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As good as it is, speech recognition software is still better suited for some situations and users than for others.

Read this article to see how relevant and helpful it may be to you.

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Is Speech Recognition Suitable For You

Can this software help make you more productive?

The dream of sitting back in one's chair and dictating direct to computer everything that one formerly typed is appealing, but for most of us, unrealistic.

This is part of a series on speech recognition software.  See related articles listed on the right.



Reliable speech recognition is something that has been long sought after, but only recently is becoming practical on normal computers.

The extraordinary computing power of a modern home computer, and the evolving capabilities of speech recognition software now offer the promise, and almost the reality, of being able to effortless control and communicate with and via one's computer merely by talking normally to it.

Read on to understand what speech recognition is now capable of, and how to best use it in your own work environment.

Is Speech Recognition Suitable for You

It goes without saying that not all tasks are improved by using speech recognition software.

Clearly, speech recognition is at its best when it is replacing the need to type words on a keyboard.  Nearly all of us can speak faster than we can type (150+ words per minute for speaking, 60 or fewer words per minute for typing), and so (at least in theory - see discussion below about creative thought) talking rather than typing should make us more productive.

Non typing tasks

But using a computer is more than just simply typing text.  We have to move between programs, to scroll up and down; we need to move between fields on forms, we need to click on buttons, we need to edit and correct text that we have earlier typed.  Even when we are typing text, it isn't always in large sections, but sometimes it is cut up into lots of small pieces.

The good news is that there are ways and workarounds to perform all these tasks using speech recognition.  The bad news is that almost always, using speech recognition to perform these tasks is more cumbersome, clumsy, and slow than reaching for our mouse, pushing the cursor around the screen, and possibly banging away at a few keys on the keyboard too.

When it comes to tasks done with a mouse, voice control is seldom as good as pushing the mouse around by hand.

Special words and phrases

It also goes without saying that the computer needs to know a word before it can recognize it.  If you use a lot of special technical terms, this may pose two problems.  The first problem is that the computer simply does not know the word you are using - this can usually be corrected by adding it to the computer's vocabulary.

The second problem is more obstinate.  Even if the computer is taught the word, it cannot be taught the word's meaning quite so readily, which makes it more difficult for the computer to guess when this new word may be the word you are actually using it in a sentence.

There are special vocabularies for the legal and medical professions that provide turnkey solutions to people in these fields.

Still more considerations

It should also go without saying that the computer needs to be able to hear you clearly and recognize/understand your speech.  Yes, of course this means that you must speak clearly to start with.  It also means that you should use as good a microphone as possible, and positioned appropriately.

It also means that you should be in a moderately quiet environment where they will not be other background sounds to "distract" the computer and to interfere with its ability to clearly here and recognize what you are saying.  If you have your own office, and few interruptions or external noises, then speech recognition works well for you.  If you are in a large open plan area, and the photocopier or water cooler is immediately behind you,  then speech recognition is not so well suited.

A related concept is the privacy of the material you are dictating.  No one knows what you are typing when you are using a keyboard, but anyone who can hear you knows exactly what you are saying when you are dictating to a speech recognition system and possibly also playing back some sections of what you said.

Speech Recognition and Creativity

This is an issue that you may not even think about up front.

As regards the issue of creative thought, I can only speak from personal experience.  I am a very fast touch typist, and over many decades and countless millions of words, touch typing has become automatic and instinctive to me, in the same manner as is walking.  Just like when we are walking somewhere, we are not concentrating on moving our legs and where we put our feet, we just look to where we are going and walk there "automatically", so too is typing like that for me.  There is no interference between having a thought and putting it onto the computer screen.  The fingers work by themselves, indeed sometimes I can even talk to someone about one thing while typing a different thing on the computer.

But when I am dictating rather than typing, I find I'm having to split my concentration several different ways.  As always, I am having to carefully think about what it is I wish to express.  But then, I am needing to watch the words that appear on the screen to detect errors as they occur.

When an error does occur, it is more disruptive to correct.  When I am typing, it is nothing to quickly hit the backspace key several times, correct an error, and then keep on typing, but when I am dictating, it interrupts the workflow and takes more time to correct an error.

The disruption involved in correcting an error has a subtle further impact as well.  Whereas when touch typing, it is never a big deal to change or delete any piece of text; when dictating, the additional complexity of editing with speech recognition software acts as a subtle disincentive to polishing and perfecting one's prose.

One further point about errors.  Nine times out of 10, I instinctively know when I type the wrong key.  I do not need to be looking at the keyboard when I'm typing, and neither do I need to be looking at the screen.  It just happens automatically.

But when I am dictating, I have no way of knowing when the computer may or may not correctly/incorrectly recognize the words I say, and so I'm having to watch the output like a hawk all the time.  I also need to speak slightly more clearly, and the net result is that the process of putting my thoughts onto the computer screen is now interfering with the underlying thinking.

If you are not an accomplished touch typist, then perhaps the difference between speech recognition and less instinctive typing is not so marked.

You might find it easier to adapt to a speech recognition system if you are used to dictating letters (either directly or through a dictation recording system) for your secretary to type.

Using speech to create written communication

One last thing about the creative process.  I don't know this for sure, but I have a gut feeling that when one is typing, one is writing in a different style than when one is speaking.  We all know there is a difference between spoken and written English, and oral and written expression.  When one is speaking as a way to create a written expression, I have a sense that the words as captured on the page do not flow as smoothly when someone subsequently reads them, as would be the case if typing the text.

If you want an example of this, look no further than the preceding paragraph.  Upon rereading, it seems terribly jumbled.  I won't edit it, so you can see it in its original form.

Summary Table of Considerations



Good for Speech Recognition

Bad  for Speech Recognition

Ambient noise level

Quiet, controllable

Noisy, uncontrollable

Type of computer

New and powerful

Older, less powerful

Language used

Typical, normal, limited specialty

Unusual, many one-off terms

Typical computing tasks

Word processing, e-mail - lots of typing, not so much mousing

Design, fiddly formatting, less typing, editing, more mousing

Acceptable level of error

Moderate - such as less formal e-mails and memos

Low - such as creating financial data and official company statements

Degree of thought/creativity

Lower - more routine tasks

Higher - more creative and complex tasks,

Pre-existing typing skills



Keyboarding time per day



Need for confidential content creation


High - if somewhere where other people can overhear you


Summary of Part 2 of this Article Series

Obviously, if you work in a very noisy environment, it will be difficult to use speech recognition software.  And if you are a very fast touch typist, you'll get less benefit than if you hunt and peck with two fingers.

The chances are that most people will get some degree of benefit by selectively using speech recognition software where it makes most sense, but not everyone will benefit from this new productivity tool, all the time.

In the third part of our series, we talk about accuracy rates, the type of computer hardware needed to effectively handle the demands placed on it by speech recognition software, and the surprising difference between your experience with the system that might be e.g. 97% accurate compared to a system that might be 98% accurate.

(And, of course, there's lots more good stuff in the subsequent parts of the series too, to be released next week.)

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Originally published 7 May 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
An Introduction to Speech Recognition
Is Speech Recognition Suitable for You
Accuracy and the Importance of using the best hardware

Coming next week
Choosing a Microphone
Dragon NaturallySpeaking


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