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How to Use Apple's Siri for Dictation With an iPhone or iPad

As a technical writer with a Master's Degree in Computer Science, I share my knowledge and experience for educational purposes to help you.

Press the Microphone key on the virtual keyboard and it types what you say.

Press the Microphone key on the virtual keyboard and it types what you say.

The iOS on the iPad and iPhone includes a Speech-to-Text capability that you can use for dictation. Siri recognizes your speech and types it for you. You can use Siri to write emails, fill in text fields, and even write articles.

Siri automatically converts your speech to text as you talk. You do need an Internet connection for it to work, with Wi-Fi or cellular data.

The virtual keyboard has a key with a microphone icon on it, as shown above. When you press it, Siri will type whatever you say. That key will only appear on the keyboard if Siri is available.

Siri's Speech Recognition is similar to Dragon Naturally Speaking. It even uses the same speech commands, such as "period" — "comma" — "new paragraph" — and so on.

The Difference Between Speaking and Typing

I discovered a strange phenomenon when using Siri to type for me. I found it difficult to think of creative thoughts while dictating. It’s weird because I do it all the time while talking with people. I was wondering why it's different when talking to Siri.

What I discovered is that our brain works differently when we speak, compared to when we type or write. There are different neurological pathways to control our fingers and to control our mouth when speaking.

Speaking to people face-to-face or over the phone is no problem. However, typing seems to be more natural when trying to develop creative content. We have the opportunity to think of the best way to express our thoughts while typing.

When I first started using Siri for dictation, it took some time for me to get used to the process. After several attempts, I got the hang of it. I guess it just took some rewiring of my brain cells that occurs with any mental exercise.

I discovered that it's challenging to write an article by merely speaking. You would think it's a lot easier because you don't have to bother typing. You just let the device do the typing for you. But that's not the case.

In my experience, even though Siri types for me, I still had trouble creating well-written content by speaking. I had to edit this article after dictating it, but I did discover a trick that makes it easier—as I'll explain.

How to Dictate to Siri

I found a solution to the problem with the lack of creativity when dictating. I have to imagine that the iPhone is a person. By doing that, I force my brain to use the same pathways used when speaking to people in public—or with friends over the phone.

That method works, but then another problem occurs. We sometimes make mistakes when we talk. People usually don't catch it when they listen, mainly because the human brain corrects errors automatically.

Have you ever had the experience where you find yourself saying something incorrectly, and as soon as you correct your statement, your listener responds with, "Oh, I knew what you meant."

That's because they knew what you meant and didn't need to correct you, or they didn't hear what you said wrong because their brain made them "hear" what you really meant.

The point I'm making is that when we speak, we sometimes say things incorrectly. However, we somehow pay more attention to what we say when we're typing.

So what do I do about it now that I'm writing an article by speaking? Well, I pause a lot and review each new paragraph one-by-one. Then I either go back to the keyboard to type the corrections or carefully speak a new paragraph.

You wouldn't have known it, but I had to pause and type that last part because when I spoke “new paragraph,” Siri took me literally and skipped two lines down.

That is something you need to be aware of when dictating. If you want to use commands literally, you need to type them. If you say, "The stone age period was long ago" — Siri will replace "period" with a "." and you'll end up with "The stone age. Was long ago."

A workaround is to say the command twice, but I found that it only works with a few commands and doesn't work consistently.

How Accurate is Siri?

Speech recognition is not 100% accurate. Even with perfect pronunciation, Siri seems to have a mind of its own. I have to be very careful and check that what was typed is what I said.

Sometimes Siri changes words to something that may have sounded like what I said but completely changed. Sometimes it's so different it would have been embarrassing if I hadn't caught it.

The nice thing about Siri is that it underlines words that it didn't know for sure if it got right. I find it very interesting that it can understand that there's a possibility of an error. When I click on an underlined word, it gives me alternatives, and one of them is usually the right one.

So when you're done dictating, you have to proofread the text and correct anything that's underlined. That process also helps Siri learn your speech pattern, and recognition of your way of talking improves over time.

How to Proofread Transcribed Speech

Occasionally Siri may type some silly things by misunderstanding what I said. For example, once when I was posting in a forum, and I wanted to praise someone for something she had said, I spoke:

"Your idea is better than mine."

But Siri typed:

"Your right ear is better than mine."

Siri usually gets the spelling right since she seems to know what word is meant by the overall context. But not always.

I tried an experiment with speaking the following sentence:

"How do you recognize speech?"

Siri thought I was saying:

"How do you wreck a nice beach?"

As you can see, we need to double-check everything by reading it back. Checking Siri's typing for errors is as important as checking our own typing. The problem is that sometimes when I read what Siri typed, it is such a jumble of what I said that I couldn't always remember what I originally was thinking when I said it!

The solution is to dictate in small segments and proofread each segment before continuing.

How to Handle Confusion With Commands

Keywords that happen to be commands can confuse the issue and create some very silly transcriptions. I call that Command Confusion.

For example, when I want to use the word "period" in a sentence rather than placing a period at the end of the sentence, I need to say "period" twice, as I mentioned earlier.

