Why You Should Hire An Editor #1,248: Speech-Recognition Software

by EilisFlynn

Elizabeth Flynn, who writes as Eilis Flynn, is an editor and writer. Find her on social media.

March 10, 2018

One of the tools now available to writers is speech recognition software, and it is a boon. It also turns out to be faster: a study by Stanford University, the University of Washington and Baidu, the Chinese Internet company, showed that for handheld devices the spoken word was three times faster than entering on a small keyboard.

Franck Dernoncourt, a research scientist at Adobe Research, has said that the average typist works from 50 to 80 words per minute, but that the speech recognition rate is more than 100 words per minute. If you consider that a TED talk averages 163 words per minute, you can see why writers are turning to speech recognition software like Dragon or LilySpeech. I have clients who use this and are very pleased how quickly they can move through their manuscripts.

But… just as anybody who has picked a fight with Apple’s Siri knows, speech recognition isn’t perfect.

And the software errors I catch can be very amusing.

For instance, one writer whose manuscript I edited wanted to describe how one character was mimicking another. The speech-recognition software, however, tripped up on the word emulate. Having one character immolate another would have certainly heated the story up. The software meant well – but didn’t capture the meaning.

More recently, a writer was describing a scene with brandy. Brandy is a lovely beverage. It is smooth, provides welcome warmth, and, depending upon the fruit from which it’s distilled, generates a lovely bouquet. It’s often served in distinctive glassware meant to convey that aroma.

Alas, the speech-recognition software my client used substituted the verb “sniffer” (which the character certainly could have been, inhaling the rich fragrance of the spirit) for the noun “snifter” – the correct name of the stemware containing the auburn liquid in question.

My favorite may be how speech-recognition software mangled a word common primarily to romance writers. The task for the software was further complicated by the author’s regionally specific accent – and possibly the Old West setting of the novel. That’s the only explanation I have for why “bustier” escaped the author’s lips – and wound up as “buzzard beak” in the manuscript I was editing.

Or maybe some cowboy in the Old West is actually excited when he sees buzzard beaks coming at him.

Writers – use whatever tool makes you do the work best and fastest. But remember that your editor is every bit a part of your finished product as is its cover, its copyright page, its binding, and its placement in your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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