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By Claire Aitchison

Like many others, the trouble with my hands (neck, and shoulders) began while I was doing my doctorate. Poor ergonomics at work and at home didn’t help, and eventually, when I had no choice, I turned to the Dragon. (Dragon is a brand of voice recognition software). Being a Dragon user is a bit like belonging to a secret club, like Alcoholics Anonymous for example. Most of the time you wouldn’t know who was, and who wasn’t a user, however Dragon users can often identify each other by examining writing produced in unguarded moments.  E-mail is the best place for identifying a Dragon user. For example Dragon users must be the only people on the planet who write ‘email’ as ‘e-mail’. Seeing this spelling is a dead giveaway – not only that the author is a Dragon user, but that they’re lazy to boot, since they never got around to resetting the default spelling.

Voice recognition software is fantastic and many people like me could not write (or work) without it. In fact when it works it is pure magic. You simply talk into the microphone and the words appear on the screen in front of you. Hands free.  Amazing! When you’re writing a thesis or a long article it really comes into its own, because it progressively learns the vocabulary and expressions of the project and error is minimal.

The downside is that it takes time to learn.  Although new programs are impressively fast, the early stages involve you training the Dragon – and it training you!  Don’t bother to take up Dragon in the final stages of writing your thesis or dissertation. Dragon can also change the way you write. Someone commented on my first Dragon made article, that my style had altered.  Dragon trains you to think aloud. These days my Dragon and I, now mostly understand each other, but not always.

Dragon users are sometimes mistaken for drunks because of their random and quite extraordinary writing peculiarities. Some personal examples include:

  • Speaking about the evolution of theses over the period of candidature Dragon wrote ‘the air pollution of faeces’.
  • Dragon wrote ‘felt some degree of our knees’ when I said ‘felt some degree of unease’

Last Friday I gave a handout with the reference to the wonderful book Becoming an academic writer: 50 exercises for paste, productive and powerful writing.  People may receive half written emails from Dragon users because if you use the word ‘send’ or anything that sounds like that as you dictate your e-mail, it disappears before your rise! (that should be ‘eyes’).

Dragon users have a multitude of such stories. My favourite one comes from someone in a writing group years ago. This student had been working late into the night to complete her chapter to send to her supervisor. She was still ‘training the Dragon’. Deeply into a paragraph on Foucault, she wanted to go to the bottom of the page to check a footnote, and so she said ‘Go to the bottom’. This is a standard instruction which should take the cursor to the bottom of page. That didn’t happen and so she repeated the instruction quite a few times with increasing volume – ‘go to the bottom go to the bottom go to the bottom you bastard’. And then she gave up. When she received her chapter back from her supervisor weeks later there was a polite note in the margin. “I don’t understand what you mean here”.

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