In my December 2010 column, "Talk to the Machine," I describe how speech-recognition programs have advanced. I’ve used such software since 1997, when a year-long bout with a painful wrist ailment called tenosynovitis forced me to try it. Over the years, I’ve picked up enough tips and tricks to give me 100 percent accuracy most of the time.
* Replace the headset. Nuance’s Mac and Windows dictation programs come with a cheap USB headset. A nicer one improves the accuracy. There are wireless Bluetooth models, headsets and even desktop microphones. They’re all reviewed and sold at emicrophones.com.
* Correct by voice. When the software gets a word wrong, don’t fix it by typing. Use the command “correct ‘oak wrap’” (or whatever the error was), and choose the correct alternative from the list that pops up. That trains the software, so it will never make that mistake again.
* Help it help you. Beginners tend to speak loudly, or slowly, or in short bursts. But speech-recognition apps are designed to transcribe normal speech. Think ahead so that you can utter complete sentences or phrases—and then say it conversationally.
* It’s not all Nuance. If you use Windows Vista or Windows 7, you already own an excellent, little-known dictation app. Windows Speech Recognition is not quite as accurate as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and of course you have to supply your own microphone. But it lets you dictate into any program, it has a great interactive tutorial, and it even lets you control menu commands and mouse clicks. It’s a great way to see how you might get along with speech recognition without spending any money.