Solomon

27 thoughts on “Get the Most Out of Dictation With These Tips

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    • Thanks, Mae. It’s an interesting change. I use it more and more with Scrivener and get a lot of mileage out of it. I’m constantly working on my accuracy so my drafts are better. But I’m using it to edit one long rough draft now and it is working very well to remove all the kinks from the manuscript.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I switched from a PC to a Mac almost two years ago. While I crash a lot less, I’ve noticed other issues (mostly memory problems that are attributed to “other” and can’t be addressed—at least, not by me). I’m already jealous of your Dragon software, as the Mac version isn’t nearly as good. I’m making strides with it, but it’s slow going. I wouldn’t switch back to a PC at this point (Scrivener alone is worth having a Mac), but I wish Mac’s Dragon was improved.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The more I read your posts about Dragon, the more I want to try it. Surprising to see a writing-related software these days that wasn’t originally developed for Apple. I’m still using a PC and at this point, see no reason to switch to a Mac.

    Another great post, P. H.

    Liked by 2 people

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