Many attorneys like to dictate letters or messages using their Android device. I use voice to text quite often to compose text messages, and when combined with Google Now’s voice commands, your phone becomes a handy personal assistant. Of course, I’ve talked about making your own dictation system with Google Drive and your Android Device. But Christian Williams wonders the following:

I wonder what punctuation can be used, if there is a command for new line or paragraph breaks.

Google is really improving Android dictation capabilities, and while you’re not going to experience Dragon-like dictation, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

STT types what you tell it to

Android’s speech to text engine is quite literal. That means, when you say, “new paragraph,” the STT engine translates and types, “new paragraph.”

Android Dictation Commands

This “stupidity” happens for essentially two reasons:

  1. STT isn’t really designed for dictation (at this time); and
  2. Google’s interested in conversational context for its STT engine.

STT design

In the grand world of speech to text, dictation — at least as attorney’s think of dictation — takes a very distant place. The reality is that most Android consumers will never use their Android devices with the intent of dictating long, legalese-filled, memos and diatribes. The true purpose, at least in the STT world according to Google, is to translate and send short bursts of text (think text messages or Twitter updates — 140 characters), rather than lengthier discourses.

When STT accomplishes that goal, 95% or more of users are happy.

The conversation is the important factor

Those happy users, sending short bursts of messages, is what Google’s trying to capture. Google’s search engine is all about conversational elements, as opposed to choppy keyword searches.

If you remember conversational, it’s easier to get engaged with STT.

What commands work?

Ultimately, figuring out what commands work, and when, will drive you bat crazy. Here’s a list of usable commands to make STT work a little better.

Here are some of the commands that are guaranteed to work:

  • Period = period (.)
  • Comma = comma (,)
  • Question mark = question mark (?)
  • Exclamation or exclamation point = exclamation point (!)
  • Apostrophe = apostrophe (‘)
  • Enter or new line = moves to a new line
  • New paragraph = new paragraph
  • Tab key = tab
  • Colon = colon (:)
  • Dash = dash (-)
  • Ellipsis or dot dot dot = ellipsis (…)
  • Ampersand = ampersand (&)
  • Asterisk = asterisk (*)
  • At sign = at sign (@)
  • Backslash = backslash (\)
  • Forward slash = forward slash (/)
  • Open bracket = open bracket ([)
  • Close bracket = closed bracket (])
  • Open parenthesis = open parenthesis (()
  • Close parenthesis = close parenthesis ())

I’m noticing there are a lot of comments regarding the performance of periods, spaces, and parenthesis.

Admittedly, there are some problems with the text recognition and performance. But remember that Google’s STT program is not a true dictation program. That means you aren’t going to be able to train STT to perform complex punctuation commands. First and foremost, as I said above, STT is conversational versus true dictation. Thus, you eliminate complex function commands for less complex commands.

For example, Jack Calhoun, wants to be able to add three periods with spaces between them — . . . — to his dictated sentences. This is a useful texting or commenting technique, especially when you’re trying to show a pause in time in thoughts or conversation. Unfortunately, that type of editing is beyond Google’s capability right now. When you try, you’re going to see something like, “. space. Space.”, as opposed to the “. . .” he’s wanting. Again, it’s a limitation of the program, and partially beyond the design purpose.

Now, as far as the issue with creating open or closed quotation marks, this is just plain stupid. Google should be able to add quotes.

Making it all work together

I’ve found that the best way to get dictation working is to have a continual conversation with your device. This means that if you pause for long periods of time, usually 2 or more seconds, STT won’t connect your command as a command. This is especially true for commands like “new paragraph” and “new line” or “enter.”

I find that if you pause only slightly, STT will spell out “enter,” rather than execute the command. It’s a really finicky function, but if you do it right dictation works well.

I also find that the accuracy of the dictation depends a lot on your location. Obviously, quiet areas in your office or home will make the speech engine more accurate. If you’re in your car or another busy location, I find the engine isn’t great, but speech to text still works relatively well.

But it’s not Dragon Naturally Speaking

If you’re dead-set on having the Dragon experience, Android’s STT will disappoint. But, if you recognize Android’s dictation for what it is, then you’ll probably be satisfied with what you’re getting. For me, Google’s dictation engine works fine when I’m sending short texts or dictating small briefs. It also helps to proofread your dictation before sending it off, since grammar and spelling errors definitely lower professionalism.

If you know of more commands that work, let me know so we can help everyone.

This post was originally published November 18, 2013.


Jeff Taylor

I'm just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I'm also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.

159 Comments

Rosemary · October 21, 2016 at 7:28 am

Everytime I use the speech command comma it spells it out rather than inserting a comma. Does anyone have a suggestion to fix this?

