On Using Dragon Dictate and 750words.com

by Bakari Chavanu Apr 27, 2011

I've been using the speech recognition program, Dragon Dictate (formally MacSpeech Dictate), on and off for about three years now. I first learned about the program at a Macworld conference back in 2009. However, I must admit I have never been able to successfully use the program in my formal writing projects. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. The performance standards of past versions of the MacSpeech simply were not as accurate as the current version.  Users found MacSpeech too difficult and cumbersome. You even had to use a special earphone and mic headset built for the program. With Dragon Dictate this has changed, you can now use the internal mic on your Mac.

  2. When Nuance bought MacSpeech Dictate last year, they were able to include performance enhancements based on more than 10 years of development of the PC version of the speech recognition program: Dragon Naturally Speaking. See here for my review of the Dragon Dictate update.

  3. The biggest challenge using a speech recognition program like Dragon Dictate is developing the skills to verbally dictate your thoughts. Hardly any of us has verbal dictation training and skills. Some people have better verbal skills than others (for example, lawyers and professional speakers), and thus verbal dictation may be less of a challenge. But many people become frustrated with speech recognition dictation because it requires verbal precision to dictate your thoughts. Thus, for formal writing purposes I have never been able to use Dragon Dictate very effectively.

  4. Editing your writing using the program is challenging and often time-consuming. While the program makes hardly any spelling mistakes or typos, it will type out the exact words you say. And on some occasions it will completely misinterpret what you say. When this happens, verbal editing is required. To make corrections and edits, you have to use commands like “scratch that” to undo the last set of words you dictated, or “scratch word” to delete or change the last word your spoke. Making edits in other areas, such as inserting words or changing entire phrases is very time consuming and cumbersome. I’m dictating most of this article using Dictate, but I’ll do all the editing by hand.

Dragon Dictate appeals to a lot of people who spend most of their day typing, or who have large writing projects to complete. However, the program will have a steep learning curve for most users. I count myself among them.

750words.com and Dragon Dictate

For the last several weeks I have started using DragonDictate on the daily journal writing site, 750words.com. This site challenges you to write 750 words per day in private journal format. It’s similar to writing blog entries on Livejournal, Wordpress, or Tumblr, but the key difference is that your writing is not read by others. This private format frees you up to just get your thoughts out without censuring yourself. It’s a useful way of processing your thoughts or dumping junk out of our head.

The site gives you the statistical feedback about the number of days you have written entries, the amount of time and words per minute that it took for you to write a journal entry, and what the content of individual journal entries say about your overall mindset.



You can make these stats available to the public or keep them private. Also, if you leave your journal homepage open on your computer, the site will close your home after 5 minutes of inactivity, which increases the security of your writing.

I rarely go back and re-read my entries. I just stay with the goal of writing journal entries on a regular basis.

Because of the informality of 750words journal entries, I have recently started using Dragon Dictate to write my entries. I’m finding this process a great way to build my verbal dictation skilla, without having to do a lot of editing. If fact, I rarely correct any of my dictation when writing in 750words. My goal is to practice verbal dictation and to gradually master the more advanced dictation commands of Dictate, useful for improving its performance.

Because 750words provides you statistical information about your writing, you can see how long it takes you write entries manually by typing them, and how long it takes to write using Dictate. I’ve found so far that Dictate is about 3-5 minutes faster for me in terms of typing. What slows me down using Dictate is formulating my thoughts for dictation. When I type manually, my thoughts typically run ahead of my fingers, but when I dictate my thoughts lag behind the typing because I need to be more precise in what I say.

So why do I still try to use dictation? Well, it’s simply because manual typing all day hurts my hands. Verbal dictation provides an alternative approach, even if I don’t use it for formal writing. I now try to use Dictate for writing forum entries, longer pieces of email, and on occasions the first draft of formal writing such as this one.

My goal next month is to use 750words.com and Dragon Dictate for 30 days straight to see what difference it will make in my verbal dictation skills. I was not able to completely write this entire article using Dictate, but my goal is still to do so, because I think it could boost my writing and typing process.

If you use Dragon Dictate, let me know how the program is working for you.


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