Intro: Sick of Typing? Use Google Voice - Free!
Google has a wonderful free tool that you can use to dictate text to a document, so that you don't have to
type everything out. It's a great help if you have a lot of typing to do, or even if you find it difficult to type e.g. because of a problem with your hand.
I had a bad problem with inflamed tendons in my right hand, so I even had trouble typing a quick email or Facebook/blog comment. I could use the voice input on my smartphone, but if I wanted to use my computer, it was a problem.
My brother suggested Google Docs voice typing… and I found I could dictate my message or email onto a Google document, then just copy and paste this into my email or comments box, blog etc.
When I needed to transcribe some family history letters blog and audio/ video files, I looked at other voice to text programs and apps, and realised that the Google program, besides being free, is being continuously developed. So while it (like every other program) is by no means perfect, it was well worth learning to use (and yes, I am using Google voice typing to make this Instructable, copying & pasting the text ... just as well, as the ‘save’ function didn't work here, so I had to start again and reload all my steps when I closed my browser by mistake).
Step 1: All You Need...
All you need is a computer with Internet access and a microphone (I have Windows, but it will work on other systems.)
There are good instructions for various sytems (Mac/P.C./Android/Chrome O.S.) at How to speech-to-text in Google Docs. (Note that the web version of Google Docs now includes voice typing as a tool, so you don’t need to look for the add-on).
More information is available at Doc Editors Help - Type with your voice
Step 2: Set Up Your Microphone
You may be able to use the microphone built-in to your computer - check that it is turned on and that it is working – (Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound > Manage Audio Devices > Recording).
You could use a plug-in microphone, or a headset with a built-in microphone. A better-quality microphone should provide better accuracy, but I find my laptop’s built-in microphone works well when I am working in a quiet environment.
Step 3: Install Chrome
You need to have Chrome installed as a browser on your computer, so download and install if you don't have it already. You don't have to use it as your main browser for other purposes if you don't want to - .just don't set it as your default browser.
Here's the link for Windows - https://www.google.com.au/chrome/browser/desktop/
... or choose another option.
Step 4: Sign in to a Google Account
You need to have a free Google account; this will give you access to Google Docs and free storage on Google Drive.
You can set up a free account here.
Make sure you are signed in before you open Google Docs.
Step 5: Open Google Doc and Voice Typing
If you are using the web version (and making sure you are signed in to your Google account), go to docs.google.com (pic.1).
Open a document, then select Tools>Voice Typing to make the ‘microphone’ appear (pic.2).
Select your input language & region/dialect from the drop-down menu just above the microphone icon (pic.3).
The microphone icon will be black when ‘off’, and will turn red when you click on it to activate. Grey rings appear around the icon when the mic is picking up sounds or speech (pic. 4).
TIP – Once you’ve set up your preferred language, in future you can quickly open the voice typing function with Ctrl+Shift+S keyboard shortcut, instead of going to the Tools menu.
Step 6: Add a Heading/Name to Your Document
Dictate or type a heading at the top of your document.
You can capitalise the words in your heading by selecting the text and saying “capitalise” (Pic 1).
To make this the name of your document, click in the box at the top (e.g. currently ‘untitled document’) to Rename it (pic.1), and your heading will appear there as the name.
Step 7: Speaking So Google Understands
You need to speak clearly, even when you have selected your language/dialect for input.
Imagine you are speaking to an elderly relative with hearing problems. Speak at a reasonable pace, and articulate clearly. You may need to pause sometimes to allow Google’s programming to catch up (and you can also correct errors you spot as they appear). You may also need to repeat a phrase if Google doesn't catch it.... and sometimes you just have to type in the words you want, as some words/sounds are very similar to others.
I don't know if Google adapts to individual voices over time (there doesn't seem to be a training ‘sentence’ as there is in Android voice to text), but on the whole it is surprisingly accurate, even with names of places etc. (as of course most of them are familiar to Google)!
You may find, though, that there are some words that Google consistently mis-hears, so you can either type those in when they come up, or adapt your voice to suit Google; for instance, if I say ‘the’, pronounced as ‘thuh’, Google will type ‘that’, so I need to remember to say ‘thee’ for the.
Tip 1 - If there are consistent errors in the text (e.g. extra spaces or repeated misspelt names), you may be best to leave them for the editing stage (see Step 9 – Editing in Word). If you have just one repeated problem name, you may prefer to insert it as you go: type it in the first time, then copy it (Ctrl+C) and just ‘paste it in’ (Ctrl+V) whenever it occurs in the text as you are dictating.
Tip 2 – If you find your text is coming out looking really odd, check that your language choice (in the drop-down menu just above the microphone icon) hasn’t been changed accidentally.
Step 8: Punctuation, Formatting & Grammar
Google now provides tools so that you can use voice input for basic punctuation/formatting commands, although I find these are often not recognised …. or Google sometimes adds the punctuation, but then changes to words, so you can end up with sentences with words like ‘comma’ and ‘full stop’ instead of the punctuation.
Often, I find it more efficient to use my keyboard to add punctuation/new lines as the text I am dictating is appearing on my document, instead of trying to use the voice commands, although you can edit the whole document when you have finished (see Step 10 - Editing Afterwards in Google Docs or in Word).
It's worth trying out the voice commands to see if they work for you (and in the future their function may be improved - here's hoping!), and of course if you are working on a tablet without a convenient keyboard you may find them valuable.
You can find more information with a list of commands here: Docs Editors Help – Use Voice Commands
There is a video tutorial here: Type, edit and format with your voice in Docs—no keyboard needed
You will also find that Google may not automatically start a sentence with a capital letter, so you either have to select the first word and tell Google to ‘capitalise’ it, or change the letter manually with your keyboard.
