Thursday, March 11, 2010

There's a Dragon in my Car

I finished college with the naïve idea that I would finally find time to write as much as I wanted. But I soon learned finding time was about as easy as finding twenty-dollar bills on the sidewalk—possible, but unlikely. If you’ve written very long, you know writers don’t find time to write, they make time to write.

Like a hungry dog who collects scraps any place and any time, my life is marked with index cards, sticky notes, and whiteboards. But outside of the laptop computer, the writing tool I appreciate the most is the speech-to-text software.

With my headset microphone and laptop computer, I salvage writing time otherwise unavailable in my busy workday. Whether driving to work or walking on the treadmill, the speech-to-text software allows me to brainstorm, make notes, and even create my first rough draft while doing something else—multitasking at its best.

Yet, speech-to-text software wasn’t always worth the effort. My first experience with speech-to-text was so error ridden, I gave up the first day. However, since the release of Dragon Naturally Speaking version 10, I have had great success with speech-to-text and my accuracy is limited only by my lazy speech habits.

Dragon claims ninety-nine percent accuracy, which I believe is a fair assessment. But technology is only as good as the user. When I articulate poorly, I get poor results, but when I focus on good speech habits, I obtain good results. I wouldn’t think sending an e-mail via speech to text, nor would I risk sending an unedited letter created by Dragon.

If you’ve ever played the game Mad Gab you understand the type of errors from poor articulation. For example, open heart surgery gets typed as woe pin arts her jury, and bare love monk ease might show up in your manuscript when you intended to type a barrel of monkeys.

In addition to user error, three other elements are paramount to speech-to-text accuracy. The free headset packaged with the software delivered poor to mediocre results. When I did my research and upgraded to the headset recommended by Dragon my accuracy improved significantly.

Second, I first used Dragon on an economy Gateway laptop and thought I was obtaining good results. But then my computer went on the blink and I upgraded to a new Thinkpad with a faster processor the results were even better.

Finally, should you try Dragon Naturally, I recommend completing the voice training immediately. We each have unique speech patterns, be it a southern drawl, a New York accent, or personal speech rhythms. Dragon tries to cope with speech idiosyncrasies by providing short stories for the user to read so the program can adapt to your personal speech style. Thirty minutes of training made a huge difference for me.

Occasionally, some words confuse the software, such as my fictional character’s first name, Zoe. Fortunately, Dragon allows the user to train specific words, and once the magic fairies inside the computer understand how to relate the particular sound to the typed word, it responds correctly from that point forward.

Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 isn’t perfect, but it does help my productivity. If you’re interested, the software is available from and the microphone headset I use is Andrea NC-185. Total cost for both items is under one-hundred dollars.

Kenny Noble


  1. Interesting information! I've never thought of using speech-to-text, but I can see it being a timesaver.

  2. Thanks for the information. I have been thinking of getting a voice recorder and then typing my notes. This might be a better option.

  3. I've thought of getting this as I'm an auditory person and this might make things easier for me. Thanks so much for explaining it in great detail. I'm going to file this info away! (and know who to ask more questions about it.)

  4. I have a speech to text already loaded on both my laptop and desktop. Ha! Your comparison of Mad Gab and speech to text was right on. My manuscript was hilarious. So hilarious that I decided not to use the speech thingy. Maybe I'll try dragon.

  5. Wow, I didn't know this type of thing existed. I love to multi-task. I'm going to check into it. Thanks for sharing!