(Updated Feb 2020 to cover Apple Voice Control)
If you’re considering Dragon speech recognition, you want to be as sure as possible beforehand that it will actually benefit you, right?
Unlike some resellers and trainers, I’ll be the last person to tell you that speech recognition is the perfect solution for everyone. It really isn’t.
So how to find out if it will work for you?
Unfortunately it is not a simple question to answer. So much depends on your circumstances and the type of work that you need to do.
Therefore, I have put some thoughts on
paper screen for you to help you get an idea of the factors that play a role in your success with Dragon.
In order to be able to successfully work with Dragon I’ve identified some prerequisites. All right, they’re not really hard prerequisites, because I’ve seen some people succeed with Dragon regardless. But they are definitely factors that are important if you want to succeed with Dragon.
So for the rest of this post I will assume the following conditions are met:
A suitable computer
Dragon is a bit of a beast – pun intended. It’ll gobble up quite a lot of your system resources! Read here about the computer requirements.
I’ve put requirements for the Windows version for Dragon as well as the Mac. Keep in mind that the Mac version of Dragon is much less powerful with regard to command and control of the computer. At least, out of the box. You can create your custom commands, but that’ll take skill and time.
A good microphone
The sound quality is of great importance to Dragon. You can’t just use any microphone for Dragon. Read here about the requirements and some suggestions. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to find some reasonably priced ones that will work just fine.
A clear voice
You’ll need a clear voice, not a whisper or rasp. Your voice does not need to be loud. A normal speaking volume is fine for Dragon. And if you speak at a fairly low volume, don’t despair. You can probably compensate with the position of the microphone or a more sensitive microphone.
By the way, Dragon 15 will actually recognise your voice when you whisper. Earlier versions did not, in my experience, work at all with the whispered voice. However whispering is extremely harsh on your voice.
I would not proceed without consulting a speech therapist if you don’t have a healthy voice. Impairing your own ‘freedom of speech’ by damaging your voice is A Very Bad Idea.
You’ll need to have a good pronunciation. If you mumble or slur your words, Dragon will not be able to get optimal recognition results.
Caveat: I have encountered people with degenerative muscle disease or spasticity whose voices and pronunciation were far from optimal. Some of them have nevertheless successfully used Dragon speech recognition. It’s not easy, though, and using Dragon required a lot more effort for them than for the average user. Also… succes is defined as being faster than typing. If you can’t type at all, any succesful dictatio is progress.
Current computer experience
You will also need current experience in using a computer at a decent level. You do not need to be a whizzkid, but you need to be able to use the computer on your own without panicking whenever something happens that you did not expect..
Using a computer is a complex skill. Using Dragon speech recognition software is also a complex skill. It is my experience that learning both at the same time is not a viable option.
Unless you have somebody around to help you as soon as you get stuck, I would advise you to learn how to use the computer before starting with Dragon.
What is your reason for using Dragon?
Using Dragon speech recognition software has a learning curve. How hard you will find it to start using Dragon to operate your computer is difficult to predict. It is a bit like learning to drive a car: some people ‘get it’ in a few lessons, while others need endless instruction and practice.
In my experience, highly motivated people have more success with speech recognition software.
Dragon for fun
Maybe the only reason you purchase Dragon is because speaking seems easier than typing and you think it is cool. Typing doesn’t really bother you, but it seems a bit old-fashioned.
If that is the case, you will probably put it aside when you find it more difficult than you expected. There is a certain learning curve and if it is steeper than you had anticipated, it is easy to become disappointed. Since typing doesn’t cause you any real issues, it is quicker to just continue to type as you always did.
Are you someone who might impulsively purchase? And then perhaps not have the time or motivation to learn to properly use Dragon? If that is the case, I wouldn’t buy Dragon. Wait until you have a bit of time on your hands to really dig in and learn about how to use the speech recognition software.
Did you already buy Dragon and regret that you’re not using it? Do check out the LearnSpeechRecognition Academy. Maybe if you invest a couple of hours in checking out the free stuff there, you may learn enough to get motivated to use it again. Or become a paying member and get to ask all your questions in the forum and at the live Q&A sessions.
Dragon for productivity
Becoming more productive in entering your texts quickly can be strong motivator for learning to work with Dragon speech recognition. Depending on how fast of a typist you are, it is absolutely possible to become three times faster in entering your texts.
Keep in mind that Dragon is more suitable for texts like this blog post than for entering e.g. programming code. Later in this article I will certainly address the types of computer work that are more and less easy to do with speech recognition software.
Like with the previous “Dragon for fun” paragraph, some people will take to dictating like a fish takes to water. But some people will struggle to change their brain processes from expressing themselves via the keyboard to expressing themselves by voice.
Remember that ‘dictating text’ really is not the same as just talking to a person. It is also not the same as reading a text out loud.
