Blog, Writing

Dictation and Transcription

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I worked as a secretary for many years early in my career. Other than a high school typing class, it was not a conscious career choice or one that I prepared for. My first job, a waitress. My second job, the Air Force. I have done factory work and taken any opportunity I could. Working as a secretary, however, was the first step toward my career in IT.

I once held a position as a secretary for a pulp and paper mill construction company. We purchased a state-of-the-art word processor. (Yes, word processors started as specialized software in specialized equipment). Our company purchased a CPT 8000. It was the first time I remember being able to see a document on the screen before it was printed. Pretty snazzy.

This is where I first learned (but never fully mastered) how to use a dictaphone. This device allowed someone (our engineers and inspectors) to dictate construction reports to a micro-cassette. When ready for transcribing, the tape was put into a machine with foot pedals that allowed the person typing to rewind, fast-forward or erase (which I did inadvertently one day) the tape, all hands-free.

I never took shorthand, although I did teach myself some shorthand our of pure curiosity. If I had a formal shorthand class, I think I would have been really good at it. Transcribing was never my thing, although I did it and did an accurate job. I never enjoyed it, though.

Where the heck is this rabbit hole story going you ask? Excellent question!

A few nights ago, I found myself behind in my NaNoWriMo word count. I was tired and my typing accuracy was waning. Then I remembered this feature in MS Word for dictation and I thought I would give it a whirl. Well, let me tell you what I learned.

  • I must have a bit of an accent because the transcription of my dictation had a few problems. Perhaps I was tired and my enunciation was poor. Once I could see where it was not working, I was quickly able to readjust and move on.
  • It was also a learning curve to add punctuation. I still have not mastered using quotations for dialogue.
  • Writing for me is a very tactile experience. Moving thoughts, through my fingers and onto paper or computer allows me to slow my thought process a little. My English brain kicks in. Spelling and punctuation are part of the writing process. I can think ahead about what is coming before it reaches the paper.
  • Dictation is quite a different animal. Speaking dialogue adds the sense of hearing to the process. I found myself adding emotional emphasis in my voice that does not translate well to the end result. I also found the process unfurling faster and messier. The time it takes to move from the brain though the hands is valuable for me as a writer.
  • No one wants to hear me talking to my computer for any extended period of time.
  • These few sections of my novel will require much more editing time. This is DEFINITELY the ‘messy middle’.

I discovered that dictating has as many complexities as transcribing. The tools are much more advanced, but these tools are not always a writer’s best friend. But what a great boon for the writers that need the accommodations that these tools provide. Hooray!

For me, though, it is back to the keyboard. I am at a major turning point in the story and having the extra time for thoughts to move through these brain connections will be important.

I am feeling very nostalgic about writing on an IBM Selectric typewriter, though. There was something comforting about that constant whirrrr. I wonder how many people write on an electric typewriter these days? I do not think my hands could handle a completely manual typewriter.

Lots of editing ahead. Lots and lots of editing. At least I am on target with my word count now!


11 thoughts on “Dictation and Transcription”

  1. I really enjoyed this look back at the earlier word processing days, Maggie, and have many similar stories. It’s entertaining to think about and share stories, seems so ancient, yet it really hasn’t been that long. Good luck in your editing ahead, and bravo to you for pushing forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I need a keyboard. One of the reasons I don’t use a laptop or Tablet for writing is because I was brought up using a manual typewriter. I used to love the ‘ding’ at the end of the carriage, and flicking the lever to start on the next line. So I still use a ‘QWERTY’ keyboard, and the biggest one I could buy. 🙂
    I do see appreciate that there are many reasons for ‘talk-to-type’, but I am not ready for that just yet.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I do prefer a QWERTY keyboard, although sometimes I do write on my tablet. I liked the old manual typewriters, too. My grandmother had an old Underwood typewriter contained in a suitcase-like carrying case. Early idea of portability. I do not think I have the strength to type long on one.

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  3. One of my doctors is very adept at looking at me while he dictates into his computer. This makes me feel connected and he gets the electronic record his practice requires. The ones who type can’t maintain eye contact and it feels very impersonal. I use a desktop for the same reason Pete mentions. I need to be able to type. I loved the dictaphone in my dad’s law office. They went through all sorts of machines over the years. One made little plastic records, rather like the later floppy disks.

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    1. That sounds like the perfect use of this technology, Elizabeth. The older technology was advanced for its time. I can only imagine how helpful those advancements were for attorneys.

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  4. What a nice journey. I remember being told that the word processing software I was installing on desktop computers would never be as good as the WANG word processors I was trying to replace. The first of many heartbreaking installations I performed during my career – the worst was switching from Word Perfect to Word – some people still haven’t forgiven me.


    1. Those transitions in the workplace were never easy for the users. I always loved new technology. The company I worked for couldn’t afford Wang.

      I remember the transition AWAY from WordPerfect very well. Everyone loved the codes and the macros. It was efficient for its time. I was surprised to see it is still around today.

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      1. I only had a few users who looked forward to change. When people realized that there was no “Reveal Codes” mode in Word, they practically hated me. We were still buying a new copy every now and then in case we needed to open really old documents (for a discovery request). Word will only open the more recent files.

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  5. My one boss uses a program to talk his words out. It’s effective. I do his edits and while I always find errors between his mouth and the written words, they’re simple corrections and I’m certain it saves time. We did, for a short spell, have a secretary capable of dictation, but he’s now come to prefer the software.
    I know YOU have an accent, because all those voice to text programs think my husband and I have an accent, so you must.


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