October 20, 2017

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Product Review: Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Product Review: Dragon NaturallySpeaking

As anyone who follows me on [Twitter](http://twitter.com/sarahwurrey) may know, last week I came back from vacation with a broken right hand. For a communicator, this presented a particularly bleak problem: considering I spend the vast majority of my time at work either writing or editing other people’s writing, how was I going to continue as my hand healed?
It’s been a rather humbling experience to realize just how much I rely on my hands to do anything, really, but mostly to do my job. It’s true there are bigger problems in the world than being in a cast for just one month, but the last week has been a truly frustrating one for me. I don’t only write for a living, it is something I do every day regardless, and living without it has been difficult. And with Chip Griffin out with the flu, and coworkers busy with other projects, we needed to find a solution to ensure that Media Bullseye had a steady stream of content from within CustomScoop.
The solution we settled on, using voice recognition software, I initially rejected as impossible. After all, person’s writing style and their speaking style are vastly different. How was I supposed to get used to speaking into a microphone rather than going through my usual process of typing things out, editing, and most importantly, procrastinating? (Sorry, I cannot resist a little writing humor.)
After some initial hiccups, I was finally able to install [Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9](http://www.digitalriver.com/v2.0-img/operations/scansoft/site/367062/367062_dns-talk.html) yesterday. I spent most of yesterday afternoon installing the program and playing with it, and am pleased to say that it’s actually not that bad. Speaking instead of typing is definitely something that I will never be completely comfortable with (in particular having to speak punctuation marks, as I find the odd autopunctuation feature profoundly lacking), but I suppose for the next few weeks this will have to do. And what better way to take NaturallySpeaking for a test drive than to write a review of it for my first post back on Media Bullseye?
I don’t normally do product reviews, so please bear with me. Obviously, I need to write this review from the point of view of a beginner. I only installed the program yesterday, and I’m quite certain that there are many potentially useful features that I have yet to discover. Perhaps once my cast is off I will write a follow-up review, after having the chance to use the product for the next four weeks. In the meantime, I will focus on the features that I have used thus far:
**Installation**
After some initial fumbles that involved the wrong software being in the box, installation was pretty easy. It only took half an hour total including training time, and unlike some other voice recognition programs there was no hours-on-end of reading off of a script to train the program to your dialect. I did have to read a script, but only for about five minutes, and it was from a Dilbert book, so I really didn’t mind.
**Training**
NaturallySpeaking comes with two types of training, one for the software and one for you. Training the software was a snap, I only had to read from a Dilbert book for a few minutes for the software to adjust to my speaking voice. I was then guided through a 14 step training process, where I learned how to use various tools and features offered. I found a lot of this very intuitive, but at the same time I felt it was important to learn everything. Both aspects of the training were extremely simple, even a less computer savvy person would be able to adjust pretty easily. The biggest challenge? Speaking normally rather than slowly. The computer doesn’t need you to talk like a robot, but the compulsion to do so is very strong.
**Usability**
As I previously mentioned, using NaturallySpeaking is actually pretty intuitive. Just put the cursor into whichever box you’re looking to write in, be it your e-mail, an instant message, or word processing document, and start talking. I would recommend not going back to correct mistakes until after you are done each paragraph (and trust me, there will be a lot of mistakes, especially at the beginning), because correcting as you go would be rather tedious, as I quickly discovered. The only challenge I encountered in terms of usability came when trying to put comments into social networking sites. The program had no problems with Twitter, but for some reason would not let me type in Facebook. In situations like this, the program comes equipped with a notepad. Just put what you want on the notepad, then copy and paste into whichever program you choose.
**Accuracy**
Frankly, I was completely amazed by the accuracy of this program. The only problems I encountered occurred when I misspoke (and until you get used to speaking instead of writing, you will misspeak frequently), or when I was speaking a proper name. Indeed, proper names proved to be quite hilarious. For example, when discussing a blog post by the blogger Neville Hobson, the program decided his name was “a middle helps in,” Dave Fleet became “these sleek.” Interestingly, however, once I made the correction the program did not confuse these names again, and other more common names do not need correcting at all. Other frequent mistakes occurred when using small words such as by, the, and, an, and then. Also interestingly, the faster and more naturally speak, the more accurate the program becomes. If I speak too slowly, or like a robot, the program tends to make more mistakes.
**Editing**
It has taken me most of today to grow accustomed to the grammatical tics of this program. Because speaking punctuation is not exactly the most intuitive thing in the world, I frequently must go back into my documents and add the appropriate punctuation marks as necessary. The user must learn a series of commands in order to master the editing process, and I know that I have much more to learn. For example, I’m still not entirely sure how to cut and paste. So far, however, I have been able to format and clean up grammar and other mistakes pretty easily. The grammar is definitely the biggest problem I have experienced with this program thus far, it has an autopunctuation feature that I found, at least at first, to be woefully inadequate. Perhaps in the next few weeks I will find the feature a little more useful. Until then, it stays turned off.
**My verdict thus far:** an unequivocal thumbs up. I would still definitely rather be typing than speaking, but until I can make that happen this will have to do. My only criticism after two days is the autopunctuation. I’m also concerned that the quality of my writing is suffering, but that certainly cannot be blamed on the program, but rather the difficulty of speaking in prose.

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