Writing and thinking versus speaking and thinking (aka musings on using dictation software)

I haven’t written on this blog for quite a while because I recently fractured my wrist after taking a tumble walking out on the North Downs. It’s my left wrist and I’m left-handed and as it’s a carpal bone it’s taking a long time to heal. One of the many consequences of my injury is that I am unable to hand write or use a keyboard.

After what has seemed like many frustrating weeks of tapping the keyboard with my less than competent right fingers (painfully slowly!), I am now using Dragon software. For readers not familiar with this, it’s very handy dictation software. It’s been taking a bit of getting used to but I am now finding it very helpful and I have written this piece today with Dragon.

However, dictating what goes on a page involves a very different thinking process to handwriting or tapping things out on a keyboard and I’ve been thinking a lot about this difference. For straightforward tasks like the majority of emails dictating them is great and really easy. But when I’m doing more formal academic writing, I find that the actual physical process of writing helps to advance my thinking and to resolve problems. Sometimes I find the best way of getting through writing difficulty is to move away from the computer and take a notebook and pencil and simply write, cross things out and make a mess. Speaking in the form of dictating to the computer is quite a departure and I’ve been finding it a bit more difficult. For example, I’m writing up a report on some surveys for a project I manage so it’s in an academic style. It feels as though dictating what I want to write, saying it out loud is more challenging. Of course, I know from my PhD research that speaking is believed to facilitate the development of understanding (e.g. Barnes, 1992) but this is about speaking with another person and collaborating. I am not so sure about the monologue involved in speaking to the computer. Having said all this, speaking my thoughts about what I want to write is still helpful, it’s just not what I’m used to. One of the advantages I’m finding is that it’s enabling me to write in a more informal style which although not always appropriate, has its own benefits and, it could be argued, is adding a new dimension to my writing. So once my hand is healed, I will probably still find some uses for the dictation software because I think it’s giving me access to a different kind of writing and thinking.

References

Barnes, D. (1992) The role of talk in learning, IN: Norman, K. Ed. Thinking Voices: The Work of the National Oracy Project. Oxford: Blackwell, 123-138.

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