Is Dictation Software Worth it For Authors?

Dictation software has become very effective, but is it worth the expense? I think it is, but there are advantages and disadvantages, and a lot depends on how good a touch typist you are. The latest versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking and MacSpeech Dictate are the leading brands for the Windows PC and Apple Mac respectively. They use a very similar technology and the companies have merged to continue developing the software.

The investment you had to make in voice recognition software used to be a lot more than just the initial purchase cost. It could take a long time to train earlier versions of dictation software to understand your accent and your vocabulary. This learning process was not just time-consuming but frustrating to a busy user who was looking for an immediate gain in productivity. Recent versions of the software from the above two companies has advanced to the point where very little initial training is now needed before the software will work with a surprisingly low rate of error.

There are some situations where the software is so good that there is really no choice but to make use of the technology. If you have to prepare a report while you’re working with your hands, for example a pathologist wanting to record his observations while he works, dictation software will give a huge productivity benefit.

For an author doing a lot of original writing the benefits are a little more debatable. Original writing requires that you think a great deal as you write. The mechanical process of typing can leave the mind free to think on to the next stage, and to formulate the story, paragraph and sentence structure and choice of words that you will use.

When you are dictating as you go your thoughts have to be carefully developed before you open your mouth. It can take a lot of practice before you can freely dictate what you want to say without interrupting the flow while you think through what comes next. If you are a slow typist, or have a disability that makes it difficult to type, the advantages of using dictation software heavily outweigh the disadvantages. If you are a fast touch typist the answer is not quite so clear.

A fast touch typist can be constantly entering data at a fast clip, with their hands and brain working in parallel, while a person using dictation software is compelled to enter the data in fits and starts. One moment they are thinking through what to say next, and then they have to switch to another mode of thinking to dictate the words they have decided upon. For this type of writing it can take a while to become as efficient as a fast touch typist when you are using dictation software.

You will still experience errors when using software like MacSpeech Dictate. While it can enter the data very quickly, you may need to spend a little more time editing your draft than you would if you typed the words in directly.