Set up voice dictation on your computer and give your fingers a break

Speak easy.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on November 6th, 2017.

Typing can cause a serious health problem: repetitive strain injury affects hundreds of thousands of people each year. Whether you’re worried about damage or just want to give your fingers a break, voice dictation can help. Thanks to steady improvements in voice-recognition tools, having a computer interpret your spoken text is not as frustrating as it once was. In fact, depending on your typing speed, it may be quicker for you to speak your text than to type it. Plus, you don’t even need additional hardware—your computer’s built-in microphone should be more than capable of picking up your words.

Whatever operating system and software you’re using, you can find a variety of free tools and commercial packages to translate your voice into written words. In this guide, we’ll focus on three of the most popular word processors: Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and Google Docs.

On Windows: Microsoft Word

If you’re using Microsoft’s word processor on a Windows computer, you have several options.

The integrated voice-recognition service will work on any Windows application, including Microsoft Word. To launch it, type “windows speech recognition” into the search box on the taskbar, then click the app when it appears. The first time you run this software, you’ll need to teach the utility to recognize your voice. Windows has a short step-by-step wizard that will walk you through the process. Over time, the system should get better at recognizing your voice, and you can also train it by right-clicking on the Speech Recognition console, choosing Configuration, and clicking Improve Speech Recognition.

Once you’ve completed the initial voice-recognition setup, you’ll always be able to launch the utility from the taskbar—just find the microphone icon to the left of the clock. With Speech Recognition, you can control all kinds of computer actions, including launching programs and searching your local drive using only your voice. If that appeals to you, you can set the program to launch automatically whenever you start Windows—just right-click on the app, choose Options, and hit Run at Startup.

[Related: How to control your computer with your voice]

To use the service with Microsoft Word, pull the Speech Recognition console onto the screen, open Word, and move the cursor to the part of the document that you’re currently editing. Then click the microphone button and start talking. Click the microphone again to turn off voice dictation. You can navigate with spoken phrases: say “correct that” to make changes and “go to the end of the sentence” to move around within the text, for example. For a full list of all the supported commands, including ones for punctuation and formatting, head to the Microsoft support document.

You can also try a third-party program. Right now, the clear market leader is Dragon. Thanks to many years of development, it boasts a fantastic level of voice dictation accuracy, and it fits neatly into all of your Windows applications, including Word. If you want full control over your computer with your voice, and Microsoft’s tool just isn’t performing as well as you want, then try one of the Dragon packages. You can get a home version for $200, or pony up for the professional version, which has added abilities like full capabilities to create and edit spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel, for $500.

On macOS: Microsoft Word and Apple Pages

As with Windows, macOS includes an integrated voice dictation system that works with any program, including Microsoft Word and the proprietary Apple Pages word processor.

To set it up, click on the Apple menu, select System Preferences, then choose Keyboard and Dictation. Turn dictation on, and check the Enhanced Dictation box, which lets you use the feature when you’re offline. Next, open up a document in either Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. Either choose Start Dictation from the Edit menu or press the shortcut button. By default, this shortcut is set to be two taps on the Function key, but you can change it in the Dictation pane of the keyboard options.

[Related: Get the most out of your Mac with these 24 hidden settings]

Then simply say what you want to type. To add punctuation, say the name of the character you want to use. While you’re dictating, you can also use commands like “new line” and “caps on.” For a full list, review the Apple support page. To stop dictating, click the microphone icon on the dialog box at the bottom of your screen, or press the Function key once.

If you’re not happy with this integrated solution, you’ll have limited options. Third-party alternatives are scarce, and while software developer Nuance did have a Dragon version for Mac, the company announced it was discontinuing it in October of 2018. Your best bet, is to go for the following solution.

Turn speech to text on any operating system: Google Docs

For either a Windows or a macOS computer, you can set up voice dictation on Google Docs with the same straightforward process. As Docs is a web-based app, you won’t need to install any extra software. Just use whichever browser you prefer.

Start by opening a Google Docs document on the screen, selecting the Tools menu, and choosing Voice typing. You can also hit a keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+S on Windows, and Cmd+Shift+S on a Mac. A new red microphone button will appear on screen and voice dictation will automatically begin. If you haven’t done so already, your browser will ask permission to access your microphone—click Allow and Google Docs will activate the voice typing mode.

[Related: If you use Google Docs or Sheets, scripts and macros will simplify your life]

Google’s voice-recognition system is very accurate, so you shouldn’t have to fix too many words or characters. If the system isn’t sure about something you said, it will underline the phrase in question, and you can right-click on these words to see a list of alternative suggestions. To insert punctuation like periods, commas, exclamation points, or question marks, or add new lines or paragraphs, just say so.

In addition, Google Docs supports a host of voice commands for selecting and formatting text, adding and editing tables, moving around the document, and more. For a full list of the commands, head to the Google Docs support page. When you’re done dictating, click the microphone button again or say “stop listening.”