Dictation can be a boon for writers, especially in terms of productivity and output. The amount of words we can speak surpasses the amount of words we can type by a long shot. Moreover, using a dictaphone—also known as a portable voice recorder—is an efficient way to capture notes, dialog, and fleeting sensory detail that will make your writing come to life.
Flashes of insight, vivid accounts of worldly sensations, rich dialog, interesting facts or observations: while easily forgotten, these details are the ornaments of writing. Dictation will help writers record the raw data and enriching detail of place quickly and easily.
While dictation and voice recording are not a panacea, they can be invaluable tools for writers if used properly. In this article we’ll talk about how dictaphones and dictation can help writers, journalists, and bloggers with productivity and output.
Dictaphones and voice recorders: unloved and underestimated tools for writers
Once a staple for journalists and writers to capture commentary, dialog, and information in the field, dictaphones have been a casualty of the notebook’s aura. Few writers describe their dictaphones as tenderly as they do their Moleskine journals. For good reason, writers value writing and putting pen to paper is the fundamental act.
Voice recorders also conjure memories of the 1970s with gumshoes peering from behind newspapers and aviator eyeglasses while clandestinely recording audio on clunky micro-cassette recorders. The do-it-all smartphone has caricatured the dictaphone as antiquated, a relic of a bygone era.
But dictaphones are still powerful tools, especially when gathering field notes and writing first drafts. Much faster than handwriting, dictation can be more expressive and capture more information.
How do writers, journalists, and bloggers use dictaphones and dictation?
There are two primary ways in which writers, journalists, and bloggers use dictaphones and voice recorders.
The first way is “data collecting.” This involves the writer using the voice recorder to capture raw data: dialog, important facts, sensory details, reflections and insights, accounts of the day’s events, etc. This approach is all about capturing raw, unpolished data and detail that the writer will mine, sift through, and polish later.
The second approach is “composition.” This involves the writer using the dictaphone to narrate a rough draft. While this approach sounds similar to the data collecting approach, there is a nuance. Here, the intention is to dictate copy or narrative, however rough.
Writers can use dictation and dictaphones in several ways:
- To record dialog and get quotes.
- To record sounds and the soundscapes of place.
- To note important information.
- To record first impressions, sensory detail, and reflections.
- To keep a record of the day’s events
- To narrate copy as a first draft
Tools of the trade
Dictaphones (or “voice recorders,” “digital voice recorders,” “hand-held audio recorders,” “portable audio recorders,” etc.) come in a variety of sizes and price-points. Thanks to modern technology and flash memory storage, they are all often considerably smaller than smartphones. They can record higher quality audio too, with 3-mic arrays and high sample and bit rates.
Just search Amazon for dictaphone to see what’s available. Just a note to recommend sticking with a reputable brand.
Can I use my iPhone as a dictaphone?
Absolutely. All smartphones come with voice memo apps. And, good note-taking apps like Apple Notes and Evernote also include a feature to embed audio memos into notes. This can be handy if you want to keep your typed notes and voice memos in one place.
Modern smartphones also come with a voice-to-text function enabling writers to transcribe text directly into a note. This technology isn’t perfect, and it obviously cannot transcribe sound and intonation, but it can be helpful from time to time, especially when attempting to dictate copy or narrative.
That said, nothing beats a discreet and dedicated device to capture high-quality audio.
How do I transcribe audio?
The biggest hurdle facing voice recording is audio transcription. Fortunately, there are free online tools that do much of the heavy lifting. Sites like Otter.ai deliver transcriptions a few seconds after uploading audio files. The technology isn’t perfect, and the transcription will require some proofreading and cleaning-up, but what it can do is impressive (especially for free).
A dictation exercise for writers
Using your smartphone, open your preferred note-taking app and go for a walk. Enable to text-to-speech function and, as you walk, start talking: describe what you see and hear, narrate the events of your walk, discuss what you’re sensing, feeling, and thinking. Do this for ten minutes. When you’re done, pull open the text that you just transcribed and see how many words you just spoke in ten minutes. You might be surprised.
This little exercise illustrates the productivity power of dictation. To be sure, every word you spoke in the dictation will not appear in the final draft. But when writing a rough draft and capturing raw data, dictation will give the writer an abundance of material to work with.
Fleeting ideas, worldly sensations, dialog, facts, a narrative of events, and observations: these data points, while easily forgotten, are the ornaments of writing. Dictation will help writers record the raw data of place quickly and easily.
Dictation is not helpful, however, in generating print-ready words, sentences, paragraphs, articles, chapters, or books. Just like you would when typing, editing is an essential process of dictation.
Though, when editing, you will have thousands of words ready to sort through and cull. So, while dictation may help speed up the writing process, it may also increase editing time.