Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Tool for Writers

83-K41A-15030-Home_Mech_0525For a while now, I've been interested in voice recognition software. I recently became more interested, when I started having carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms appear.

My husband, a computer engineer, is also dealing with carpal tunnel issues. He recommended that I avoid using my left hand to decrease the symptoms and keep from aggravating the condition. But there was no way I could really effectively do that because I have two books to write by June and I can't type without using my left hand. We both figured that voice recognition software might help give my hand a break, even if I used it only part of the day.

Diane Wolfe reviewed Dragon Naturally Speaking software on her Spunk on a Stick’s Tips blog on Monday. After her positive review, I decided to check it out.

The CNET review had also been good, and user reviews on the software itself seemed good, although some people had a hard time installing the software (and apparently the tech support isn’t so hot for this program.)

I didn’t have any major problems with installation and had loaded it in about 10 minutes. I’m running Windows 7 (I some of the other users’ problems had been with Vista…no surprises there). I had a couple of hiccups during installation—once when the app thought there wasn’t enough memory (there was) to run the program, and once when it said I had a problem with my sound card (this error message disappeared when I tried again.)

I was relieved to find that the program made allowances for accented speech. Among the accents they listed in the set up was southern US. I do speak with a southern accent which is always a problem when I speak with automated customer service bots. So far, there hasn't been a huge problem with Dragon understanding what I'm saying. To get the most out of the program, you need to train the software to understand you. One of the things I found interesting is that it analyzes your e-mails and documents to get clues to your writing patterns, the names that you use in documents, etc. Since I'm writing fiction, I was a little concerned about having to verbalize punctuation marks when writing. For dialogue, you have to say open quote then the sentence, then close quote. I thought this might be distracting. It was distracting at first, but after a few minutes of dictating, I got used to it. It didn't seem to pull me into editing mode. Another nice thing about this software, is that it’s not particularly expensive. In fact, Office Max had it on sale for $50. The software comes with a headset. I spent about 45 min. training the Dragon software to learn my speech patterns and vocabulary and will continue to train it as I go. After the first training session, I spent about 30 min. writing and found I was able to produce about four pages. Yes, there were mistakes on those pages (break instead of brake, etc.), but all-in-all, I was pleased with what was there. It was fast and any errors could be fixed in edits. If you're someone who likes experimenting with different ways to write, or you frequently write in longhand and need to quickly transcribe those materials…or if you're developing carpal tunnel, Dragon Naturally Speaking can provide a decent break for writers while still allowing them to get their writing done.

Have you used voice recognition software? How has it worked for you?