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Quick Tip: 5 Ways to Enhance the Way You Use Dictation

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When Siri Dictation arrived on iOS, consumers were excited to finally have an alternative to typing text messages and emails. Since its initial release in October 2011, the feature has improved significantly in its ability to accurately interpret what you’re saying. With the release of Mountain Lion last year, Apple added Dictation to its desktop operating system to lessen the need for typing OS-wide. Most people don’t know about the feature, though, and those who do neglect to use it. In this tutorial I will list a few ways you can make Dictation a true “intelligent assistant”.


1. Practice Your Diction

Dictation knows when it may be wrong, but you can be in practice to avoid that.
Dictation knows when it may be wrong, but you can be in practice to avoid that.

Apple’s Dictation server is rather picky at times and it doesn’t like to interpret sentences when they don’t make sense. It will often default to using words that sound correct together, or even remove some of the things you said to make a more complete sentence. For this reason, it is important that you practice your diction so as not to confuse the function. This can also make you a better speaker.

Tip: You need an Internet connection to use Dictation. It is not an offline function.

2. Avoid Noisy Environments Such as Coffee Shops and Subways

Many people do work in coffee shops (I am writing this very article in one) or even on the subway home, but Dictation does not work well in loud settings such as these, especially if you’re using your Mac’s integrated microphone. Instead, if you intend to use Dictation during your day, plan to work in a quiet office or just a room with less background noise than the average café.

Tea is good for your throat, but the café makes your dictation a mess.
Tea is good for your throat, but the café makes your dictation a mess.

This is not to say that Dictation is unable to interpret what you are saying when background noise is heightened. I found that the feature actually understood most of what I was saying in the local coffee shop, even when there was music playing in the background and blaring coffee grinders echoing here and there. I did notice, however, that my words sometimes cut out mid-sentence due to interference. In the end, I found consistency in discreet places.


3. Use Headphones With a Built-in Microphone to Increase Accuracy

Don't be this guy.
Don't be this guy.

For best results in any environment, I recommend using headphones with an integrated microphone. Apple’s EarPods performed well in my testing, though Sennheiser’s M-series did just as well with complete noise reduction on the headphone side. You would think that the best result can be obtained by using a full condenser or vocal microphone, but there is actually little difference between the two. A noise-isolating microphone will perform best when background noise is powerful, but can cost quite a bit and are not worth the price just for dictation.


4. Dictate in Sections

Dictate one thought at a time.
Dictate one thought at a time.

Rather than dictating all your thoughts at once, break things up into paragraphs or sections. Write yourself little notes for general direction, just as if you are about to give a speech. Dictation will handle separate paragraphs much better than 500 words at once. Not only will it process them faster, you will have fewer mistakes to correct if it gets some stuff wrong. I dictated two paragraphs once, only to have Dictation interpret eight of the words, which ended up being a waste.

Tip: Saying “new paragraph” is like pressing the return key.

5. Be Careful With Homophones

Dictation is still young, and it sometimes can’t tell the difference between words like “bear” and “bare” or “their” and “they’re”. If you dictate an entire sentence with these words, it will sometimes understand the context of them, but don’t send off an email that was fully dictated without first proofreading it. You may find several grammatical errors.


Keep Experimenting!

The essential Dictation toolkit.
The essential Dictation toolkit.

Wrapping up, I have gone over how to practice your diction, where not to use Dictation, what microphones to use, and how to avoid erroneous sentences. Don’t stop with the tips I have provided — there are many other ways you can be improving your use of Dictation. What recommendations do you have?

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