Stop typing and start dictating documents in Windows

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The easiest way to operate your PC is with your hands whether you're navigating a touch screen, or using a mouse and keyboard. But for some people that's just not possible, especially when it comes to typing.

Maybe you broke your finger or you suffer from a repetitive strain injury that makes typing impossible. Or perhaps you simply want to get work done while running on a treadmill.

But just because you can't type doesn't mean you can't create documents. All you need is a microphone for your PC and Microsoft Word to take the stress off your hands and start using your voice.

Here's how.

Commanding voice


Get started with speech recognition via the Windows Control Panel.

To start in Windows 8.1, open the Control Panel and type speech into the Control Panel search box, then select Start Speech Recognition from the search results.

Next, Windows will take you through a quick set-up to make sure your PC is ready for accepting speech. As I mentioned earlier, your best bet is to use a USB headset, although desktop microphones and other input devices will also work.

Simply follow the instructions as you click through the set-up wizard. You'll be asked to read a few sentences to test your system, and whether you want to allow Windows to scan your documents and stored e-mail to improve speech recognition.


A speech recognition system test in Windows 8.1.

You'll also be asked whether you want to use manual or voice activation mode. If you want to turn on speech recognition by clicking a button with your mouse or keyboard, then choose manual activation mode. If you'd rather use the phrase "start listening" to turn on speech recognition then choose voice activation mode.

In both cases, you can turn off speech recognition by saying "stop listening."

After that, you're pretty much set. You can take an online tutorial to learn how to use speech recognition (I didn't bother), or you can just dive in and start dictating.

If you opt for the more adventurous course, I recommend you bookmark this Microsoft help page that includes several lists of how you can use speech recognition with your PC.

Dictating text


Speech Recognition is system wide and can be used for more than just dictation.

Once you're ready to go, you'll see a small window at the top of your screen with a microphone icon and a small window that says Listening.

Open Word normally or just say "Open Word" into your microphone. Now, dictating text is just as simple as talking into your microphone. Whenever you need to insert a punctuation mark just say the mark's name, such as "period," "comma," or "question mark.""

To learn how to navigate your document with new lines, paragraphs and so on, check out the dictation section Microsoft's help page.

It may take some getting used to, and at first speech recognition may not be as accurate as you'd like, but over time it will improve. The pace of dictation will also be a hurdle if you were a particularly fast typist.

As for the apps you can use with Dictation, you'll have no problem with Microsoft apps like Word or Notepad. But some third-party apps may not work at all. In my tests, for example, text editors like Sublime Text 2 and GitHub's Atom didn't work, but Notepad++ did.

More than just dictation

Once you've got dictation down, you can use the built-in speech recognition feature in Windows for all kinds of tasks such as to open and close apps, navigate menus, control windows, scroll, and even right-click. Again, Microsoft's help pages can help you expand your voice command chops.

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