Google will capitalise your first word whenever you turn your microphone back on after stopping for a while or switching apps (which is fine if you always resume at the start of a sentence); and it will also sometimes capitalise odd words even in the middle of phrases where it ‘thinks’ they may be appropriate. You’ll find lots of double spaces in the text, too, which can be edited out later (see Step 9 - Editing in Word).
You need to watch the grammar when you are dictating with Google, as it will often confuse there/ their, it's/its, you’re/your, etc. You may need to edit as you go, or wait until you've finished dictating and then save as or transfer to a Word doc. and use Word grammar and spelling hints.
Step 9: Editing ‘on the Run’ - Shortcuts
Although Google Docs doesn't provide the full range of easily accessible editing options you would find in Word docs, you can use many of your normal keyboard shortcuts to quickly edit.
The shortcuts I mainly find useful are:
Cut (Ctrl +X),
Undo (Ctrl +Z),
Re-do (Ctrl +Y),
Increase Font size (Ctrl+>),
Select All (Ctrl +A)
You can find a full list of Google Docs keyboard shortcuts for PC, Mac and Chrome OS at
Step 10: Editing Afterwards in Google Docs or in Word
As well as using the formatting options in the Google Docs tool bar, there is a basic. drop-down Editing menu at the top right.
You can correct errors directly in the document, or you may find it more thorough and easier to use M. S. Word (download your document as a Word doc., or copy and paste the text into a Word doc. on your computer).
For punctuation errors where words have been inserted instead of the symbols, such as ‘comma’ instead of ‘,’ you can do a ‘Find and Replace’ process either in Google Docs or Word:
- Select all your text (by highlighting -or use Ctrl+A keyboard shortcut)
- Open ‘Find and replace’ (in the edit menu - or use Ctrl+H keyboard shortcut)
- Type the word/s you want replaced into the ‘find’ space
- Type the symbol you want to use into the ‘replace’ space
- Click the ‘Replace all’ button.
You can use this process to replace unusual words or names which have been misspelt throughout the text (e.g. I need to replace Google’s ‘witchy proof’ with the actual name Wycheproof throughout my family history documents - see pic.3).
You can also use it to remove unwanted double spaces in the text (see Quickly Strip Double-Spaces from Word Documents for more detailed instructions), and to remove odd spaces after brackets/parentheses etc.).
Step 11: Transcribing From Audio or Video Files
This can be an invaluable process, but it can take a bit of juggling.
You can't transcribe directly from the audio in your files; you need to dictate the contents to Google to transform it into text.
If you can play the files on a separate device, e.g. a handheld voice recorder/camera/phone or separate computer- especially with headphones attached - you can just dictate to Google Docs on your main computer as usual.
However, if the file is on the same computer that you are using for your Google Docs, it's a bit trickier as you have to switch between the two apps on the one computer.
Here's how I manage it:
Open your audio/ video file, and reduce the window (drag in from a corner) so that it fits to one side of your screen.
You will also need to squash your Chrome browser window (with Google Docs) in from the sides so that it fits on the other side of the screen.
Here's the layout I use on my laptop - see pic.1 (drag the video/audio window to one side and your Chrome browser window to the other, and drag the edges in so they fit side-by-side, then you can easily activate them in turn). The Google Microphone goes off when you activate the video/audio (and even if you turn the Google Microphone back on, the audio goes faint)... but you can leave the audio going to listen to the next bit while you fix up the text you've just dictated.
One problem with switching between two apps (Google Docs and your computer's audio/video player) is that when you click the Google microphone back on, any text that you dictate will start with a capital letter, regardless of whether it actually should. This can be very annoying, so try to restart your Google microphone at the start of a sentence or at a name, so that you don't have to go back and change the capital letter to lowercase. (You can always select a section of text that has odd capitals, and either select Format >Capitalisation >lower case from the Google Doc menu bar - see pic. 2 - or edit in Word doc. later).
Tip - if you are recording audio or video to later transcribe, it helps to record in short clips and label them clearly with the subject and date (note that portable voice recorders may not register the date in the file as a camera would).
Step 12: Transcribing Text From an Image.
If you are transcribing from, e.g., a scan of a handwritten document, (viewing it on your computer screen) you will need to resize both the image of the document and the Google Document browser window so that they will both sit side by side on your screen.
I find if I have a wide document, I sometimes need to make the side margins of my document larger than normal so that I can squash in the sides of the window a fair bit and still show all the text in the narrow space – this leaves room for my image to stay a reasonable size so that I can read the writing on it.
You will encounter the same problem with switching apps as with audio files – the Google Doc will always capitalise the first word when you switch back – but if you get your layout right you won’t have to switch to the image viewer too often. Alternatively, you may be able to view the image on another device if you have one with a large enough screen.
Step 13: Saving Your Document
Your Google document will automatically be saved in your Google Drive account (as long as you are connected to the Internet, and signed in).
In your Google Docs, you will see a list of recent documents; you can arrange them as you like.
(Tip - To open a new document, click on the red circle (with + sign) at bottom right).
You may want to download your Google document to your computer: File >Download as >Microsoft Word (.docx) - (see pic 2). Alternatively, you could highlight/copy/paste the text onto a Word document on your computer if you wish.
Of course, you can also copy & paste your dictated text into an email, blog, Facebook post, comments box, etc.; just make sure you check the content before you hit Send or Enter, as Google’s grammar is often incorrect, and the frequent misheard or misinterpreted words can make for some very odd and sometimes inappropriate segments in your text!
Step 14: Using Google Docs Offline
When you are signed into your Google account, you can elect to make your files or individual documents available for use offline.
Step 15: More Help
Need more help?
There is a help forum just for Google Docs: Google Docs Help Forum
Or if you have comments or queries, please feel free to add them in the comments below!