The good news is that dictating your texts is a skill that you can learn, just like at some point in time you learned to express yourself by typing.
Dragon for quiet people
If you are someone who really has trouble expressing themselves verbally, you may believe that Dragon can never work for you. However, it may surprise you that Dragon still might be perfect. Don’t forget that when dictating, you get all the time you need to prepare your sentences before you dictate them. There is no reason to react promptly to any cues from your discussion partner. Dragon has all the patience in the world!
When you have mild to moderate difficulty when typing or mousing
I count myself in this category. I can type and I can use the mouse, but it quickly becomes uncomfortable. If I do not take care to pace myself strictly, within a day or two I can cause RSI symptoms that may take several days to weeks to disappear again. Just in case you are not familiar with it, RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury.
However, with speech recognition software I can find a balance between dictating/speech commands and using mouse and keyboard that allows me to be productive. And, obviously, it also extends my computer time exponentially, without risk for aggravating my RSI symptoms. It is a plain and simple truth that without Dragon, I could not keep my business running.
Just in the past 10 days I’ve done one-on-one trainings with people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, severe RSI and someone with a high spinal injury. All these people are learning to work with Dragon so that they can continue to work in their jobs.
When you have severe difficulty using mouse or keyboard
Dragon can be quite a lifesaver when you have mild-to-moderate problems with the keyboard and the mouse as described above. However, for a quadriplegic it might be the only way to use a computer. So yes, Dragon can be absolutely gret if you have extreme difficulties using mouse and keyboard. The client I talked about in the previous heading has almost no hand function. If he needs to click the mouse at a particular point in the screen, it may take up to a minute to get it done. After three such clicks, he is exhausted.
However, this particular client – unfortunately – does not have a particular affinity for computers nor for working with Dragon. He is highly motivated, though, since without Dragon he will never be able to return to work.
This is a situation where several one-on-one trainings are absolutely necessary. Learning to work with Dragon will inevitably lead to mishaps. For people was mild-to-moderate physical issues it is possible to quickly vorrect these mishpas by clicking the mouse or change something with the keyboard. For someone who is 100% reliant on Dragon, it gets much more complicated. Hence my advice to hire an experienced Dragon trainer.
There are some things to consider when you can hardly use the mouse or the keyboard at all.
While it is possible to do with Dragon just about 98% of what you can do by hand using mouse and keyboard, some things are extremely (!) slow when done by voice. Compare to saying that it is possible to walk from Amsterdam to Moscow. It’s not a lie, but it really is not practical either.
Fortunately dictation usually is faster than typing and many of the common actions you do on a computer are also quite fast with Dragon. However, if you want to do drawing in Adobe Illustrator or type something in ancient Greek, you’ll not be happy without the mouse and keyboard.
So if there is any way that you can incorporate some way to at least move and click the mouse, you’ll increase your possibilities enormously. Otherwise you might find that 20% of your actions will take up 80% of your time.
Mac users: The Mac has options for adding commands to do practically anything, but you’ll have to program most of these commands. Very few speech commands are available out of the box. I do not recommend a Mac with Dragon for people with severely limited hand function. Please consider a PC with Dragon. Dragon for PC has much more options for command and control of the computer by voice.
What type of work do you need to do?
How well Dragon will work for you is dependent on what type of work you want or need to do with it. Press enter please be informed that this chapter is entirely based on Dragon for PC. While Dragon for the Mac has many similarities, there just aren’t as many built-in commands in that version of Dragon.
Typing and editing in Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is very well supported by Dragon for PC (Dragon Professional Individual 15). There is a special compatibility plug-in that works quite well. This takes care of the possibility not only to dictate easily in Word, but also edit your text with speech commands.
You can select any piece of text by voice and edit it. E.g. with a command like “make that red”. You can also say commands like “underline <words>” and “go to page 3”.
If you are working in very large documents, like a thesis or book, you may want to split it in several chapters. Otherwise performance could be affected.
In general it is safe to say that if you work often in Microsoft Word that Dragon could be really valuable tool for you.
Email in Microsoft Outlook
Like with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook is very well supported by Dragon Professional Individual 15 for PC.
The add-in allows Full Text Control in your email messages. That means that you cannot only dictate, but also edit your text easily by voice.
There are also many built-in speech commands for Microsoft Outlook. You can reply to messages and e.g. move messages to a different folder.
The calendar part of Outlook has commands available like “make a new appointment” and “cancel that invitation”.
If you do a lot of work in Microsoft Outlook on a Windows computer, I think you will be happy with the options that Dragon gives you.
Email in other applications
Gmail: Provided you work in a browser that is supported by Dragon, you can use Gmail fairly well. In order to have Full Text Control in your Internet browser, you have to make sure that the web extensions for your browser are enabled. Read more about that under the heading Internet Browser.
