The use of dictation software might not sound controversial. However…
For those of you who stay blessedly out of toxic internet circles: there used to be, and in some places still is, a debate as to whether audiobooks count as ‘real books,’ and whether listening to an audiobook counts as ‘real reading.’ Obviously, listening to an audiobook is still consuming the book–there’s more than one way to read, it turns out, and audiobooks make reading more accessible.
As it happens, there’s also more than one way to write. Every author has their preference, whether it be keyboard, longhand, or even typewriter, but we often forget that for most of human history, stories were told orally, and weren’t written down at all.
And in the twenty-first century, there’s a way to keep telling stories out loud while also writing them down–have you heard of dictation software?
This guide to dictation software covers:
- What is dictation software?
- Should I use dictation software?
- Dictation software for writing books
- Free – Apple Dictation
- Free – Google Docs
- Free – Speechnotes
- Free – Speechtexter
- Paid – Dragon Professional
- Paid – Dragon Anywhere
- Paid – Braina Pro
- Paid – Microsoft Word
What is dictation software?
Dictation software is software that listens to what you’re saying and writes it down. Sometimes, it also uses voice commands to perform tasks on a computer–something like Siri or Alexa uses dictation software to translate what you’re saying into a command that can turn on your lights or order groceries.
Essentially, it lets you transcribe your work. You say it out loud, just as you would write it, and the software types it up for you. This might sound newfangled, but it’s actually pretty standard.
There’s a long history of authors dictating their work. John Milton, for example, dictated all of his work after going completely blind (since he was writing in the 1650’s, though, he had other people transcribe for him in lieu of Google Voice to Text). Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, claims to have used dictation software to write his rough drafts.
There are plenty of reasons why an author might choose to dictate their book.
We’ll go through a few of those reasons, and then we’ll talk about some free software options to try, as well as some paid options.
Should I use dictation software?
Well, it can’t hurt to try, regardless of your background. Some writers like to use a mix of longhand and typing to write their work, while others swear by one or the other–I personally like to use longhand for outlining or brainstorming, since longhand forces me to slow down and think through my work. For a rough draft, on the other hand, I like to type, since I want to get the words down as soon as possible.
That being said, there are a few reasons why you might want to transcribe over longhand or typing.
1. You’re a great orator
If you’re great at giving speeches or talks, or if your friends have often told you that you’re a fantastic storyteller in-person, you might be a candidate for dictation software. This way, you can work in the medium you’re most comfortable in, get all your best ideas down, and go back and edit them when you’ve finished.
This can be especially helpful for people writing memoirs, self-help books, or other personal pieces. Saying your story out loud might make it flow more easily than if you wrote it down–it might feel more like telling a friend, and that can come through in your finished product.
2. You struggle with typing speed or clear handwriting
If you’re not the best typist, voice-to-text can be a lifesaver. Struggling to write legibly or type at a pace consistent with the flow of your ideas can get super frustrating, and there’s no need to struggle through that!
Dictation software can help you work through your ideas and tell your story at your own pace, and since it’s typing everything out for you, you’ll have a perfectly clear body of work to look back on, which can make revisions way easier.
3. You like talking through your ideas
If you love methods like the rubber ducky method or phoning a friend for your stories, look no further. Sometimes, thoughts and concepts can get trapped in our head and stuck. The brainstorming stage is supposed to help with this, but honestly, there are times that we find ourselves just staring at that blank Word doc and wondering why it won’t come through.
Speech-to-text lets you talk it out and keep a copy of what you’ve said. This will save you from having your ideas slip through the cracks–everything you worked through will be right there for you to refer to, edit, or plop into your draft.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, keep reading for a list of free and paid dictation software options to try today!
Dictation software for writing books
Looking to try dictation software, but not sure if it’s for you? There’s no need to break the bank!
There’s a ton of free software options available for writers looking to try out this new format–and honestly, a few of these options will even suffice in lieu of a more expensive alternative.
Free dictation software
Authors-to-be fresh on their way to full authordom often don't have much to spare with expenses. For that reason, we've highlighted both free and paid options for you to choose from.
If you’ve got an iPhone or a Mac computer, then you’ve already got access to some pretty good voice-to-text software. The standard version allows you to dictate in thirty-second chunks, but if you have OS X v10.9 or newer, you can use Enhanced Dictation to dictate for longer periods of time. iPhone users looking for a convenient way to use speech-to-text software on the go, look no further! This is also fantastic if you’re an iPhone user who doesn’t have access to a computer.
This is another free feature for Google Docs users. You have to use Chrome to access this feature, but the accuracy is solid, and being built into Google Docs, it’s pretty convenient to use. Additionally, this software supports a huge variety of languages, and it’s constantly working to add more!
Compatible with Google Chrome, Speechnotes is a very streamlined speech to text app. It’s a little bare-bones, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to–hit record, start talking, and it transcribes for you. If you prefer to transcribe in longer sessions, this might be ideal. One notable downside is that this app doesn’t have a very efficient storage function, so sorting through lots of files might get difficult.
This is another Chrome-compatible speech-to-text software. It allows you to save documents as Word docs or .txt docs, and it has an autosave feature to keep you from losing your work as you go.
Paid dictation software
If you’ve tried free software and found it lacking, or if you’re looking for a little bit of an upgrade, there are a few professional options to try. These often boast more extensive features and higher accuracy rates, and they’ll generally let you work with more file types.
Again, if you’re looking to use dictation software, it’s not necessary to spring a few hundred bucks right out the gate. The features on Google Docs or Microsoft Word will be just fine. But if you crave something more, or if you need those additional features, here are a few other options:
PRICE: $500 (comes with a compatible headset)
PROS: This software is considered by some to be ‘industry standard.’ It allows you to transcribe existing audio files, its vocabulary grows the more you use it, and it allows you to surf the web, all of which can go a long way in keeping your hands-free experience truly hands-free.
PRICE: $150/year (also comes with a week-long free trial)
PROS: If you need a professional-grade voice-to-text software on your phone, this might be a good option for you. Dragon Anywhere lets you export using a variety of different file types, as well. The free trial is perfect for users who need to complete a short project.
PRICE: $79/year, available on Windows
PROS: This is a great speech to text for someone who wants to get a lot of words down without the software pausing to auto-correct. That said, the software has about 99% accuracy, so you’re not sacrificing much. There’s also a command feature to answer user questions, like a Siri or Google Help might. You can pay either monthly or yearly, so the price is flexible.
PRICE: If you’re a writer who already uses Microsoft Word, great news! This is a feature you can check out for no additional cost–it’s been waiting for you all along. If not, then you will need to purchase Microsoft 365 for your computer.
PROS: No setup or installation required–this software is accessible directly through your MS Word document. This software recognizes multiple languages and enables the user to add punctuation and formatting changes using voice commands. Since you access it using a single click from your document, it’s an obvious choice for existing MS Word fans.