Business Matters: I Don’t Write Any More

by Bette Frick on 11 April 2013

I didn’t write this blog post. Instead, I spoke it using Dragon* NaturallySpeaking 12 Speech Recognition for PC* and edited it by voice with a little help from my mouse.

I had used Dragon before, maybe 15 years ago, and found it clunky and unrewarding. But when I started to feel some incipient carpal tunnel, I thought about Dragon again and called Nuance, Dragon’s creator, to ask some questions of the sales agent. She was knowledgeable and didn’t pressure me at all, and I was hooked. The new software was fairly easy to install and comes with a comfortable headset and a microphone that’s very sensitive.

It’s almost scary, even a bit creepy, how the software learns what I’m saying. For example, in paragraph 2, I had spoken the word “incipient,” and Dragon typed “in Serbian.” I chuckled and corrected the text manually. When I spoke that word again in this paragraph, Dragon had learned how to type it correctly.

Dragon keeps asking me for permission to scan all my other files and e-mails in order to build a larger vocabulary, but to date I have not allowed him to do that. (Notice I said “him”? I am anthropomorphizing this software in a way I never would with software that I merely type into. Weird.)

Maybe I’m trying to justify my purchase, but I really believe that Dragon allows me to produce text faster than when I type it by hand. I’ve timed myself in both modes and found the process of dictating to Dragon to be about 15% to 30% faster than just typing, including editing in both modes. Dragon certainly works better than typing when I’m dictating “stream of consciousness,” as in a journal entry or when I’m angry. Such flow is particularly helpful when still in brainstorming mode because I can talk myself through what I’m really trying to say.

And that’s actually the second reason I purchased the software. I’ve been reading Peter Elbow’s immense tome Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. Elbow is a prolific and respected academic who has addressed the differences between the spoken and written word. That’s too long a discussion for this article, but I think we all realize that there is a difference, which he reinforces and verifies in his latest book.

After many years of being a “manual” writer, I wanted to experiment with being a “spoken” writer. I’ve tried dictating to a digital recorder and then transcribing it; Dragon has allowed me to skip that extra step. For example, I am staring out the window now at a beautiful March snowfall in the Rockies that we so desperately need, and somehow all the falling snow is planting ideas in my mind. If I were typing this manually, I would be focused on the material, the keyboard, and the screen—the mechanics of writing. But because I can ignore those things, new ideas are flowing almost as fast as the snow is falling. I can see how valuable this would be when writing scripts, either for plays or for narration to record for e-learning.

Of course there’s a learning curve—Dragon’s and mine. But for anyone else who is more technically savvy than I am, the learning curve would probably not be as steep.

I’m sure there are other voice recognition software programs―if you’ve used them, would you share your experiences in a comment? And if you’ve used Dragon and would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment as well.

One more thing: I tried to update Dragon to 12.5 last week, without luck; he actually stopped working altogether. The heavily accented support person was hard to understand but was helpful and skillful in fixing my problem. I was so glad to have my Dragon back.

*Please note: I have not received any money from Nuance (the maker of Dragon) for this review, and I paid full sales price for my software. I never accept any money, discounts, or gifts for reviewing any writing products that I share with readers.

Elizabeth (Bette) Frick, PhD, ELS is president of The Text Doctor LLC in Boulder, CO. She teaches technical writing in corporations and edits medical documents. Bette is an STC Fellow and has been independent for 23 years.

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