Thunderbird: It’s been awhile since I last tested it, but Dragon didn’t use to have Full Text Control in Thunderbird. While you might be able to dictate text without Full Text Control, it is extremely limiting. As soon as you want to change anything in your text by voice, you’ll get stuck. Without Full Text Control, Dragon cannot find the words you dictated (or typed) earlier. Dragon offers a workaround for unsupported applications via the dictation box, but to be honest I find that annoying in an application that I use as much as my email.
Mail: The windows Mail program doesn’t seem to have Full Text Control either, so options are very limited.
Lotus/IBM Notes: as far as I know there are neither built-in commands nor Full Text Control for IBM notes.
For Dragon to work properly in Internet browsers, it needs an extension/plug-in. And I define ‘properly working’ as Dragon being able to allow you to click hyperlinks by voice as well as having Full Text Control (sometimes still called Select-and-Say), which allows you to easily edit your text by voice.
Currently (2018) there are web extensions for Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Firefox. I’m still talking about Windows computers here, by the way.
Opera and Microsoft Edge are not supported by Dragon. And in my experience the extension for Firefox does not provide you with Full Text Control. But you can click your links by voice, which already is a great asset.
For the moment, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 11 are the best options. It may dismay many people, but after two the Internet Explorer actually is the preferable choice. While the Google Chrome web extension conveys clicking links by voice as well as Full Text Control in text edit fields, for some people it is unstable. As a matter-of-fact I am writing this post in WordPress on Google Chrome. Unfortunately Chrome stop working during this session, so now I dictate in the DragonPad text editor. Cut-and-paste still works and for longer texts it’s not really a problem. It would be great though if I could have just dictated my texts directly in Chrome.
Many company-specific applications are web applications, nowadays. That means that if you have any particular online application that you need to work in, you’ll need a browser that has the web extensions installed. Please note that this does not guarantee that you can navigate that particular application by voice. Not all developers of web applications pay attention to accessibility. Sometimes these applications are built with tools that do not present themselves as regular webpages. That means that Dragon cannot ‘read’ the controls like buttons and text edit fields.
To be honest, I myself am a fairly basic user of Microsoft Excel.
Dragon does have many commands for Excel, for example “go to cell G 15”. That works quite well, but if you have more columns than the Z column, you’re out of luck.
In general, I see my clients succeed when they just have to fill out cells in a pre-existing Excel sheet. Also when creating fairly basic Excel sheets. They usually struggle when they have to create sums like =SUM(B1:B3). You can do this by voice, but it is much more time-consuming than by mouse or keyboard.
Creating custom commands can be a great way to extend the functionality for Excel.
You may be surprised that there are some actions in for example Adobe Photoshop that can be performed with speech commands quite efficiently. The caveat is that you probably need to create some custom commands.
Now, if you want to draw like you would normally be able to do with a Wacom tablet, your not going to be happy with Dragon.
However, many people perform standard actions in programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. E.g. to save an image for the web with a certain resolution. And perhaps even a certain size. It is possible to create custom commands that can save you a ton of time and mouse clicks fractions like these.
- Imagine having a voice command “save for site” that
- changes the image size to a maximum with of 800 pixels
- opens the dialogue to save the document
- sets the file format to JPEG
- moves the cursor back to the file name field
Or a command that will open a certain palet with a specific web color that you use all the time because it is part of your brand.
Don’t expect to be able to do these things on your first day of trying out Dragon speech recognition software! But it absolutely belongs to the possibilities and it may be the difference between you having to give up on this type of computer work and being able to continue to do this. It allows you to create a balance between the things that you absolutely have to do by mouse/tablet and actions that can be automated in Dragon with custom commands.
People who are familiar with macros and keyboard shortcuts should be able to learn how to create their own Dragon custom commands. Otherwise it is always possible to hire an experienced Dragon trainer. If you don’t mind working online with an expert, I am available for this type of work. Just click on the “Work with me” menu on this website.
It is always difficult to predict whether custom company specific software will work with Dragon speech recognition. A lot depends on whether the software was developed with Microsoft Active Accessibility rules and guidelines.
If so, Dragon should be able to ‘see’ the buttons and menus in the software, allowing you to click them by voice.
Another important feature for unsupported software, is whether there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts to control the application. It is a great advantage is the menu items and other controls consistently have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them. This makes it possible to create custom commands in Dragon for these keyboard shortcuts. Even if Dragon cannot automatically see the buttons and menus, you will still be able to automate many of the actions you have to perform in the application. It will be a time-consuming business to create commands for all necessary actions, but for specific situations it can be extremely worthwhile.
I’ve already mentioned Full Text Control several times: in principle you can dictate text anywhere that you can. However not all text edit fields are suitable to be used by Dragon. In that case, you may need to use the dictation box or dictate without Full Text Control. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to predict whether you will have Full Text Control in any of your specific software.
