Tips For Using Dragon Successfully

Sometimes it's surprising to find that people go out and spend a lot of money on software, then don't do the things that will make it work well. Here are a few tips from the support calls we've gotten that are likely to improve your experience with Dragon.

1. If you are purchasing Dragon for business use, get training! Yes, we know: you talk, you see your words appear, you think it's easy to use. Half right. Easy to use, not so easy to use well - and that's where your real return-on-investment comes from. Remember how your mom or dad took you out when you were 14 or so and let you drive the car around a parking lot? You could steer it, make it go forwards and backwards, stop it -- but did that mean you could drive? Of course not. Same with Dragon.

2. You have a full user guide on the DVD. Take a look at it. You can browse to it and print it out if you like, or just keep it for reference. It shows you how to improve your accuracy, as well as a host of other things.

3. Make sure you've chosen the right microphone setup in the New User Wizard. The default setting is "Microphone plugged into the mic-in jack." If you're using the microphone that came with your software, this is incorrect, because the mic in the box is a USB microphone. If you've purchased a Bluetooth or wireless microphone, you're not using a USB mic anymore. If you're just starting out, be sure to drop the "Dictation Source" droplist on the first screen of the New User Wizard and choose your microphone type. If you're switching over after having already completed the New User Wizard, you have to click the "Source" button in the "Open User Profile" dialog (under "Profile" ) and choose "New." Select your new source from the dropdown list. Do the same thing for any other new dictation source you add, like recorders. OR.. You can select "Add audio source to current user" from the Profile menu - it does the same thing.

When you're dictating, the source you're actually using will show up after your name on the Extended Tool Bar. If you're using a USB adaptor and the Extended Tool Bar says "Mary (Mic-In)," you're likely to have problems. (If your name is Ed, you have different problems.) It's as if you told Dragon you'd be talking into the front door of the house, so Dragon goes there and presses its ear up to the front door, and meanwhile you've decided to talk in the back door upstairs.

4. MAKE CORRECTIONS ! ! ! This is one of the two biggest things you can do to improve accuracy. Dragon has a rather average picture of your voice following enrollment - you have to teach it the idiosyncrasies. If you don't correct misrecognitions, it will be making the same mistakes a year from now that it's making on the first day. Making corrections does not mean taking your mouse and crossing out something and typing in the right word. It means saying "Correct " and using either the Spell dialog or the Correction menu. Doing this improves the software: Dragon is "smart" software, and if you correct it when it gets things wrong, it gets better and better. If you don't, it won't. Just resign yourself to making a lot of them for the first week or two, and if you do, you won't have to correct much after that. (It's more of an investment than an ongoing chore.)

5. Add words to your vocabulary. Dragon ONLY knows the words in its vocabulary. If you have retained the option (it's checked by default) that says "Add corrections to vocabulary," correcting or spelling an individual word (a name, say) will (at least sometimes - nothing's perfect) insert that word into your active vocabulary if it's currently in the background vocabulary. If you have not, it won't. If it's not in the background vocabulary, it won't, either. And it won't understand it in the future no matter how many times you spell it or train it. So if your partner's name is an unusual one, and you'll be using it a lot, add it to the vocabulary. You may be seduced by the fact that after you spell/correct a name, Dragon gets it right when you use it again. Dragon has a little short-term memory, but when you shut down the program ... it's gone.

6. Run electronic documents YOU have written through the vocabulary builder. If you go to the Improve My Accuracy (under Help) and choose "Learn from specific documents" (listed under Personalize Your Vocabulary), you will be given the opportunity to have Dragon analyze your documents, pull words out that it finds that are not in the vocabulary, analyze your writing style. It's a quick and dirty way to add words -- but look the list of proposed additions over, and don't add commonplace words that are only on the list because they are capitalized as the result of having been found in a heading, or words that are typos. The more important thing is that Dragon will analyze the way you write -- the frequency with which you use certain words, for example, and the context in which you use them. For this reason, it's important to choose only documents that YOU have written -- not your officemate. The analysis is a little like card-counting in blackjack: it sort of stacks the deck in favor of recognizing that pattern when it confronts it again. It's a small thing to do that many people skip, which is a shame because it's remarkably effective.