    Bonnie L Grathouse · March 30, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    You have to say comma immediately after the word, or it will spell it.

Sue M. J. Shpak · December 9, 2016 at 12:10 pm

For some reason I keep saying, and instead of putting that comma mark it prints out the word comma. Anybody have any ideas?

Holly Vaughn (@Cambeie) · January 7, 2017 at 4:59 pm

I noticed STT changed for me around the end of 2015. I’m disabled so I use this feature extensively. And a friend of mine noticed these changes also. All of a sudden, it started spelling out punctuation that it hadn’t before, like comma, exclamation point, colon, etc. I finally figured out a go-round by saying exclamation point twice in a row and it would always print two !!, then I could erase one. But it took me a LONG time to discover that I was just pausing too long after words before saying my punctuation that was the issue. I don’t know if this was a change in an update but my friend and I didn’t have an issue before that.

I’ve got two curses. 1: I’m from the South, so I speak slowly anyway. Despite having moved to Maine 19 yrs ago, I can’t get rid of that damn drawl! UGH. and 2. I have slow mental processing issues. Well, and 3, I am bipolar and ADHD so SUPER distractible! It doesn’t make it easy to stay focused. I lose what I’m saying all the time. So Google didn’t do me any favors.

In order to just use a comma, I feel very much like I’m prepping to start a race. I usually have to back up, then get my mind ready, concentrate on exactly what I need to say even though it’s just one word then comma, touch the button thennnnnnnnnnnn GO! It’s harder for some of us than others.

But, even though some of us aren’t lawyers (I have a degree in Electromechanical Technology from back in the day. Before I became Charlie from Flowers for Algernon.), we still enjoy writing far more than we should and we enjoy using punctuation including that pretty little semicolon. I’m very glad you posted this. At least I have this information to reference. Thank you!

Taylor Gray · January 13, 2017 at 9:25 am

can someone point me to the printed instructions on how to use talk to text from the freakin manufacturer? All the above answers are people having issues, where is the ACTUAL instructions?

    Shimmy · March 1, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Copied from the article –

    Here are some of the commands that are guaranteed to work:

    Period = period (.)
    Comma = comma (,)
    Question mark = question mark (?)
    Exclamation or exclamation point = exclamation point (!)
    Apostrophe = apostrophe (‘)
    Enter or new line = moves to a new line
    New paragraph = new paragraph
    Tab key = tab
    Colon = colon (:)
    Dash = dash (-)
    Ellipsis or dot dot dot = ellipsis (…)
    Ampersand = ampersand (&)
    Asterisk = asterisk (*)
    At sign = at sign (@)
    Backslash = backslash (\)
    Forward slash = forward slash (/)
    Open bracket = open bracket ([)
    Close bracket = closed bracket (])
    Open parenthesis = open parenthesis (()
    Close parenthesis = close parenthesis ())

    Also: smiley face ( 🙂 ) and kissy face ( :-* )

      davidmland · April 3, 2018 at 11:14 am

      Do any of those work for you? I can get period and comma, and that’s about it. ALL the rest, no matter how fluently I speak, work as described. No brackets, no braces, no quotes, and especially no em-dashes or ellipses.

      Is there a video somewhere showing someone dictating these punctuation marks and having it actually work as described with a normal Android voice keyboard (such as gBoard, Samsung’s native keyboard, etc) instead of a standalone dictation app?

        Mike Markotter · April 19, 2018 at 8:35 am

        I have found this punctuation problem to be country specific. I experience the punctuation problem in South Africa however, in New Zealand I have no problems. Using the same phone in both countries.

      davidmland · April 3, 2018 at 11:25 am

      Have you actually had luck using all of those with a normal Android voice keyboard (GBoard, Samsung’s native keyboard, etc.), as opposed to a standalone dictation app?

      I have not: Only periods, commas, and (occasionally) hyphens, and, on one joyful occasion, a colon, have worked for me, no matter how fluently I try to speak them.

      Can anyone point to a video showing someone dictating these punctuation marks and having it work? It’s one thing to make a list of things that are “guaranteed” to work, it’s quite another to prove it. 🙂

sandraeprice · February 18, 2017 at 10:32 pm

What I want to know is how to dictate quotation marks. iPhone does it, but my android doesn’t. And “open/closed quote” doesn’t work. Anyone figured out a work-around?

    R Rabinovici · February 19, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Speechnotes / Speechkeys have “open / close quotation”. Plus a punctuation keyboard.

    Sue M. J. Shpak · February 20, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I don’t have a problem with punctuation marks that works for me and I find that my, now works if I say it ahead of time. But my quotation marks won’t work. I have an Android phone.

James · March 23, 2017 at 3:14 am

OMG! 😱

Now that’s funny right there I don’t care who you are!

