For years we were promised voice dictation that was accurate, real-time, and easy. Today that promise has (largely) come true, but should you write your next work report, dissertation, or novel using your voice? Maybe not, as it turns out.
We Don’t Write The Way We Speak
The biggest problem with dictating any serious writing is that, unlike reading, writing isn’t a linear process. We don’t think out whole paragraphs and sentences on the fly, so speaking the written word is rarely efficient.
Instead, writing goes back and forth. We stop and think. Then type out a torrent of words once those thoughts are in order. With the way current dictation systems work, it’s hard to have this natural writing cadence work smoothly. The alternative is to adapt how we write to dictation. This author has certainly tried, but it doesn’t seems conducive to the writing process, regardless of what you write.
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Formatting and Editing Is Still a Pain
A significant amount of writing is simply formatting and editing text. No dictation system has really nailed perfect punctuation and formatting. Some of them infer where commas and periods should go and often do a great job. However, the most reliable method is still explicitly telling the system verbally where to put punctuation or when to, for example, create bold or italicized text.
Using your voice to format text is practically a no-go from the outset. It’s simply faster and more efficient to use tactile controls. Even touch controls work better than formatting by voice. So inevitably, you’ll have to go back and do manual typing no matter how well your initial voice draft came out.
Voice Dictation Doesn’t Work In Shared Spaces
While lots of people are working from home, open-plan offices and other communal workspaces are still common. This makes it a problem to produce text in a way that makes noise. Mechanical keyboards are already annoying when someone’s mashing out an article on one, but could you imagine a room full of people talking at their computers?
It also makes it impossible to, for example, listen to music or other audio content while writing, unless you’re willing to wear headphones. Overall, the noise pollution caused by voice dictation narrows down the types of environments and situations where you can use it comfortably.
Talking Too Much Can Be Bad For You
Another potential reason voice dictation hasn’t become the mainstream writing mode, is that talking for hours on end isn’t great for anyone’s voice. That’s not to say that excessive typing isn’t going to put some strain on your hands, but we’ve had decades to figure out better typing ergonomics. We don’t have “ergonomic” microphones, after all.
It’s a Great Hands-Free and Mobile Typing Technology
Where voice dictation really shines is in writing small sections of text hands-free. Such as dictating a text message for use with your favorite app while driving. Even when you’re not working hands-free, voice typing is generally less frustrating than typing on a tiny touch-screen keyboard. At least for anyone with human-sized thumbs.
So if you haven’t tried voice typing on your smartphone, it’s actually one of the best use cases for the technology, if you tend to mistype things on your phone regularly, voice typing is definitely worth a try.
Transcription Is the Real Star
So far, it may seem like voice dictation has turned out to be less useful than it seems, but that’s only when you try to use this technology in real-time. What’s far more practical is taking voice recordings and then transcribing them to editable text.
Voice dictation and transcription are essentially the same technology, except in the case of transcription the software has more time to get it right, has the context of the whole recording to work with, and does have to be interrupted for editing.
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By using a dedicated voice recorder, or a recording app on your phone, or even a smart watch, you can put down your thoughts over a period of time and then feed all of that audio into your transcription software. Then it’s a matter of editing the end result, which is must faster than the stop-and-start nature of dictation.
So voice recognition technology is definitely something you should use, but perhaps live dictation isn’t the best way to benefit from it.
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