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Author: Daniel J. Pfeifer
Title: Dragon Naturally Speaking
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2000

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Source: Dragon Naturally Speaking
Daniel J. Pfeifer

vol. 3, no. 2, August 2000
Article Type: Software Review


Editor's Note

Continuing the trend of reviewing software on a thematic basis, we have included in this issue two reviews of voice recognition software. For avid writers, as historians generally are, voice recognition software promises to be a godsend. Imagine, if you will, the ability to instantly convert what one says into text that can be saved and later be edited. The writing of lectures, research notes, articles, and even book-length manuscripts would become simpler as one step in the writing process, the actual writing by placing finger to keyboard, would no longer be necessary. Voice recognition technology is still fairly new. The reviews of Dragon Naturally Speaking and IBM's ViaVoice98 provide an assessment of whether or not the average historian should begin to think about using this technology.

J. Kelly Robison

Center for US Studies
Stiftung Leucorea
Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking
    Daniel Pfiefer, Depauw University
  • ViaVoice 98, IBM, Inc.
    J. Kelly Robison, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Dragon Naturally Speaking <>
Essentials $59
Standard $109
Preferred $199

Requirements: 200-MHz Intel® Pentium® processor with MMX, or equivalent*, IBM® compatible PC, Windows® 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT® 4.0 (with Service Pack 3 or greater); 64 MB is recommended; 200 MB free hard-disk space; CD-ROM drive for installation; Creative Labs® Sound Blaster® 16 or equivalent sound board supporting 16-bit recording

"Welcome to the world of continuous speech recognition," states Dragon NaturallySpeaking with much promise. Actually, voice recognition does hold promise, and Dragon delivers, with some limitation. But before we begin to describe these possibilities and constraints, please understand one thing; the most patient, advanced users will realize the most gain from voice recognition software. In other words, if you never learned how to type because you are a novice, then voice recognition software is NOT for you. Too many folks try this apparent shortcut only to encounter severe frustration because of poor recognition and dependence upon keyboard-based correction methods. While perhaps sounding a bit mean, novices who click the Back button now will save time and aggravation. For the patient person who is willing to persevere, Dragon NaturallySpeaking can save energy and shoulder strain by eliminating some typing time. (This review will focus on the functions of the least expensive version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking - Essentials.)

Installing NaturallySpeaking can either be fun or cumbersome, depending on whether the user has an interest in the training materials. After a brief period where the speech files are copied to the hard disk, the program walks the user through the microphone setup and recognition training. The topics of the training materials include science fiction, humor, business, adventure, etc. One should allow at least 30 minutes to read. The final part of training, vocabulary builder, is very important for historians. The program asks for writing samples (I would suggest at least three.) to identify disciplinary language that will be used frequently in dictation. The user will need to speak the words that are not included in the general vocabulary, which for some historians might be extensive!

After completing the training in Essentials, one can dictate to the computer using Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect. The best practice is to dictate one or two phrases at a time. The reason is to facilitate the correction of errors, and one should just expect errors to occur. Correction is part of the process of improving accuracy. To change an erroneous word, the user would say, "Correct that." A window will open where several phrases appear as the program tries to guess which is correct. The irony here is that in many cases the user will need to correct the phrase by typing in the words and clicking Ok. So do not throw away your keyboard and mouse.

A nice feature of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Essentials is the Windows interface. You can say, "Start [Program Name]" for any application on your Windows Start menu. The software also includes commands for exiting an application and switching among open applications. (As a side note, it's worth mentioning that Dragon software is bundled with certain versions of WordPerfect 9. In addition, NaturallySpeaking Preferred has its own editor, and NaturallySpeaking mobile can accept speech input from a tape recorder.)

One of the strengths of NaturallySpeaking is that it listens to context as well as individual terms. The speech recognition algorithm determines the difference between "8", "ate", and "eight" according to the surrounding words. Because of the context function, it is best to speak a phrase at a time rather than pausing frequently between words, thus the phrase "continuous speech recognition."

Dragon NaturallySpeaking generally works well with an Intel MMX or Athlon 3D-Now processor. The minimum requirements on the box allow the software to run, but more hardware seems to produce more accuracy.

Intermediate to advanced users who spend a large amount of time transcribing from written notes or published materials will find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be helpful. For users who type all of their own materials (which is probably most readers), the process of dictation will seem a bit awkward at first and composing almost impossible. The transition from keyboard to voice is analogous to the change from pen to keyboard, and some people still compose better with a pen and paper. In my work, I have found that dictating notes from books, articles, and talks is the most effective use of the software. And to be honest, between the time spent reading AND correcting, I have not saved time by dictating, but I am so much more comfortable while entering my notes that I prefer voice recognition to typing on the keyboard.

In addition to replacing the input devices used to communicate with the computer, voice recognition technology signals a change in the process we use to compose materials and do our work. And the real gains are yet to be realized with greater accuracy and changing work habits. While voice recognition technology holds much promise, we should remember that even the crew of the starship Enterprise used keyboards occasionally and temper our expectations accordingly.

Daniel Pfeifer

DePauw University

The Journal welcomes suggestions for software packages to be reviewed, or submissions of such applications and programs. Please contact Kelly Robison or Daniel Pfeifer for further information. If you would like to review software for the Journal, please contact either editor and view the Guidelines for Software Reviews.

J. Kelly Robison <>

Daniel Pfeifer <>