Dictation (speech-to-text) technology: What it is and how it works

Dictation (Speech-to-Text) Technology: What It Is and How It Works, woman using her cell phone for the text-to-speech feature.

At a glance

  • Dictation is an assistive technology tool that can help people with writing challenges.

  • With dictation technology, people can write sentences by speaking them.

  • Dictation is sometimes called “speech-to-text,” “voice-to-text,” or “speech recognition” technology.

Dictation is an assistive technology (AT) tool that can help people who struggle with writing. You may hear it referred to as “speech-to-text,” “voice-to-text,” “voice recognition,” or “speech recognition” technology. It allows users to write with their voices, instead of writing by hand or with a keyboard. This can be helpful for people with , , and other learning and thinking differences that impact writing.

Read more about what dictation technology is and where to find it.

Types of dictation technology

Dictation technology converts spoken words into digital text on a screen. With dictation, users can write words by speaking them aloud. They can also edit and revise by using their voice.

There are several types of dictation technology available.

  • Built-in dictation technology: Today, most devices have built-in dictation tools. This includes desktop and laptop computers (Windows and macOS), smartphone and digital tablets (Android and iOS), and Chromebooks (Chrome OS). If you have any of these devices, you probably don’t need to buy special software. The microphone and the dictation tools come with the device, but you may need an Internet connection.

  • Dictation apps: There are many apps that can be downloaded for smartphones and digital tablets. One example is Dragon Anywhere (iOS, Android).

  • Dictation software: The most full-featured support comes in the form of software programs for desktop and laptop computers. These programs can adapt to how a person speaks. This makes them more accurate over time. Some dictation programs can also convert audio recordings into digital text. Examples of dictation software include Dragon for PC, Dragon for Mac, and WordQ SpeakQ.

How dictation technology can help with writing

Kids who struggle with writing can have a hard time with assignments like essays and papers — and even writing emails. Adults may struggle to write reports, emails, and other job-related documents. Dictation technology can help in several ways. 

  • It’s a workaround for poor handwriting. Users can rely on dictation to create text that’s easier for others to read.

  • It can help with spelling. Users who know how to pronounce a difficult word can simply speak it, then see how it’s spelled on-screen.

  • It can capture fleeting thoughts. People who think faster than they can write by hand or type on a keyboard can more easily get all their thoughts into words.

  • It can make the process more comfortable. The technology can support people who struggle with motor skills, including those who have trouble typing on a keyboard, especially for long periods of time.

What to know about using dictation technology

Dictation technology is a powerful tool. But using it successfully may take training and practice. There are commands that users have to learn. And some aspects of dictation can be difficult for people with certain learning and thinking differences.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • When dictating, users need to speak clearly, at a steady rhythm and speed. They also need to pronounce words correctly. If the user mumbles, mispronounces words, or slurs words together, the dictated text might not be correct. This may pose a challenge for users who struggle with spoken language.

  • While dictating sentences, users have to say the punctuation mark. For example, the user may need to say “period” or “question mark” at the end of a sentence. (Punctuation can also be entered with a keyboard.)

  • In general, dictation is more accurate if users say whole phrases and sentences, not just individual words. While people who have slow processing speed or struggle with working memory may benefit from dictation in other ways, they may have trouble saying large groups of words at a time.

  • Editing or navigating a document with dictation can be hard. It requires the use of special verbal commands. For example, to delete the previous sentence, the user might have to say “select previous” and “delete that.” To move the cursor, the user might have to say “move backwards 10 words.” Or to start a new paragraph, they might have to say “new paragraph.” A cheat sheet of common commands can help.

  • It may help users to start with an outline before writing with dictation. When people dictate, they can sometimes lose track of what they’re writing about. An outline helps with organization and reminds the writer of what to say next.

  • Dictation users may find it helpful to first verbally compose what they want to say and then dictate. A headset microphone with a mute switch prevents the software from listening while the user “thinks out loud” to hear how their writing sounds.

  • Dictation can be used in combination with keyboarding. For instance, some users find it easier to write a first draft with dictation. But then they use a keyboard and mouse for editing adding punctuation, and moving around in a document.

As with all AT tools, dictation may not help with all writing struggles. And it isn’t always perfectly accurate. Some people may do better with other types of accommodations for writing, like word prediction technology, graphic organizers, or having a scribe to write down what they’re saying. Different types of tools are needed for different kinds of writing challenges.

Key takeaways

  • Dictation technology can be a great tool for people who struggle with handwriting, typing, or spelling, and for those who think faster than they can write.

  • For dictation technology to work properly, users have to speak clearly and may need to use various spoken commands.

  • Several types of dictation tools are available on computers, mobile devices, and Chrome devices.


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