Good and Geeky way to write
When we have using speech to text software it baffles me why it is, when people are on about writing these days, they often are thinking about using pen and paper, or even worse using a pencil. It’s not the most efficient way to get the words out of your head and onto the page. In fact working that way is downright slow and old-fashioned. I’m still in that baffled state of mind when I see pictures showing writing and writers and they have the image of people sitting in front of a typewriter. So if the picture is to advertise something to do with writing, you’ll see a romanticised, dreamy, stylised view of people with pens or with old-fashioned typewriters. It’s all there in the marketing hype and the connection to the old-fashioned ways of doing things. Nostalgia rules! More and more we’ll see images which include computers and people typing on keyboards in the advertising realm of ours. I’m firmly of the opinion that these days, even that is a little bit old-fashioned. It’s certainly going to be a long time before we can just think and our thoughts will appear on the page. Mind you, that would be downright dangerous if there wasn’t any security involved in the process. Do we want people to know exactly what out thoughts are? It wouldn’t be very good if as you walk along the road and were thinking about things, people were doing a drive-by download of your thoughts. Despite everything, it is true to say there is a new more modern way to write. I do it just about every day of the week. It is the fastest way to get the thoughts and ideas out of my head and into a document. I write by talking to my computer. I use speech to text software which is remarkably accurate at the same time as allowing me to write three to four times faster than pecking away at the keys on a keyboard. This is the way forward and it is available now on our mobile devices as well as to use on our desktop computers.
An overview of speech to text software
For the last couple of years we have had available on our Macs built-in software which will take our speech and turn it into text. It’s very simple to get started. All you have to do is to set it up initially in the system preferences. Then two taps on the function key for the computer to start listening to you. It’s using the same Siri dictation engine as you find on the mobile phones and on your iPad. It’s fairly accurate and once you get used to it you can write quite fast indeed. It’s possible you’ll achieve an accuracy rate of around 95 percent with your speech to text software.
What this means in practice is that you will need to edit your converted text and find where mistakes have been created by the software. You will find there will be a word or two here and there that needs to be changed. The software can sometimes get completely confused and insert a word which has nothing to do with what it was you wanted to say. There will be other words such as homonyms which means that they sound the same as other words. So you will have said there when you really meant their. There may also be one or two places where perhaps you were not very clear in how you said the word and it wasn’t interpreted quite right. This could be as simple as a word that was supposed to be plural, but came in as a singular version of the word.
Dictation built into all Macs
What is the best speech to text software to use? When you are using this basic Siri dictation, whether it’s on the Mac using the built-in dictation software or if it’s on the iOS device you will be dictating one or two sentences at a time. Depending on whether you are in the flow with regards your creativity of creating the words from your ideas you may want to either ignore any mistakes you see as they are made, or correct them as you go. I find if the sentence more or less makes sense it’s best to work out later what it was you meant. Catch more of the problems by doing the editing later. Edit the work in one foul swoop when you’re finished saying all of what it was you wanted to say. Whether you are writing using a keyboard for whether you are writing using dictation software you will certainly have to do some editing properly before you publish. So you don’t need to think the editing stage of dictation is time-consuming and something to slow you down. You can balance the fact the software will usually spell things more correctly than you will with a keyboard-based workflow. You will have fewer typos to have to fix and that will make the complete editing process much faster overall.
Fixing Small Problems With Speech To Text Software
When I am using Siri dictation on the iPhone, the way it works out is I find one or two words that are incorrect. It’s as simple as pie to select the word and with just a couple of taps on the keyboard put in the correct words. It is more productive than to try again dictating the word and expecting it to come out right the next time. One of the things you can do both on the Mac and also on your iOS device is to have the computer read back your text. When you do this on the Mac you just have to set it up in the system preferences for speech and text. You will see there is a keyboard shortcut of Option-Escape. Use this keyboard shortcut and the voice you have chosen will start speaking whatever you have selected. I use the British English voice called Kate and sometimes the voice that goes by the name of Daniel. You can also set the speed of playback of the voice. When I’m in editing mode I will usually read out aloud to myself, but getting the computer to read to you is another good option. It is also possible to do a similar thing on your iOS device. Once again you do have to set it up beforehand in the system preferences. It’s best to choose one of the enhanced voices as they sound more natural and less computer like. By listening to the words being spoken, either by yourself or by your computer voice, you’ll find any mistakes still in the text so you can correct them.
