by Bob Walters | March 01, 2008

You’re hearing a lot about speech writing in this election year; what I’d like to talk about is speak writing, which is basically what I’m doing to write this article. I’m dictating these words to speech-recognition software rather than typing on my keyboard.

Speech-recognition software has been around for many years. If you can speak and compose your thoughts clearly as you go, then speech-recognition software might work well for you. My typing leaves much to be desired, so I’ve tried out several products of this sort in the past.

Many earlier programs were very slow and difficult to work with, and they had a limited vocabulary. But the latest incarnations are much improved and are compatible with many Microsoft Office products as well as e-mail and Internet browsing.

Worth the Effort

First, you do have to teach the software to learn your voice and style of speaking and writing, but this doesn’t take long. My software probably learned about my speaking and writing patterns much more quickly than I will learn about all of its features.

Some packages actually ask for permission to review your e-mail and documents to glean your writing style.

Following are a few speech-recognition options.

Windows Speech Recognition (Microsoft; is a new feature in Windows Vista. It’s included in the operating system, so you might need only to add a microphone or a headset to be talking instead of typing. Besides English (U.S. and U.K. versions), Speech Recognition is available in Chinese, French, German and Japanese.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Nuance Software; is the software that I’m using now. It seems to be quickly picking up my speech habits after just a few days. The latest release of Dragon NaturallySpeaking (version 9) is considered by many to be one of the best on the market. The Preferred version has the ability to work with Excel, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word and Outlook, and it also is compatible with digital audio recorders, meaning you can record your voice notes and later transcribe your recordings. The Preferred version costs less than $200; the Standard version, which works with AOL Instant Messenger, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Word and WordPerfect, has a smaller feature set but is available for less than $100.

IBM ViaVoice (also sold by Nuance Software; is an ideal option if you have an older computer. It is the only program that will run on aging, less powerful PCs; however, it is not as accurate as some of the other products, nor is it as easy to correct mistakes. The latest version, known as Release 10, is available in several editions, ranging in cost from $30 to $200, depending on your requirements. There also is a version available for Mac OS X.

MacSpeech Dictate (MacSpeech Inc.; was awarded Best of Show at MacWorld 2008 and is powered by Dragon NaturallySpeaking technology from Nuance. Dictate recognizes all of the applications on your Mac hard drive, so you can activate one simply by saying “open” followed by the name of the application. Users of the company’s previous product, iListen, can upgrade to Dictate for less than $100. The new software was scheduled to begin shipping in mid-February, priced at less than $200.

A Promising Start

Voice-recognition software can improve efficiency, especially when it comes to repetitive data entries to tables and databases. I “spoke” about 75 percent of this article using it. I did have to retype some passages and make corrections, but that will improve over time.

Bob Walters,based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.