One of the claims that’s often made for Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition is that you can talk faster than you can type.
This depends on the speaker and the typist, of course. Some tobacco auctioneers in the southern states of America have been clocked at up to 450 words per minute, although this is with a very limited vocabulary, consisting mainly of numbers.
Typing speeds vary considerably; somebody who has never been trained and may only use a few fingers to ‘pick and peck’, won’t be as quick as somebody who has been trained as a touch typist, using all fingers and not having to look at the keyboard to know where each key is.
A ‘pick and peck’ typist will probably only manage around 20 words per minute. Typical business typing speeds are around 40wpm, though professional career typists can exceed 100wpm, repeatedly. The world typing speed record is 212wpm, on an ergonomically designed Dvorak keyboard.
For Dragon NaturallySpeaking to beat the record, you’d have to be able to dictate a 212 word passage in under one minute, right? It so happens that these first four paragraphs total just under 212 words, so we’re going to try dictating them into Dragon and see how long it takes.
Well, we managed to dictate those paragraphs in 1 minute 17 seconds, so we didn’t quite beat the typing record, but we did dictate at 165wpm without too much effort.
At normal dictation rates you might only hit about 100wpm, but that’s still two and a half times the average typing rate.
Our attempt at beating the world typing record
Dictating to Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a lot faster than even touch-typing – unless you’re a world champion.
Why is speed important?
Well, obviously, the faster you can create a document, the more you can do in a day. If typing isn't one of your core skills, dictating is going to prove a lot quicker.
If you type at around 20wpm, a 1,000 word report – the length of this article – is going to take you a minimum of 50 minutes. If you can speak it at, say, 100wpm, it’ll take around 10 minutes, giving you 50 minutes to do something else.
We had very few words to correct. The program didn't know the abbreviation ‘wpm’, but once added to the vocabulary it was very accurate, probably more so than if we’d typed it.
When speaking at this speed, Dragon waits for a pause before converting to text, but the conversion process still only takes a couple of seconds per paragraph.
As well as the ease of being able to speak what you want to write, you gain from not needing to correct spellings. Dragon uses a vocabulary of correctly spelt words, so you don’t have to worry whether its ‘conciet’ or ‘conceit’ or ‘seperate’ or ‘separate’. You may have to check the occasional ‘to’, ‘too’ or ‘two’, but in most cases the software will work this out from the context.
Depending on how much typing you do in a day, this kind of saving could be repeated again and again, so you could end up saving hours.
What else can I use Dragon for?
It’s not just reports or articles you can save time on, as Dragon can be used with most popular email clients to create the 20 or 30 emails a typical office worker sends in a day. You can control formatting in Word too, by issuing commands as well as dictation within the program.
You can also use Dragon to give voice commands through Windows to online services such as Google. Even in the middle of dictation, it’s quite possible to speed research with commands such as ‘Search Google for paper suppliers in Birmingham’ or ‘Open top site for local weather forecast’.
This usually proves much quicker than opening your browser and typing a request into the search box.
Set up and use
The latest version of Dragon needs very little training and can be used straight out of the box, without having to run through sample texts for the program to learn the characteristics of your voice. This makes it even easier to make the switch from keyboard to voice-based text creation.
As you can hear, if you listen to the voice file used in our test, you simply speak the text you want to type, including punctuation such as ‘comma’ and ‘full stop’. The software handles things like initial capitals at the beginning of sentences, automatically. You can also issue instructions to Word for basic formatting, such as font and text size.
There’s nothing to stop you using a hybrid speech and keyboard approach, where you speak the bulk of the text and add in any specialist phrases or formatting by hand. Whatever combination suits you best, it’ll still be quicker and easier than typing everything.
Typing at speed for prolonged periods can lead to injury. There are plenty of typing-related RSI claims from employees who have been typing every day. These cases often revolve around damage done to wrists or hands, through too much of the same repetitive keying.
Converting at least some of this keyboard work to dictation can prevent symptoms appearing, or relieve them if they do appear.
If you work in a bilingual environment, there’s still very good reason to consider Dragon, as the program supports multiple vocabularies, including French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese. This may remove the need for two or more keyboards on your desk, as you can switch through the software to dictate and proof-read in your language of choice.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 can speed up the creation of all forms of text in the office. While you may not be able to better the world speed typing record unless you’re a rapper, even speaking at moderate speed, dictation can be two or three times faster than a trained typist.
This gives a clear improvement in office productivity with very little specialist training. The cost of moving to speech recognition is modest when compared with the improvements that can be achieved by anybody involved in creating text.
The time freed up through dictating can make a big difference to what you can do in a day.