Continuous Dictation: Guidelines to Consider Before Purchasing Hand-Helds

Hand-held recorders offer increased mobility for speech recognition dictation "on-the-go." Recording into a handheld recorder is quite different than dictating directly to the computer for speech recognition. Following are some guidelines that might be used in buying and using recorders. The first issues are size and weight. How easily does the recorder fit into the hand and pocket? How heavy is it? How long does the recording period last? How much recording does it take? Does it have removable renewable media? Users need to consider if they need a digital or analog device? Digital recordings allow one to skip around the recording more and move to different segments of the recording more easily. However, the recording medium is usually more expensive and less easily transferred. One aspect of recorders that might not be so obvious to a newcomer, is the quality of the indwelling microphone. Although most recorders will allow a supplemental microphone, this adds complexity and a "non-ergonomic" form factor, which results in users carrying stub lollipop microphones in their pockets. The microphone's appropriateness for speech recognition, its noise canceling and quality differentiation, is extremely important, and may not be obvious unless seen as a decline in transcription accuracy. Another factor related to the microphone is whether the user dictates in a noisy or quiet environment. If the environment is very quiet, then many microphones are adequate. However in noisy environments, proper noise canceling features become a requirement. Another factor to look at is the method of transfer from the recorder to the computer. Does it transfer by cable? Is it to a serial, parallel, or USB port? Or does one transfer a PC card into a PC slot? Does the transfer process interfere with the quality of the recording? Some recorders have a problem in that the transfer cable may occupy the serial port of a computer, rendering it unavailable for other functions. Using a PC card to transfer information may use up the PC slot, which might be occupied by a modem card or some other PC card. If it is difficult to plug the cable into the recorder or the machine, then obviously this is a negative feature. Potential buyers of this equipment also need to consider the training issue. Each recorder requires training the speech recognition system to that particular recorder. Users should learn if the recorder has a "speak-through feature" allowing direct training through the recorder. Can the recorder be used as a microphone without recorder function? This is extremely useful since it provides a backup copy of what one is dictating. Some devices will require a different bridging software from that which is used for transcription, making the process of transcription somewhat more laborious. Others have the software transferring the recording from the recorder to the computer built into the recognition software program, which is more convenient. Using Recorders
One great advantage of dictating to a recorder is that one may concentrate on the content of the dictation. There is no temptation to look at the computer screen and make corrections. But remember, the recorder does not remove the need for clean voice input. Background noise, slurring, and mis-pronunciations are just as problematic in the recorded as in the live dictation. Another worry is that dictation onto a recorder may be lost. When you dictate live to a computer, you can save the file, and know that you have successfully completed a document or part of a document. But when a document is still in the recorder, there is a sense of anxiety whether it will be saved and transcribed correctly. In a sense, the recorder presents a new level of complexity, and places for more things to go wrong. The process of recording in different environments, using sometimes less than desirable microphones, such as those built into some of the recorders, and transferring the file from the recorder to the computer, allow many more points at which the quality of the dictation may be degraded, with consequent declines in the accuracy of recognition, and many more errors to correct. For organizations considering buying several hand held recorders for use by different people, and trying to select an appropriate brand, we recommend buying one initially, and testing it in the necessary environments before making the final choice of investing in a large number of recorders. This process will eventually save money, and allows one to see the strengths and limitations of the handheld recorders used in coordination with speech recognition systems. All in all, hand-held recorders are a great leap forward for speech recognition. Although they have been possible for many years, the advent of bridging software and comfortable user interfaces brings a new era to the exciting world of dictation speech recognition.

Peter Fleming is an independent speech recognition consultant who may be reached at aris@world.std.com or 617-923-9356.

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