Writing by Dictation
by Ron Kurtus (revised 26 January 2008)
Writers have different thinking styles that can determine the most effective way for them to record their thoughts. A writer who is very good at verbalizing may consider using dictation as a method to write. Recent advances in speech-to-text software makes this a viable choice.
Fiction writing seems the most suitable to the writing by diction method. There are advantages and disadvantages in this method.
Questions you may have include:
- What styles of thinking affect writing?
- How does diction work?
- What are the pros and cons of this method?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Thinking styles affect writing
People have different ways of thinking and expressing their thoughts. Some can easily visualize what they want to say and put those pictures into words on paper, while others who think in terms of sounds and can easily explain their ideas verbally. There are some people who are extreme in only one style of thinking. Most of us work in both modes but have a preference of one over the other.
If you can visualize what you want to say, you are probably best at expressing your thoughts on a word processor or by writing in longhand. Some visual thinkers also think in a very organized manner. They may prefer to work with outlining word processors to document (and organize) their thoughts.
It may be difficult for a visual thinker to write by dictation, although it is worth a try.
If you often think in terms of sounds you are called an auditory thinker. You can explain your ideas verbally but struggle to put those thoughts on paper. If you prefer to work in this mode, dictation methods may be a solution for material written.
Methods to use dictation to put your thoughts on paper include using a typist to transcribe your dictation and using speech-to-text software.
Having a typist transcribe dictation
Dictating to a secretary who writes down your thoughts in shorthand used to be practiced in many business offices. It really isn't a viable writing method and is just stated for historical purposes.
Another dictation method is to speak into a tape recorder and then have a typist transcribe the material into text. You may be your own typist or use a professional transcriber or secretary to do the typing. This method has been used for years in the business community for writing memos and letters.
Earle Stanley Gardner
Writer Earle Stanley Gardner, who originated and wrote the Perry Mason series of books, dictated a major portion of his material. The story goes to that Gardner originally wrote his stories on a manual typewriter until his fingers bled. Seeking a better method, he turned to dictating the stories into a tape recorder and having secretaries transcribe the material into print. At one time he had nine secretaries transcribing at one time. He was a very prolific writer.
Using speech-to-text software
The modern method is to use speech recognition or speech-to-text software that allows a you to dictate directly into a microphone that is attached to your computer. The material is then automatically translated into text in a word processor. It is done with reasonable accuracy, and if something doesn't look right, you can easily delete it with a verbal command and correct it or start over.
Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the top speech recognition application. They have versions ranging from Standard to Professional, depending on the features needed. You can buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Standard for about $82. They claim a 99% accuracy rate.
Using digital recorder
You can also use certain digital recorders to express your thoughts and then convert your recording into text automatically at a later time. In such a case, you need Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Preferred to transcribe audio from a digital recorder in speech-to-text. The program accepts MP3 and WMA audio files.http://www.amazon.com/Nuance-Communications-Inc-A109A-G01-10-0-NaturallySpeaking/dp/B001B5J7LQ/ref=dp_ob_title_sw?ie=UTF8&qid=1187367415&sr=1-1
I use an Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder that can be purchased for about $79. The recorder is very compact and can double as a music player. If you want more music playing capabilities, you can buy the 1 GB version, which of course costs more. The nice thing about this recorder is that you can directly plug it into your computer's USB port to download your audio files. No extra software is required to put the audio files onto your hard drive.
Once your dictation file is on your hard drive, you select it from Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and the program transcribes your story material in Word or other word processor. The software even has a playback feature that will read your text back to you.
Pros and cons of dictation
There are advantages and disadvantages to using dictation methods to create and write material.
One advantage of dictating your thoughts is that it speeds up the writing process. Also, if you think verbally, you may lose good thoughts during the slow typing process. Another advantage of dictation is that it is a good to way to input written notes, taken at a meeting, lecture or seminar.
Seems best with fiction
Writing fiction is especially suitable to dictation. Writing a screenplay would be also work well with dictation. When writing fiction, TV or screenplays, dictation can be used to act out the roles of your characters during the writing process.
One reason that fiction may be especially suitable to dictation is the fact that often the creative process is more free-association. Fiction is not as structured as technical writing, which is often easily outlined with numbered steps. Another factor is that the writer can often get "into character" and create conversations during the dictation process.
One disadvantage of dictation is that it can be cumbersome and takes some practice. Dictation software is fairly accurate, but you still need to be aware of errors or incorrect words. Also, you can often organize your thoughts better when writing or typing. Verbal communication is linear, where writing allows you to skip around.
Another drawback to dictation is that most people think visually, rather than completely verbally.
Dictation software is a great tool to enhance your writing. Some people can be highly creative through dictation, while others may struggle with it. Experiment to see how you best perform with the use of this technique of writing.
Use tools that will help you become a Champion
Resources and references
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Standard - Available from Amazon.com for about $82
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred - Available from Amazon.com for about $168
Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder - Available from Amazon.com for about $79
Questions and comments
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Writing by Dictation