After Hours

10 wishlist items for Dragon Naturally Speaking

For those who do a lot of writing, dictation software like Dragon Naturally Speaking can be a big help. But as Brien Posey observes, there's room for improvement.

As someone who writes for a living, I make heavy use of speech dictation software in an effort to boost my productivity and save wear and tear on my hands. My dictation product of choice is Dragon Naturally Speaking. As great as the product is, however, I do have some wish list items for the next version.

1: The ability to disable individual commands

In all fairness, Dragon Naturally Speaking does allow you to disable some voice commands. But I would like to see a series of check boxes that let you choose exactly which commands you want to enable and which commands you want to disable.

For me, the Select command has proven to be especially troublesome. I can't tell you how many times I have dictated a phrase such as "Right-click on the icon and select the Properties command from the shortcut menu," only to have Dragon recognize the word Select as a command. This causes the previous occurrence of the next word or phrase I dictate to be selected. If I don't catch the problem immediately, the next thing I say will overwrite the selected text.

2: Natural language dictation

Another thing I would like to see in future versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking is natural language dictation. Normally, when I dictate an article such as this one, I have to verbalize punctuation symbols such as periods, commas, and question marks. This is fine for writing articles, but it doesn't work so well for transcription.

Recently, for example, someone asked me to develop a PowerPoint presentation, record audio for each slide, and then create a transcription of my audio. I decided to use Dragon to transcribe the MP3 files I created to go along with my PowerPoint presentation. The problem was that Dragon did not insert any punctuation because I had not spoken punctuation commands when I recorded the presentation. It would be nice if Dragon could use sentence structure to figure out where punctuation should go.

3: A comfortable headset

Okay, this one isn't so much a gripe about the software as the hardware that comes with it. Some of the Dragon Naturally Speaking products include a Plantronics Bluetooth headset. The headset seems to work well enough, but the clip that holds it to your ear can become uncomfortable after a couple of hours. It would be nice if the headset were more comfortable.

4: Easy profile migration

Because I travel almost constantly, I have Dragon Naturally Speaking installed on my computer at home and on my laptop. Dragon includes a mechanism you can use to export a user's profile and then import it into a different machine. I haven't had a chance to try the import/export process with version 12 yet, but in version 11, the process leaves a lot to be desired. Importing my profile into my laptop seems to adapt the laptop to my speech patterns, but my custom vocabulary doesn't transfer over. Words I use all the time in my articles, such as Hyper-V, Fibre Channel, and SAN, are not recognized on my laptop and I have to manually add those words to Dragon.

5: Microphone independence

In Dragon Naturally Speaking version 12, the user profiles seem to be tied to a specific microphone. In a way this is completely understandable, because every microphone has unique sound characteristics. It makes sense to adapt the dictation software to a microphone's characteristics. Unfortunately, Dragon seems to depend on a microphone even for operations that do not involve the use of one.

For instance, l week, I was on the go and didn't have time to write an article that was coming due. I dictated the article into my cell phone on the way to the airport and saved the audio as an MP3 file. Once I got checked in and was waiting for my flight, I got out my laptop and told Dragon to transcribe the file. It would not do the transcription until I plugged in my Bluetooth receiver, even though I was not going to be dictating.

6: More entertaining training

This one is nit-picky, but I wish that the training process were a bit more entertaining. When you first install Dragon Naturally Speaking, you are advised to train the software by reading a specific text document. However, the documents you can choose to read are primarily instructional in nature or they come from books we were all forced to read in school. Would it really hurt to include training material that is a bit more upbeat and fun?

7: Right-click > Add

As I mentioned earlier, some words I use frequently are not in Dragon's default dictionary. You can add such words to the Dragon custom dictionary, but doing so involves clicking on the Dragon Toolbar's Audio option and then choosing Improve Recognition Of Word Or Phrase. It would be much more efficient to be able to right-click on a word within a Word document and have an option on the shortcut menu to add the word to Dragon's custom dictionary.

8: Less literal interpretation

Once trained, Dragon Naturally Speaking does a good job of accurately recognizing spoken words. Every once in a while, however, it takes an expression and interprets it a bit too literally. For example, last week I was writing an article and spoke the phrase "a one in a million chance." Dragon interpreted the phrase as "a 1,000,000 chance."

9: The end of unwanted abbreviations

Along the same lines, I wish that Dragon would not try to abbreviate my spoken words. I recently used the word "minute" in a document. Dragon took it upon itself to abbreviate the word as "mins." This meant that I had to go back and manually correct the resulting text.

Dragon does have a mechanism for controlling formatting. You can somewhat control the use of abbreviations or even numerical formatting. The problem is that the interface is a bit ambiguous. It can be difficult to tell exactly how the changes you make will affect the overall dictation experience.

10: A more intuitive user interface

Finally, I would like to see Dragon Naturally Speaking equipped with a more intuitive UI. The interface is fine for basic dictation and training, but some of the configuration options don't make a lot of sense. I doubt if it would take a lot of effort for Nuance to rename some menu options and expand some dialog boxes to make the interface a bit more user friendly.

Other improvements?

What additional changes would you like to see in Dragon? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

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