How Windows 10 dictation works

While dictation within Windows 10 is easy, editing is a pain.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

Dictation within Windows has lived in the shadows for years. Finally, with Windows 10 and the Fall Creators Update, dictating text is almost as easy as talking to Siri, Cortana, or Google.

Within Windows 10, you can turn on dictation with just a keystroke. It’s easy. I wrote this whole article with just my voice. I edited it, though, with my mouse and keyboard. It’s all part of Windows 10’s new emphasis on modality: first touch, then writing with a pen, voice control, and finally dictation.

Dictation has lived within Windows for years, though it’s been confined to the Control Panel, where users had to set up and configure dictation capabilities manually before they could actually use it in the real world. Within the upcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, however, it’s been brought front and center. (Note: We used the Windows Insider builds to test. We do not expect the dictation features to change much before the Fall Creators Update officially ships, but if they do, we’ll update this story.)

dictating in word capture Windows 10 Fall Creators Update dictation Mark Hachman / IDG

Dictation works in whatever text field you’d like, whether it be Word or a web app.

Launching dictation within Windows 10 is a snap. The WIN + H key instantly gets it started. That brings up a small window, which is actually the handwriting panel compressed to a single line. All dictation and navigation is completed orally, although you can stop at any time. Unfortunately, if you pause your dictation to edit using your keyboard, you’re forced to re-enter the WIN + H hotkey to resume dictation. In addition, if you pause for, say, five seconds, dictation stops automatically. A small beep signals when dictation begins or ends.

Dictation is easy within Windows; editing isn’t

Windows’ inability to switch easily between typing and dictation is probably the weakest element of the whole thing, because the accuracy of Windows dictation isn’t quite enough for you to be able to type with your voice routinely. While Windows is smart enough to occasionally recognize the proper context of (big W) “Windows,” it flubs other, seemingly commonplace words. Even 90-percent accuracy means that you’ll have to correct something manually in nearly every sentence.

Granted, the quality of your microphone plays a role, as does background noise. I used a Surface Pro 4 and a quiet conference room (albeit with air conditioning) as a test environment, and the overall experience was average at best. 

Why? Because navigation is a pain. Trying to memorize the list of Windows commands, and use them in the context of a sentence, takes some doing. Here’s just a few: 

  • Say “press backspace” to inject a backspace character
  • Say “clear selection” to unselect the text that has been selected
  • Say “move to the start of the word” to move the insertion point to the start of the word
  • Say “go after <word or phrase>” to move the cursor to the first character after the specified word or phrase

...and so on. Microsoft says you can say punctuation words like “comma” and they will be inserted as punctuation, but that just isn’t always the case. Specialized characters, such as ellipses and em-dashes, simply aren’t recognized. And certain commands, such as “delete that” didn’t work regularly. In that case the only choice you have is to pull out your keyboard and start hitting backspace repeatedly. 

Unfortunately, that creates a sort of all-or-nothing scenario, where one has to either type or dictate—there’s no back-and-forth. Windows allows me to pull out a pen  and scroll or jot a note anytime I choose. Windows needs to do the same thing with speech, enabling a user to switch on the fly.

Is Windows better than competing software packages, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking? No, not by a long shot. Windows simply doesn’t have the accuracy that a professional package like Dragon does, though it does pretty well in a pinch. I actually expected more of Windows, as I expected the speech engine to be based upon the way in which you speak to Cortana. Instead, it appears to be built upon the traditional dictation engine that’s been in Windows for the last decade. Either the accuracy need to improve, or some training functionality needs to be built in. 

There’s one big thing going for Windows 10, though: It’s free. Honestly, when we text or type a message to a friend, we don’t expect the accuracy to be perfect. Likewise, within Windows, a little bit of inaccuracy here or there doesn’t make much of a difference. Dictating this story, though, where accuracy is critical, was a somewhat painful experience. If Microsoft believes dictation to be a productivity tool, the overall experience needs to improve.  

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags MicrosoftWindows 10

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?