Dictating in iOS with Siri Speech to text Software
Speech to text software for iOS. To get started with Siri dictation on iOS on your iPhone or iPad you need to be using the standard Apple keyboard. To the left of the spacebar you’ll see a key which has a picture of a microphone on it. Tap once on this key and you’ll get between one and two minutes of dictation time. You’ll be able to speak two or three sentences, maybe even four before it stops and you have to go again. It’s a good moment to have a quick look at the speech to text results. It’s only a small amount of text and it’s easy to quickly change one or two words here or there if you need to, for it makes sense. If it is more or less correct you can also just ignore it and go with the next dictation session. Using this method you’ll quickly be able to crank out hundreds of words. Within 10 or 15 minutes you can easily have five or 600 words in your document. The microphone on the device, whether you are using the iPhone or the iPad is of a high quality and providing you are close enough to it you will get good word recognition. If you’re going to be moving around from place to place so you can walk and talk at the same time, consider using an external microphone. The microphone included on the headset of the iPhone which comes as standard when you buy it, will give you good quality speech to text conversion. By having the earpiece plugged into your ear the microphone is going to be in just the right place for your speaking. It was after all designed that way so you would have good communications when speaking on the phone using the earbuds and the microphone. Another possibility you might want to consider is to use a clip-on microphone. (lavalier mic) The beauty of this is the microphone is held in just the right place in terms of distance from your vocals to ensure good quality recording. I use a microphone made by Giant Squid and it only cost about $40. I did have to buy a converter to allow me to plug into the 3.5 mm socket on the phone. There are other external microphones you can buy and some of them will plug into the lightning connector.
Dictating in iOS using an application
There is speech to text software made by Nuance Communications called Dragon Dictation. It works in a similar way to Siri dictation. The difference is that you press a button on the screen to start the dictation and you don’t see any feedback until you have finished dictating. Ever since iOS 8 or 9 the Siri dictation throws the words onto the screen as you’re dictating. With this DragonDictate app it seems you can dictate for quite a long time. More than the two or three sentences you get from Siri. When the Dragon Dictation application has finished putting the text on the screen you can easily select single words and you’re just given the option to delete. When you’ve deleted the word you can bring up the keyboard on the screen and insert the correct word to replace the one you’ve just deleted. I suspect this application is going to be more accurate than Siri dictation even though it’s not so different. Which one you prefer to use is going to depend upon how you like to work. The advantage of using the inbuilt Siri dictation is the fact it is always there accessible by a key on your standard keyboard. It is nice to see the words arriving on screen as you are dictating. Even if you are limited to the amount of time you can dictate for. The other advantage is that you can dictate into whichever application you want to work on. You might be working in Ulysses on your iPad or perhaps Byword on either the iPad or iPhone. If you go down the route of using Dragon Dictation on iOS then you’ll need to copy the text you dictated and paste it wherever you really wanted it to be. The Siri dictation is the one I use most often. Seems I have some sort of preference there
Record into Audio recording apps
There is the other option of recording the audio into a general audio recorder software such as Twisted Wave, Just Record or one of the many other voice recorders available. The other option would be to use the Dragon Recorder – Nuance Communications application. Mostly the difference between these applications is going to be how you’re going to transfer the file created from the iOS device to where you’re going to have the voice transcribed. You will need to have the full DragonDictate speech to text software on your computer. I use DragonDictate for Mac 5. The method for moving the file using the Dragon audio recording software for iOS is by using the method of linking up to a web browser on your desktop computer. It’s easy to do even if it is not particularly elegant. It’s for this reason I prefer to use one of the other audio recording softwares. With Twisted Wave I get the option to set the input gain manually so it’s best suited for the microphone being used. This way I can be sure I’m not recording at too high a level and having clipping destroy the recorded audio. At the same time you don’t want to have the volume of the recorded audio too low. It’s because of these things I generally tend to use Twisted Wave. There are occasions I might use Just Record. My reason to change to this would be it is quicker to get into the recording mode. It is a much simpler application and all you get is just one button to press when you want to start a recording. The quality of the recording seems to be good enough despite the simplicity of the application. Either of these two applications allow me to share the completed audio file to a application so I can transfer it to my Mac. My preferred method is to use an application called Bit Torrent Sync. The good thing about this application is that I don’t need to connect my iPhone or iPad to the Mac with cables in order to move the file. It’s not necessary for the file to go out across the Internet and then come back in again either. I have the sister application of BT Sync available on the Mac and the file is transferred directly from the iPhone to my Mac. It is very fast to transfer files this way, I also use it with pictures. As soon as I have the file in the folder on my Mac I can change the mode in the speech to text software from dictation mode to transcription mode. I just drag and drop the file onto the DragonDictate for Mac application. The transcription starts working straight away and works faster than real-time. So if I have an audio file which is 15 minutes long, it might only take 10 minutes for the DragonDictate to convert the speech into text. It must be able to do some magic in ignoring areas of the recording where there is no voice to transcribe.