You can also run the Vocabulary Optimizer to achieve the same effect.

7. Don't speak the second you turn on the microphone. The mic needs a couple seconds to initialize - if you don't provide it, you'll find the first couple words of your dictation cut off every time. You might say something like "Testing" before you start, then wait for the word "Testing" to appear in your document before proceeding.

8. Make every word you dictate a complete word. You can speak very quickly with Dragon, but it has to be clear. Dragon doesn't understand "implied" words. Implied words are like when you start out a sentence "The patient came in today....", but instead of saying that, you say "[Th] PAtient," thinking that Dragon will know that because you inserted your tongue between your teeth and breathed a little, you meant the word "the." It won't. That sort of dictation will produce "Patient came in today..."

9. Make yourself some macros. The half-hour you spend to make a few macros to automate the things you say ten times a day will repay you that half-hour a thousand times over. Aside from Advanced Scripting, macros can be made by anyone with the IQ of a piece of celery.

10. Use playback as a diagnostic tool. If Dragon seems to misrecognize a lot, use the playback feature to hear what Dragon is hearing, especially if the "voicebar" (the bar next to the microphone icon that is alternately green and yellow) shows a lot of red. Highlight some text and say (or click, under Sound), "Play that back."
You'll hear your own voice dictating, but listen to see if there's a lot of static, humming, or other sound problems. Those can really interfere with Dragon's ability to understand you. You might have a bad microphone (they don't
last forever), or a lot of internal noise in the machine (laptops can be susceptible to this). But you won't know unless you listen.

If you see a lot of red in the voicebar, it probably means the volume is too loud - try moving the mic away from your mouth a little. It could mean you have a lot of "noise" in your system (e.g. static, humming), but you can only find that out by listening to the playback.

11. Use the Results box the same way. The Results box is that little box that floats around in which you see all your words appear before they get plunked onto the page. It can be used quite successfully as a tool to see what's going on inside Dragon. If you say a command, and see the words "select shoes" appear in the Results box, but the box is not outlined in dark blue, you know that it heard you correctly but is not recognizing what you said as a command. That can be due to one of a couple different problems. If you look at the Results box and don't see "select shoes" in it, but you do see words you said 30 seconds ago in it, that means that Dragon - which processes all the audio in order - hasn't gotten to your command yet in the audio stream, so saying it again won't help - you just have to wait. If you say "select shoes" and you see "and and and the and" (or similar gibberish) in the Results box, you very likely have a corrupted voicefile.

If you don't see a Results box - only a whirling green icon - it's because its visibility has been turned off (by default) in the Options. You can re-enable it by going to Tools > Options > View tab, and checking the box that says “Show preliminary results.” If you want, you can also check "Anchor," which will allow you to drag the Results Box out of your way and pin it in a corner of your screen if you want. (It has a habit of hovering right over where you're dictating.)

12. Learn how to restore your voicefiles. Voicefiles can become corrupted - turning off your computer before you shut down Dragon is a good way to do that. If you see gibberish (and hear gibberish on playback), or see a message that "an internal recognizer error has occurred," or a message that "the selected vocabulary is not compatible" (even though you used it fine yesterday), or a message that "a COM error has occurred," you have corrupted voicefiles. In that case, go to Dragon (or NaturallySpeaking) > Manage Users > the Advanced button >Restore user. Do not keep opening and closing Dragon and saving your voicefiles each time - after 5 saves, you will start saving the bad over the good in the backup folder.

13. Hold on to your discs and your serial number! You never expect it to happen, but one day, BOOM, your hard drive goes south, and now you can't find your discs to reinstall Dragon, or if you have your discs, you don't have the serial number. Or maybe you get a new computer, and you have the upgrade, but not the previous disc to insert during the installation process. No, we do not keep track of the S/N for you. If you lose your discs - and especially if you lose the serial number - you're plumb out of luck.