Monday, January 16, 2012

Using Dragon NaturallySpeaking As A Writer

For a couple years I have had my eye on the Dragon NaturallySpeaking program. I have a friend whose son can't use his hands. He has used Dragon NaturallySpeaking for years to complete school projects and she constantly raves about what a great product it is. So I'd done a lot of looking at the program trying to decide which version I wanted to buy, and finally settled on the home version - which I bought just a couple weeks ago.

When my friend first told me about Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I looked into other talk to text programs that were free. The one I tried..., well let's just say it didn't work too great. That made me a little leery of shelling out money for a program when I wondered whether it would even work. However, I kept hearing from various sources what a great program Dragon NaturallySpeaking was. So I finally decided to give it a try.

The box claims that Dragon NaturallySpeaking will give you 99% accuracy straight out of the box. Based on my experience with the other speech to text program I had used previously, I figured that was probably an exaggeration. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by how accurate Dragon has actually been straight out of the box. I did about 10 min. of training with it, reading one small paragraph, and a few paragraphs of a short story, and then launched right into using it.

I've only had the program for a couple of days, but I'm very excited to see what doors this will open for my writing. Some of the commands are not exactly intuitive for me, for instance, to create an action like hitting the enter key you have to say, "new line." I'm always wanting to say, "enter." Also, there's a certain knack to learning to pause before you give commands, so they aren't typed out in your document. For instance, if you don't pause before saying "new line," then the program might type "new line" right in the body of your document.

Due to the fact that you have to "train" Dragon to recognize your voice, the program really is only a one user program.  My son put my microphone on and tried to dictate a passage, however the program totally did not understand what he was saying. You can create multiple user profiles within the program, however the terms of service state that for each additional user profile you create you need to buy an additional license. Also,if you train your program in a totally silent environment and then try using it with background noise going on, the program will not understand what you're saying. So I suggest training your program inside the environment where you will use it most often. However, as time goes on the program continues to perfect your user profile. So at first this is much more of an issue then later on.

The only other drawback I see to the program is that you also have to dictate your punctuation. That takes a little getting used, but I've been surprised at how quickly it comes.

I'm sure as time goes on I'll learn a lot more about the program and the program will learn to understand me better and since I'm a visual-audio learner I think this program will help me to be a lot more productive.

So if you've been looking at Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I can say that I highly recommend the program. Maybe some of you already use the program? Do you have any tips and tricks to share with the rest of us?

Incidentally, I have typed this whole blog post by "talking it."
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24 comments:

  1. Thanks for reporting on this, Lynnette. I've been wondering about it.

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  2. Another great feature of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is that it peruses all of your documents, extracts your vocabulary, and incorporates any new words it finds into its dictionary, including any technical terms, names, etc that might not be in its original vocabulary. I got a "free" copy with my digital voice recorder. Dragon works fairly well from a recorded MP3 or WAV file. I can record anywhere, then hook the recorder up to my laptop at a convenient time, walk away, and let it transcribe.

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  3. My dad gave Dragon NaturalySpeaking a try years ago and had a difficult time training it, so I've been a little leery of shelling out the money for it. I've been pleasantly surprised with the similar program that comes free with Windows. I don't use it too often, but it took a lot of stress off my wrists last summer when they were particularly sore.

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  4. I have often shared this tip with some of my peers - what can I say, I'm a geek to the core...

    I like taking long walks with my muse and so I dictate into a voice recorder as I walk, using Dragon's commands as I 'write'. When I return home from my walk, I continue the writing via keyboard or microphone, setting the voice recorder aside for the moment. When it is time for sleep, I plug the voice recorder up to the computer via a wire which goes from the voice recorder's headphone jack to the computer's microphone jack. I then open my word processor, start Dragon, and press ply on the voice recorder, waking up to freshly dictated text which requires minimal editing (due to background noise interference, etc.,)

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  5. Christopher, that would be an awesome thing to do! :)

    Most of the time, when I walk, I spend time thinking about my story, what types of plot points to work on, that kind of thing, so I'm not sure how that'd work, unless it was just a record of what I talked to myself about.

    Thanks for the review, Lynnette. It sounds like an interesting program! Wonder how it would interpret my constant yelling at my kids to quiet down or stop hitting each other! ;)

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  6. Linda, I think it is worth it, but I'll probably do another post on it in a few months when I've used it more.

    H.L., Yes, that was a neat feature. It perused all my emails and my documents, and I was surprised at some of the words it spelled correctly that I thought I would have to insert by hand. A very neat feature of the program, for sure.

    Katie, I got my copy on a huge sale, but I definitely think this works better than the free program I used awhile back. So, if you come to another time when you need one, you might see if Dragon is on sale. :)

    Christopher, that is a neat feature. Unfortunately, I think that only works with the Premium or higher versions. When I upgrade at some point in the future, I might upgrade to Premium, though. I do a lot of commuting, and would love to take advantage of that quiet car ride to "write." :)

    Liberty, that is another great way to use this program, though. Just talking through your plot-line and getting random thoughts down on paper that you might not otherwise write down. LOL, about the kids. I did try to use this the other day when my boys had the basketball game going and my daughter was dribbling a ball in the kitchen - it didn't work out so well! But maybe it just needs more training. :)

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  7. Can someone give us a run-down on how it works when you want to edit? Let's say you want to replace a word? Flip flop a sentence or move a paragraph?

