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Effective speech to text with Microsoft Dictate in 2021

Have you ever wanted a quicker way to input information into your documents, emails, and presentations within Microsoft 365? Microsoft Dictate is an excellent speech to text solution that’s built […]
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Have you ever wanted a quicker way to input information into your documents, emails, and presentations within Microsoft 365? Microsoft Dictate is an excellent speech to text solution that’s built into your favorite Microsoft apps. Here’s how to use it, plus a review of its functionality.

Finding Microsoft Dictate

If you’re using the latest version of Microsoft 365, Dictate is already present inside many of the most popular standalone apps, including Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint. To find it, simply open one of those programs and look for a dictate button in the home section of the menu. (It will probably look like a microphone with a record button.)

Using Microsoft Dictate for speech to text

To use Microsoft Dictate, click the button in the menu to get started. You’ll probably see a small popup with a microphone button. Click that, and you’ll hear a sound that indicates Microsoft is now listening to your speech.

Once you see the “Listening…” text, simply start speaking, and what you say will be transcribed into your program.

Microsoft Dictate is intelligent, analyzing what you say and correcting itself as it goes. You’ll sometimes see it replace a mistake after the fact with what you actually said.

Microsoft has been hard at work and developing speech recognition for Cortana and Microsoft Translator, and the company has even made recent acquisitions in this space. All the same computational power and machine learning powers this dictation function within Microsoft 365.

You can add basic punctuation as you talk by saying words like “period,” “comma,” or “open parentheses.” Or you can let Microsoft try to get it right by clicking on the settings on the Dictate widget and choosing “Auto punctuation.”

There are a variety of commands that Microsoft suggests to use to get the most out of the Dictate tool.

Use Cases for Dictate

Microsoft Dictate has several use cases. The most obvious one is as an assistive speech to text tool for anyone who’s not particularly comfortable typing. This could include people who haven’t formally learned to touch-type as well as those with physical limitations or even certain reading disorders like dyslexia.

Dictate can also be a boon to anyone with repetitive stress injury, where long periods of typing can exacerbate an injury. By composing the bulk of a newsletter or email by voice dictation, an employee can avoid 85 to 90% of the keyboard and mouse usage normally required to do so.

Limitations of Microsoft Dictate as a speech to text tool

As impressive as the tool is, there are some limitations in Microsoft Dictate. The tool is intelligent but not omniscient. In other words, it won’t get everything right.

We wrote this entire blog post using the tool, but we had to make several manual corrections after the fact. For example, back in that second paragraph: the software correctly capitalized PowerPoint but did not capitalize Outlook or Word (since those words could either be brand names or regular ol’ nouns).

You might find yourself stumbling when looking for less common punctuation or symbols as well. Often, it’s easier to just put those types of characters in manually.

And then there are the words that Microsoft can’t possibly know. There are plenty of obscure brand names and acronyms in the tech industry, and it can be tough to get these right in any dictation program, including Dictate.

That said, Microsoft’s offering is far better than some others, and you don’t even have to pay anything extra for functional speech to text software.

That’s it for this week’s tech tip, but stay tuned for more technology tips and tricks in the coming weeks!

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