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Dragon Dictation for Authors

How this software can speed up your writing and help you avoid health issues

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Dragon Dictation – Is it Right for You?

By Trevor Douglas

About 15 years ago, while I was still working full-time as a business analyst, I contracted carpal tunnel syndrome from spending too much time typing on a keyboard. For any of you who are not familiar with the condition, it can be debilitating – a constant burning pain in your wrists and lower forearms that leaves you with a weak grip and unable to type for more than a few minutes without experiencing severe pain. Rest was suggested, as were exercises, as was an operation, but no medical physician was prepared to offer any guarantee of a complete cure.

[Note from Nick: another author’s tips on how to deal with similar health issues can be found in our previous article right here]

As an IT professional, my working life depended on being able to use a keyboard. My disability left me with few options for staying in the IT industry and I began to ponder a career change and a job that didn’t require typing. A work colleague suggested I try Dragon Dictate (Dragon) voice recognition software.

 

 

He’d never used it…

…but had heard good things about it and suggested it might be worth a try considering my career was at a crossroad. At that point, I didn’t have much to lose, so I shelled out two hundred dollars for the software and a decent microphone and got to work learning about this new technology. To my surprise, the results were reasonable after only two hours of basic training and I had new hope my career might be salvageable.

The software needed to learn how I speak (I’m Australian and speak with a twang), and I was worried this might be a challenge. But I persisted and after two weeks of using Dragon on a daily basis, my work output was more than double my best day on a keyboard.

With my IT career back in business, I was hooked on the productivity benefits of Dragon and never looked back. I became somewhat of an evangelist for the product, but very few of my colleagues made the switch to Dragon, even though they could see my typing output was double and sometimes triple what they could produce in an equivalent timeframe.

 

 

I’ve often wondered why that was.

Perhaps it was the expense? Or the time you needed to invest in training the software? Or the lack of a real medical condition like I had that was forcing a change? Whatever the reason, the number of ‘converts’ I had to Dragon over the next 15 years could be counted on two hands.

When I moved into writing fiction, it was a ‘no-brainer’ for me to continue using the software. The process wasn’t quite as ‘seamless’ as I had expected. It turns out that writing fiction is a different proposition to writing IT documentation, but after several weeks of trial and error, I was consistently turning out 2,000-word first-draft chapters for my new novel in under an hour.

Over the years, I’ve posted answers to a wide variety of questions writers have on Dragon. In this article, I summarise my experience as a writer with the product and answer the most common of these recurring questions to help you decide if Dragon is right for you.

 

 

Do you need Dragon Dictate software or will any speech recognition software do?

If you’re serious about productivity improvements for your writing, Dragon Dictate is the only product (in my opinion) you should consider. While there are a few free voice dictation products available on the web, they are very limited in the functions they provide and require you to speak slowly to get any sort of accuracy in translation.

With Dragon, provided you are using a decent microphone, it is possible to speak at normal conversational speed and expect 98 – 99% accuracy after training. Additionally, Dragon has the ability to learn unique words (very important for writers) and adapt its ‘voice engine’ to the way you speak.  

Microsoft Word and Google Docs now both incorporate dictation tools as part of their feature sets. They are a little better than the free online tools, but still a long way short of Dragon’s offering both in terms of accuracy, features and their ability to adapt to your speech.

 

 

What if I can’t afford to buy the product?

Some authors have lamented they are not in a financial position to buy Dragon, or that they don’t want to take a risk spending lots of money on a product they’re not sure will work for them. If this is the case and you’re a Windows user, it might be worthwhile trying to locate a second-hand version of the software from eBay or similar. The older versions may not have all the new features, but they are still quite good.  

Tip: go online and check which versions of Dragon will operate with your version of Windows before you commit to purchase any second-hand version of the software. If you are an Apple Mac user, you are, unfortunately, stuck with buying the latest version of the product (version 6) as the older versions of the product are simply not worth the money – even second hand.

Can you use Dragon with Scrivener?

Yes, you can use Dragon with Scrivener and most other common word processing systems. Most of Dragon’s command set to correct errors and edit your work will work fine with products like Scrivener. If you are using a product that doesn’t support Dragon’s full feature set, you can use Dragon’s built-in ‘DragonPad’ for dictation and simply copy and paste blocks of text as they are completed into your favorite word processing product.

