1. Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance.
Dragon is pretty much the gold standard for dictation. And Nuance seems to have invented the entire industry before dictation was cool. They have deep roots in medical transcription, for example.
Die hard dictators swear by the PC version of this software. The Macintosh version was (puzzlingly) discontinued last year. Since Dragon has such a big reach, lifelong Mac users have been known to purchase cheap PCs to run this software.
Dragon is especially good if you're interested in transcription, which means recording your work on the fly and then uploading it to be analyzed by the speech to text software later.
One major downfall of using Dragon is that you have to speak your punctuation. So when you’re working, you sound like this: Quote Listen comma Betty comma end quote I said period. Quote I'm going to kill the dragon now period end quote. Some writers find that it breaks up the flow too much to be useful.
2. Macintosh and iOS users have speech to text functions built right into their i-devices. Now, I spent some time trying to figure out if the Mac application was licensed from Dragon or not. It seems to obey many of the same rules. But I could never find out whether my hunch is right.
The good news: there’s speech to text functionality baked into many of the apps you already own. I use it in Scrivener and in the Notes app on my iPhone. But it also requires speaking the punctuation, and it stops frequently. Oh, and it requires Wifi, which is frequently a deal-killer for me.
If you're considering dictation and want to know if it might ever work for you, give it a shot.
3. The Rev app. This app—available for Apple or Android devices—records your voice like so many others can do. However, once your work is recorded, you can then upload it to Rev’s transcription service with a single tap. A human will then type out your words for the cost of $1 a minute. We have friends who swear by it. Like Jess Lahey!
And now Rev has just come out with a brand new machine transcription option that costs just $0.10 a minute. It’s called Temi, and it’s error-filled but still gives you something useable. We use it to transcribe the podcast, and it takes our assistant a little over an hour to turn 40 minutes of us talking into something more useful.
4. Otter.ai. Now here's where we pause and realized that text-to-speech means very different things to different people. The Otter app was designed for the transcription of meetings. So as the app listens, it attempts to parse and label the voices of various speakers.
But it works surprisingly well for my needs, because it also makes and includes its own judgments about punctuation. It’s not always correct, but I find that it renders my dictated speech into something far more recognizable than I ever got from Dragon. In fact, I'm using it right now to write this piece! (Note from KJ: I fixed a couple of very small things.)
Otter also doesn’t care about your wifi connection. It will listen and record at any time. And then it will transcribe when you rejoin a wifi or cellular connection.
One fiddly thing about Otter is the learning curve for exporting your text in the format you require. I always use the “monologue” output.
5. There aren't a lot of books on the subject of dictation. And if there were, I suppose they'd be quickly out of date. But if you're determined to make Dragon work for you, try The Writers’ Guide to Training Your Dragon by Scott Baker. He gets into the nitty gritty of which microphones work best, and how to interact with the software for optimal results.
Happy dictating! And for more inspiration on dictating, listen to Episode 174, #WhenIt’sReallyHard, to hear from a writer who uses dictation for everything, and read her Top 5 Things to Remember When Writing Is Really Hard here.
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