Listen to the Audio and read the transcript
When the transcription has been completed by DragonDictate speech to text software on the Mac the results pop up in a Textedit window. You could simply read through it and edit it in the same way as you would edit any other dictated or typed in words. Another possibility is to first of all play the audio from your file as you read through the transcribed text. You’ll be able to listen to what it was you actually said and compare directly with the text on the screen in Textedit. You’ll probably still want to do an edit, where you do a read through of your text out loud. This is when you will be organising your words and making the piece flow better for when it’s read by somebody else. It’s not going to be perfect directly as it comes from your mouth unless it’s a short document. Editing has to be done.
Dictation on the Mac
As already mentioned, it’s possible to use Siri dictation on the Mac. This is a good place to start if you want to experiment with the possibilities of speech to text conversion. It’s not the same as using dedicated software like DragonDictate. With DragonDictate you get more tools to use and a better vocabulary to work from. DragonDictate also learns from your speech patterns and is much more accurate overall. It’s necessary to train your Dragon when you first start using the software. One way to do this is to read the texts provided in DragonDictate. However, there is a school of thought which says you should instead train your Dragon by reading your own writings into the software. This way you’re getting the dictation software to learn the words you use personally, as well as how to recognise your way of pronouncing things. The pieces of text you can use from within the software are only fairly short. You do get the option to make corrections as you are training your Dragon. This could be enough to get you going and the Dragon can do the rest of the training on the job as it were.
Correct Text as You Go
Another thing DragonDictate can do is to let you correct text as you go. Tell the dictation software to select a word or set of words and then say the words again or change the words to what you really wanted to say. With Siri dictation you can use the punctuation commands while you are dictating, but with DragonDictate you get a wider range of commands. The DragonDictate software is fairly expensive and if you don’t do much writing it’s probably not worth you getting it. If you write every day or if you have problems with repetitive strain injuries then DragonDictate is well worth the money. For start off, you’ll find you can write about three or four times faster than if you’re using the keyboard and typing with your fingers. Another good point in favour of the DragonDictate software is using it to control other applications on your Mac. I quite often use DragonDictate within the application Messages. I will use DragonDictate to first of all open the Messages application. I will dictate the message I want to send and finish off by using the command ‘Send Message’. I also use DragonDictate extensively with Day One. I use it to input entries into my journal every day of the week. I have also set this up to have commands specific to the Day One application. I use my voice to command Day One to start a new journal entry and I can also tell it to open up the tagging window. It does make things much faster for creating journal entries. Dictation is a fantastic way to record my life in the best digital journal app. You can also use these specialised DragonDictate commands in applications such as Mail or even in Word. If you are a writer you don’t want to be using Microsoft Word for speech to text software. You should be using Ulysses or Scrivener. Word is for office workers and not for us creative types. Whatever word processing applications you use with speech to text software you will be amazed at how productive you can get.
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Recommendations for Using Dictation
Until you get used to using speech to text software for dictation it will seem quite strange. It isn’t really something you can do in office for with other people either. Dictation is great when you are working by yourself in a quiet place. Using dictation is also marvellous if you are able to dictate as you are walking. I will sometimes do dictation while I’m out walking the dog. If you want to have a more relaxed seating position and workspace then why not relax on the sofa and dictate into your iPhone or iPad. If you use a laptop computer you can also use the full-blown, best in class DragonDictate while sitting with your feet up in an armchair. You don’t have to worry about getting into a specific seated position where you can attack a keyboard with your fingers. Dictation is a must if you suffer from repetitive strain injury. Being able to say goodbye to the pain is a great motivator for taking up writing by dictation.
Take the time to get used to a new way of working
Remember it does take time to get used to new ways of working. You’ll need to get used to speaking clearly and using punctuation as you say your sentences. If you can get past the early stages then I feel sure you’re going to be a happy writer creating many thousands of words. It doesn’t have to take more than a couple of days or at most a week or so before you are an expert at using DragonDictate. There are versions for Windows and also for the Mac and lately Nuance Communications have come up with Dragon Anywhere. Dragon Anywhere is a subscription service which is supposed to give you the same level of quality of dictation as you would get with the desktop software. I haven’t been able to try that yet as at present it’s only available in North America. So I urge you to go forth and get all futuristic with your writing and take up dictation. Try it out on your iOS devices and also compare the built-in dictation on the Mac. If you’re serious though, you will go for the industry-standard product of Dragon dictate.
Statistics for the Dictation
This document has been dictated using speech to text software into Ulysses text editor on my Mac. I did it in word sprints, the first one for just 10 minutes, followed by four separate 15 minute sprints. Then the last section starting from Recommendations For Using Dictation I added without setting a timer. Probably just another 10 minutes of writing. My average words per hour is nearly 2600 words. The screenshot is from the app 5KWPH by Chris Fox
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