 

 

What is the best way to use Dragon for writing?

I’ve found Dragon most effective for writing first drafts of each chapter of my novels. As mentioned, I can usually dictate the first draft of a chapter in under an hour.

While Dragon supports the ability to add all kinds of punctuation marks, I generally limit my use of punctuation in the first draft to simply adding full stops, commas, and paragraph marks. This allows me to concentrate on getting the first draft out quickly without distraction. I use the second and third chapter edits to add the correct punctuation when I’m well and truly in ‘review’ mode.

 

 

How important is a good microphone headset? Will any headset do?

A good microphone headset is essential. Trying to use a cheap headset as a shortcut to keep costs down, rarely works. Dragon is reliant on high-quality audio input, preferably without background noise to work effectively. I’m currently using a Jabra Evolve and getting great results, but in the past, I’ve used headsets from Philips and Andrea with great effect.

The brand of headset doesn’t seem to be as important as the quality of the device. I’ve never had a problem with any headset that I’ve spent $100 or more on and I think if you’re spending much less, you risk getting poor results.

It’s worth noting also that unless you have a specific need for a Bluetooth headset, my recommendation is to stick with headsets that connect to your computer via a USB port. Over the years, I’ve tried two Bluetooth headsets (both with price tags up around $200) and have had mixed results. I’ve checked out a few online forums which suggest Bluetooth microphones can be problematic with Dragon.

 

 

Is Dragon any good for transcription?

The notion of being able to dictate into a voice recorder while you are driving or out walking the dog and then upload it to Dragon to convert to text when you get home has a certain appeal to it. I quickly gave up on trying to dictate into a voice recorder while driving because it was simply too dangerous! I’ve also experimented with trying to dictate while out on walks and found this to be more successful, but still far from optimal.

As a writer and regardless of whether I’m using a microphone or a keyboard, I’ve found I work best in a quiet place free from distractions.  I’ve all but given up on the idea of recording chapter drafts while I’m exercising or doing some other activity because it simply doesn’t work for me. I’ve heard some authors have had success transcribing while they walk or exercise and they now incorporate it into their daily routine, but I think they are probably in the minority.

I now use my ‘walking time’ only for listening to podcasts and leave the writing until I’m alone in my office. That said, just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for you and it’s worth experimenting with if you buy the product.

Tip: you don’t need to buy a special-purpose dictaphone as Dragon will accurately translate dictation from most modern smartphones.

 

 

What is the biggest challenge with using the product?

The biggest challenge is having the patience to work with the product for several weeks while it adjusts to your voice and speech patterns. A simple five or ten minute trial of the product won’t provide you with the results you need to assess its real capability.

Once over the training “hump” and the initial awkwardness of using a microphone rather than a keyboard for your writing, most authors who try Dragon never look back. One of the biggest challenges authors face, particularly if you’re looking to turn out multiple books each year, is getting enough quality time to write. While Dragon can’t put more hours into your day, it can certainly help maximize your productivity in the hours you have.

 

 

Do you have any other tips for using Dragon?

The biggest tip I can give writers, apart from limiting the use of punctuation in the first draft, is learning how to speak in full sentences. Dragon is very accurate when you speak in complete sentences, but less accurate when you pause while you are thinking about what you want to say next. Once you’ve mastered the art (and it does take a while) of holding a sentence in your head until its complete before you dictate, you will be well on your way to getting the most out of the software.

I’ve also found it very useful to have a bullet point outline of each chapter before I dictate. I find this immensely helpful in organizing my thought processes and I have far less of those awkward moments where I silently sit and think, ‘Okay, now the microphone is on, what am I going to say?’

I’ve noticed some writers comment that their writing style changes when they move from a keyboard to a microphone. While I think this is true for beginners, the more practiced you become with using Dragon, the more your writing style with a microphone will mirror your style with a keyboard.

My final tip is to use Dragon for what its really good at – rapidly inputting text for your first draft.  While it may not help you write a better novel, it will certainly reduce the time it takes to complete your writing project and that alone makes it worth considering.

 

Trevor Douglas is the author of four novels and one novella. He is currently writing (with the aid of Dragon) Cold Hard Cash, the third book in the Bridgette Cash Mystery Triller series. His website is www.trevordouglasauthor.com

 

And now we want to hear from you: Have you used dictation software in your writing? Are you planning to give it a try? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

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