Entering names and addresses
One thing to be aware of when dictating with Dragon, is the way it knows what to write down.
Dragon isn’t capable of writing down words that are not in its vocabulary. That means that new words first have to be added to the vocabulary.
You may find that Dragon has difficulty understanding names and addresses, because they often contain new/unique words.
Now, it is entirely possible to add a list of hundreds of names to Dragon’s vocabulary and use them over and over again. But if you’re work consists of entering new names and new addresses all the time, you may not be pleased with how Dragon performs.
As a receptionist, usually your tasks are extremely diverse. One moment you are receiving a visitor and you have to check whether your colleague is available to come for them at the reception area. Then you may have a phone call. Perhaps you have to make a reservation for the meeting room or organise some sandwiches for lunch for a comittee. Also the room where you are working usually constantly has people moving in and out and you need to be very accessible to visitors and colleagues alike.
This makes it quite complicated to use speech recognition software. The more applications you need to use by voice and the more often you have to switch between these applications, the more difficult it is to realise this by using Dragon.
That also goes for work in a call centre. I have never seen a client successfully use Dragon in a call centre job. What do you do when you need to search for something in your computer system. It would be very rude if you put your client on hold all the time. And you cannot have them listen to you giving your speech commands to your computer. They would not understand what was going on. Also, it will take more time to search in databases and enter or retrieve information by voice than it would be with keyboard and mouse. Your productivity would definitely suffer and your calls would be longer.
For these reasons I do not recommend speech recognition software for either Receptionist or Call center positions.
Do you have a Windows computer or a Mac? What applications do you need to use? Do these applications run on your local PC or on the server? All these factors are quite important to consider before starting with speech recognition software.
If you have a Mac, there’s no Dragon software available anymore as of late 2018. MacOS Catalina (introduced late 2019) has built-in Voice Control as an alternative. It isn’t as good as Dragon for Mac was, but it is eminently usable and offers both dictation and hands free use of the computer. Read more about Voice Control here.
Dragon Professional Individual 15 is the current version of Dragon for the PC.
If you have all your applications installed on your hard disk and Dragon is installed there too, you will have optimal compatibility between Dragon and your other applications.
The Dragon versions on computers have traditionally been very well outfitted with built-in commands for the Microsoft Office programs and commands for controlling windows. Especially if you have moderate to severe issues with using the mouse and keyboard, I’d recommend to go with a Windows computer plus Dragon.
Also for dictation, Dragon for PC has more powerful options in the vocabulary to customise it to your specific needs. Dragon for the Mac also allows you to add new words to the vocabulary, but has less options for changing the behaviour of these words.
Citrix or Windows Server
It is possible to install Dragon Professional on a Citrix or Windows server, but you need Dragon Professional Group, rather than Individual. This is a separate, more expensive, version of Dragon. If you have all your applications on the server, but your Dragon is installed on your PC itself, you’ll have limited functionality of Dragon. That’s why it can be a good idea to install Dragon on the server. When Dragon and the applications run on the same location, you’ll have optimal functionality of Dragon.
Be aware that Dragon is a very processing intensive application. Also initially the dictated text will go over the network. So your server as well as your network will get extra traffic if Dragon is installed on the server.
I would recommend you work with a specialist/value-added reseller to check whether this would be a good option for you.
Your office environment
There is a huge difference between using Dragon if you are working in your own private office and working in an office with an open floor plan and many colleagues around you.
If you share your office space with colleagues, there are several factors to consider.
- Your colleagues may be bothered by your dictation.
- You may be bothered by your colleagues listening to your dictation. Perhaps this creates a barrier for you to actually use Dragon.
- Initially you may find the presence of colleagues and their discussions very distracting when you’re working with Dragon. When you get more experienced and working with Dragon becomes more automatic, you may find that this is no longer a problem.
- The general noise level in your office may affect the recognition results that you are experiencing.
It’s hard to predict whether and if any of these factors will influence you in your specific situation. Much depends on your own attitude and also on your colleagues’ collegiality. I can imagine that if you share your office with several colleagues and everyone needs to work very intensely on legal documents, that your using speech recognition can be a distraction to them.
So I’ve just mentioned these points in order for you to realise that they may be a factor in your success with Dragon. Don’t forget that there are solutions to many of these issues. Perhaps you can work in a meeting room for part of the day, so that you’ll disturb no-one (and they won’t disturb you). Perhaps you can work from home for some of the time. Just because not all circumstances are ideal, it doesn’t mean that Dragon can’t still be a very helpful tool for you!
Want my expert advice?
If you are not quite sure yet if Dragon would be helpful in your specific situation, why not book a free discovery call with me? We’ll discuss your situation and I can answer some questions.