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Want to Type Faster? Then Don't Type. Talk!

Speech Recognition Software for Dictation or Transcription

By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

Graduate education requires a great deal of writing. Writing means typing. And a great deal of writing means a great deal of typing! Some of us are not fond of typing or else our speed and accuracy are not up to the task; perhaps we have an RSI (repetitive strain injury) or maybe even a touch of arthritis (heaven forbid). If so, then speech recognition software can help.

We may be familiar with this technology from automotive speech recognition. OnStar and Ford Sync, for example, enable drivers to make phone calls, play music, and get directions without taking their hands off the steering wheel. Another common tool is the smart phone, including Android and the iPhone. The iPhone 4s offers Siri, a “personal assistant” directed entirely by voice.

But with its greater memory and processing power, speech recognition software for the computer offers more sophisticated and specific programs. They can be used to dictate and edit text as well as to control a computer (whether PC or Mac). Imagine not having to transcribe (or pay someone to transcribe) hours and hours of qualitative data!

For more examples of what such software can do, follow this link to Microsoft.

There are several speech recognition programs on the market, but they seem to be divided into two groups: Dragon Naturally Speaking (the most highly rated) and everyone else (e.g., E-speaking and Talking Desktop). Dragon costs around $100 for the home version—likely sufficient for grad work—and $200 for the premier version (perhaps too specialized). Some speech recognition software is also available for free: It’s built in to Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

However, like most sophisticated technology products, speech recognition software has both benefits and drawbacks.

  • Faster typing and Web searching.
  • Eliminates typing errors.
  • Hands-free operation.
  • Any such program constitutes another piece of software to learn, including memorizing voice commands.
  • Nevertheless, errors due to inaccurate recognition need to be corrected.
  • Could burden a computer’s RAM.
  • Typically requires a headset (possible added cost or discomfort).
    • Writing has always been a silent activity and it may feel awkward to have to talk in order to write.
    • Learning to talk in the same way we compose by hand—in other words, thinking out loud—could take some time.
    • Not all environments—libraries, for example—permit talking

To see videos of the Dragon software in use, follow these links:
To get further information on speech recognition in Windows 7, head here.


  1. Tim, great blog post.

    Dragon has come a long way since I first tried it out 10 years ago. The iPhone has a free version of Dragon that work very well, however, it is a very basic version. I thought about using the software you reviewed as a tool during interviews for my dissertation (when I get IRB approval of course) but the software isn't flexible enough to be used by several users, it needs to learn from a single voice.

  2. Thanks for this recommendation. I just had surgery on my left arm(writing arm) and will be immobilized for 4 weeks. This will be excellent.

    I will share my experiences using Dragon once I use it.

    PH D Management Student (LOC Specialization)
    Walden U

    1. What a perfect use for this software, Pat! Let us know how it works out.

      Writing Center Staff