Take a Letter

Did you ever think that sometimes it would be easier to just dictate the things you write? An email reply, business letter, or a school paper? Well, it turns out that most of your electronic gizmos already include the ability to take your dictation. Dictation is built-in to all current Android and Apple devices, and Microsoft just added light dictation to Office 365.

Giving dictation to your computer or phone is not as easy as, say, asking Mr. Jones to take a letter. But it’s close. The main difference is that a human stenographer will know where the punctuation goes, but you have to tell a computer (period), Or do you (question mark)? Yes (comma), you do (exclamation point)! (New paragraph.)

It takes a little practice, but the practice does pay off. The hardest thing to learn, is to turn it off. A real stenographer knows when to stop listening, but if you answer a phone call while dictation is turned on, you’re going to end up with a one-sided run-on jabber stream on your computer screen.

The new dictation feature in Office 365 is limited in that it understands just a few basic commands for punctuation, but to make corrections you need to switch back to the keyboard. The Android and Apple versions are more advanced and understand spoken commands for editing, too. Like: backspace, highlight word, delete, [move the cursor] one word, and [go to] start/end-of-line.

If you try out dictation and decide that it’s something that you could get serious about, you’ll want to check out a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon has been working on dictation for decades, and the speed and accuracy of Dragon Naturally Speaking is almost magical. The depth of commands and flexibility in Naturally Speaking is extraordinary. You do need to learn the “off” button for this one, or every “uhm” and “uhh” will be captured. They say, “think about what you want to say” before you say it. (Probably good advice in any case.)

Using dictation with your phone is very handy for text messages and emails. It’s about as simple as asking Siri a question; you just need to add in the punctuation commands. “Yes (comma), coffee sounds great (period). About 15 minutes (question mark)?” To try it out, just tape the microphone symbol on the keyboard, or in the message field and start dictating!

Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at (845) 855-5824, or www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.