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  8. I've used older versions of this program and the one thing that always bothered me was how much editing I had to do afterwards. From your experience, has there been much need to spot-check and edit incorrect words, etc?

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  9. Lynnette: I don't know if the newer versions actually detect the difference between a microphone and a playback device - mine is an older version and neither it nor the built-in speech-to-text program in Windows 7 can tell that the voice recorder isn't a live microphone.

    If Dragon added that 'feature' of device detection into newer versions just to boost sales of upgrades, it looks like I'll be sticking to my current version and looking at their competitors in the future because that's a pretty shady ploy in my book.

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  10. I've used both the Mac and PC versions of Dragon, both newer versions, and I've used them to write entire novels since my hands don't work very well anymore ;-) I find the PC version has more functionality than the Mac - sadly, since I am a Mac person. The editing tools are better. To answer Debra's question, I find Dragon 11 for the PC to have very easy to use editing tools. If I want to replace the word "burn" with "sear" I say "Select 'burn'. It selects every instance of the word "burn" on that page and numbers them. I say which number I want - "Number 4". Then I say "sear" and it replaces that instance of "burn" with "sear". You can do this with whole lines or paragraphs. The Mac version - the last time I used it - did not work as well.

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  11. My kids' school likes WordQ and WriteQ, by GoQ. They say it works better with younger voices. They used Dragon or Kurzweil for years, and switched last year. They say it takes only 10 minutes of training the program for kids to enjoy using WriteQ.

    The free one that comes with Vista is so terrible that my son learned to type. (Yes, being cheap has advantages. He can now type well enough to take notes in a noisy room.)

    Be careful with using it too much. One reporter traded his carpal tunnel for voice damage, since it required a very monotone, consistent voice. That was 20 years ago, so things might have gotten better.

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  12. Debra,

    Editing seems to work fairly well. You can do it by voice or simply by using your mouse, or a combination of both. Copy, cut, and paste are all available commands. As well as insert before... or insert after...

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  13. Eric, I've just started using this program. Yesterday, since I didn't have to go into work I used it quite extensively. What I found was that if I paid close attention to the fact that I was dictating and enunciated clearly, the program made very few mistakes. But when I got into my story and just started telling it, there were more mistakes to go back and correct. I'm hoping that will get better over time as it learns my voice... we'll see.

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  14. Christopher, I'm not sure, either. I don't have a digital recorder to test it out, but what I read about the programs stated that you had to have at least the premium version to use a digital recorder. But it may be that with the right equipment, the program wouldn't be able to detect a difference.

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  15. Janet, interesting about the Mac vs. PC versions. Chalk one up for PCs! :)

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  16. CricketB, In using this yesterday I tried simply talk as I normally do - voice raised at the end of questions etc. and it seemed to work just fine. The only problem I had was if I tried to talk too fast and my words ran together a little as I stated above.

    And yes, for parents who may be reading this. Learning to type is SO important. Keep those kids learning on those keyboards. :)

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  17. My 11.5 version arrived a week ago & I am absolutely tickled pink with the program. I had used an old version of Dragon when I was at University about 10 years ago & am pleased to say that this new package is a completely different animal. Highly recommend this to make any writers life easier. Cheers Natascha

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  18. Natascha, Glad to know someone else is excited about it too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  19. So, I'm curious. How long did it take you to "write" this Blog post?

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  20. You know, I should have timed it. Honestly, I think it took me just about as much time as it would to type it up. But I'm still getting used to having to insert punctuation and the program is still learning to understand my voice. I also think differently talking than I do typing, so there is a learning curve there too.

    All in all, I think it will take me a bit to see if I like DNS better than plain ol' typing. :) But, especially for those who can't use their hands for whatever reason, this program would be a life-saver.

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  21. I used to use it for critiquing, and it saved me a lot of time. :)

    Angela

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  22. I think it's probably worth mentioning that the quality of the microphone you're using is of paramount importance. Obviously, the earphone is largely irrelevant but the microphone should be a USB one. DNS 11.5 works incomparably better with the input of a digital signal (USB) rather than an analogue one.

    When I first got DNS 11, I had some trouble getting it to properly recognise words. I was complaining about it to a friend who was familiar with the software and he put me straight.

    I dumped the 2-jack analogue headset and bought a Sennheiser PC26 (about £25 on Amazon here in the UK). The difference was genuinely startling.

    In addition to writing, I now use DNS (I've upgraded to 11.5) for web surfing, doing google searches, performing tasks in various applications etc etc. And the software actually gets better the more you use it.

    I remember using Dragon about 10 years ago and being signally unimpressed but this latest iteration: it's the closest I think I'll ever come to being Capt. James T. kirk, on the bridge of the USS Enterprise and talking to the ship's computer.

    Whether or not there's a danger that writing with such ease runs the risk of making a writer unattractively facile (easy writing makes for hard reading, they used to say) is a another debate. But purely as an application, Dragon 11.5 impresses the hell out of me.

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  23. Jack, Thanks so much for the tip. I have 11.5 and have noticed even with repeated use there are a few words (for me, often those that start with an "f") that it doesn't seem to understand - it always wants to put something with an "s" in, instead. So I will definitely look into a digital microphone.

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  24. I've just began using Dragon, and I'm loving it! Thanks for the excellent article!

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