Start Page: A deeper dive into using tech tools to turn talk into text

October 3, 2018

WilsonIn the last article in this series, I provided an overview of dictation and traditional dictation concepts. In this installment, we will focus on using tools built into your smartphones and computer to turn talk into text.

Is talking to your computer better than talking to yourself?

If you have ever tried talking to your computer, it feels a little strange (and may get you a few strange looks from colleagues). The primary tool for turning talk into text on a computer is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Using a program like Dragon NaturallySpeaking used to require a quiet office space, expensive headsets and time to “train” the program to your voice. That technology has improved significantly and, with the right equipment, works very well with some minimal setup.

Admittedly, using Dragon requires some time to set up. You have to install the software. You may have to install a microphone. You have to “train” Dragon by reading text it provides to set audio levels. You’ll want to take some time to learn Dragon’s commands for dictating. But the effort is worth it.

Once installed, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is fun and easy to use. Dictating to a computer allows you to see the text as it is entered. This is key for those of us who can’t think unless we can see words on the screen as we go. It’s great to be able to dictate responses to emails and watch the words magically appear on the screen. Typically, there are a few minor edits required, but not much. I find that there are times when I do not want to type anymore, but I am able to get a few more things done because I can use my voice to dictate a reply.

Also, Dragon can import digital recordings and transcribe those files. This will take some trial and error, but once you have figured out a good dictation style, it’s a great way to capture thoughts and ideas to be transcribed later. If you are looking for something to bridge the gap between standard dictation and having your computer type for you, this could be a good solution.

Smartphones can readyour mind (sort of)

Smart devices have increased voice-to-text capabilities and use in a short amount of time. If you have an Apple device (Mac, iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch), you have built-in talk-to-text functionality. For those of you on Android devices, I know there are similar capabilities. Unfortunately, I do not have those types of devices to test. A quick Google search should get you started using these devices.

Talk-to-text works great and allows you to talk at a normal pace and watch the words appear on the screen. A few edits and the text is ready to go. It also looks a bit more normal than talking to your computer, since we are accustomed to talking to our phones.

So how do you access this feature? On your device, near the space bar on the keyboard, there is a little microphone icon. Tap that and start talking. There is a limit to how long you can dictate, but you can generally dictate a complete thought, press the microphone button again and dictate the next thought.

Good dictation habits will help you get the most from this tool. Think through what you want to say before you start dictating. Speak in a normal tone and cadence. You can also change the cursor position by saying things like “new line” and “new paragraph.” With a little practice, you can quickly enter your text into any application.

On a Mac, there is a built-in dictation tool that works like Dragon. The best part of all of this is that it’s free. By default, the setting only works when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, but you can download the dictionaries to your Mac and use it anywhere.

Choosing the right tool for the job

Dictating is a great time-management tool. Use it when you don’t feel like typing to capture thoughts and avoid the writer’s block of a blank screen or email. Use it for longer projects to help keep you motivated to complete the work. Use it to get more done with your iPad or iPhone while avoiding the tiny on-screen keyboards.

Be careful to proofread and edit appropriately. Dictation is good, but not great. In fact, there are whole websites devoted to mistranslated dictations. You wouldn’t want a client email to end up on that site.

Arguably, there is an ethical component to using dictation as well. This type of tool can help you avoid procrastination. Plus, it just makes law practice more fun when you can use your mind to brainstorm ideas and responses rather than focusing on typing.•

Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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