Siri will recognize that as meaning that I want the word "period." The same goes for all other punctuation marks, such as commas and quotes. Sometimes it’s easier to switch to the keyboard and type. As I mentioned, saying "new paragraph" will make Siri skip two lines. If you say "new line," then it will only space down once.

There is no consistency with which commands can be double spoken. Saying "new paragraph" twice will make Siri leave two blank lines instead of typing "new paragraph" in the text. But saying "period" twice will make Siri type the word "period" in the text.

Some Editing Is Always Required

If you're wondering if I had any trouble with the last paragraph, trying to get Siri to type things that are commands, you bet I did. I had to do a lot of editing on the keyboard to get all that correctly typed.

With all this nonsense going on that we need to think about while we're dictating, it distracts us from the original thought we were trying to express.

Nevertheless, when you have some thoughts that you want to get into written form quickly, it's a useful tool to use. I will continue to use it—at least for writing short notes and short replies to emails. I'll leave writing long articles to my fingers and the keyboard.

How Is Siri Different From Dictating Into a Recorder?

One can use a Human Transcription Service, where people transcribe from recorded messages.

Recording your speech with a tape recorder or MP3 dictation tool is almost the same as speaking to another person because you can keep talking as your thoughts come to your head.

You would trust the transcriber to resolve hard-to-understand sentences intelligently. But when you're using speech recognition, you have to stop every few sentences for it to catch up—that kind of breaks the train of thought.

All Things Considered

Technology continues to advance and provide new tools that we can use to accomplish more tasks in less time. Dictation can be a useful tool for writers and anybody that needs to fill out forms with data.

The possibilities are endless but include complexities one needs to deal with to achieve the most favorable results.

Questions & Answers

Question: When Siri takes dictation, where does the text appear?

Answer: The text appears in the same place where you’d be typing it yourself. The virtual keyboard appears whenever you are in a text field in an app that requires typing something. Remember that you press the mic button on the keyboard to dictate.

Question: Can you correct the errors made during dictation without using a keyboard?

Answer: You can't fix it with voice commands. However, Siri highlights text that is questionable and might not have been transcribed correctly. You need to use the keyboard after finishing your dictation to correct any of the highlighted text that came out wrong or any other errors you find.

Question: Siri changes the spelling of the name Kala to Kayla, how do I correct that?

Answer: Siri's automatic spelling correction is frustrating sometimes. I found that when you correct it, Siri learns to leave it alone. You might have to correct it two or three times before Siri finally learns your spelling was correct.

© 2012 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 08, 2019:

Ernest - I just tried it myself. I noticed an interesting result. Siri put a “-“ in the sentence as I was speaking it. But as I continued talking, I noticed it suddenly changed it to “Dash” with a capital “D”. How strange.

My only conclusion is that Siri uses artificial intelligence to try to provide the most meaningful text for the content. It bases the decision on other data found on the computer.

You were smart to think it was taking it from your contacts. That’s makes the most sense.

With my test, I am thinking it’s taking it from “seeing” your comment that I have open in my browser while I tested it in notepad.

A solution that usually works is to say the punctuation twice. Try speaking “dash dash”and see what happens. It worked for me.

Ernest on November 08, 2019:

I have a friend named dash, and whenever I try to put a dash (Punctuation mark)in a sentence Siri puts his name.I cannot figure out how to correct this – I have removed him from my contacts but this does not help.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 25, 2018:

Natalie, You mentioned some very interesting and important points. Being visual has a lot to do with it and that explains everything. I am a visual person too and I also find it easier to type my thoughts rather than dictate them.

I do it sometimes but I never write a complete article by dictation. It just doesn't work out the same.

I could never figure out why I never have a problem explaining things to people verbally. So why is it different when dictating? Maybe you might know what the difference is between dictating vs. public speaking. I welcome your thoughts,

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on December 25, 2018:

This is an interesting article. One of my rotations on internship required us to dictate our reports through the hospital system access through one of their in house phones. I used to hate it as I always panicked. You couldn't correct it unless you started over again so I'd always write it out and practice it before dictating it :) Undoubtedly not the intent of the system which I assume was to make it quicker for us to write reports to save time in a busy schedule. I've never gotten the hang of it and still hate it. I agree that for whatever reason I can't think creatively when trying to generate content that is dictated. I don't know if there's a way of getting over this as I've never really tried since it's not something I have to do. I'm also very visual and need the visual cues of seeing what I'm writing as I create it.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on May 28, 2012:

I occasionally write using my Dragon Naturally Speaking application., and have seen the things you mention. I have to be very mindful of what I am saying, and pauses between speaking sentences are common.

One thing i found it incredibly useful for, is transcribing written work. I had many,many, many pages of childhood memories written by my husband in longhand on paper tablets. He wanted to have them typed-- and I am ,by no means, a touch typist. That's when I decided to get the Dragon software-- which made the process so much easier, by just reading and making some minor edits.

I enjoyed reading about your experiences-- and I think speaking to your iPad would be easier then trying to type on the tiny keypad.