God bless the starving kids in New Guinea! GIT-R-DONE!

Steve · May 16, 2017 at 4:11 pm

When I say “comma”, 2 out of 3 times it spells “comma” and I have to tap the word and choose from alternates. For some reason “kama” is the first alternate. I wish I could edit the dictionary and remove both these highly unlikely choices. I can type them manually if the need ever arises. I used to edit spell-check dictionaries, why can’t we edit STT the same way?

Lori Lish · May 22, 2017 at 9:33 am

Anyone know how to get it to spell “period” instead of the end of a sentence punctuation mark? I am a teacher and often need to say “period” – I use talk to text and then have to go back every time and fix it. It is so frustrating.

    El Norris · April 8, 2018 at 1:17 am

    For those of us in 2018, finding themselves reading years old “Comment” sections . . . . if you wish to use the literal word period, or comma instead of punctuation, try saying “literal” then the word period or comma. ie: literal period, literal comma. And NO you cannot pause even a split second in between! ALSO. . . for commands maybe try saying the word “insert” before your command, ie: insert new line or insert new paragraph.

Don · June 25, 2017 at 5:34 pm

The issue that I keep running into is if I say period it spells it out.. it is not letting me give punctuation commands. Every time I say punctuation it spells it out.

sandraeprice · June 25, 2017 at 8:39 pm

I miss the most being able to say “quote” such-and-such “end quote” (iPhone did that).
I find that “new paragraph” gets me a new paragraph but erases the line just before it, which is usually “Dear So-and-so,”.
Having to speak at breakneck speed so that I get the punctuation instead of the spelled out word is annoying
Colon ALWAYS spells out, no matter how fast I say it.

For the quotation marks alone I’m probably going back to iPhone.

Chetan · June 27, 2017 at 11:59 am

When I said period it didn’t work. When I said dot it didn’t work. When I said full stop it didn’t work. And I said point it worked!

    Udayaraj Kadri · August 10, 2017 at 3:26 am

    If you have your settings in English (Indian), then point works. If its is English(UK) or (US), then period works. Indians are averse to the word period! LoL.

James Harris · September 4, 2017 at 4:20 pm

when I’m all done talking. How do i send the msg using a voice command. It’s maddening to see the word “send” “please send” “oh for the love of god send this damn thing” at the end of my text msg’s.

Fritz · October 4, 2017 at 11:50 pm

I manage to get basic interpunction when I dictate in English, but how does it work in another language? When I dictate in Dutch it doesn’t seem to recognize English commands like “period” or the Dutch equivalent

Jenny Price · November 3, 2017 at 9:41 am

Hi I know this is an old post, but you refer to and have a link to making your own dictation system. The link is broken, perhaps this is outdated. Are you familiar with any way I can get a setup where I can successfully dictate a pound sign. #…. thank you for any advice or Direction you can point me in!

Jack Calhoun · December 30, 2017 at 1:59 am

Everyone seems to be avoiding the question since all the way back in 2015, so let me go ahead and restate it and try to get an answer from someone

So what I’m trying to get done is to be able to put spaces between periods. For example,

(Target) – So anyways. . . . What did you think of my wife?”
(GoogleVTT) – “So anyways. Space. Space.. W”hat did you think of my wife?”

If this seemingly incapable task is somehow being performed by either an 8 year old first grader or some NASA- certified Nuclear physicist , CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME(US)!!!!!!?????09

Mike · January 16, 2018 at 3:00 am

Here is my experience which is a bit of a twist on this trail. I live is South Africa and around July 2017 the punctuation commands stopped working on all my devices over a period of about a week. I have tried multiple times to get period to = (.) to no avail …. here’s the twist …. I have just been to New Zealand to visit my daughter and all of a sudden the punctuation commends work 100%. I thought “at last they have resolved the problem”. Unfortunately, on my return to South Africa last week, the functions no longer work.

It is clear that the problem is either country or network specific. Have not seen this being identified before.

    JBB · February 25, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Hi Mike, also in SA with the same problem so I decided to test your information and launched my VPN and selected the UK. Immediately, punctuation started working again! I must scribble a note on the Google Play page and hope Google look into it. You too perhaps!

Aamir · January 24, 2018 at 11:52 am

I tried the same on another dictation website but few keys are not working. But the main problem for me was Full Stop command. Thank you for this post.

Shimmy · March 1, 2018 at 6:09 pm

The statistics are showing that people are using voice to text more and more commonly as time goes on. I have used it for work for the past couple of years, because it is always far quicker than typing, especially a longer lines of text. I also use it quite frequently when I’m experiencing light sensitivity and / or migraines. It’s not just for lawyers. 😉

Bill Zo · March 12, 2018 at 2:06 am

I have found that Microsoft voice commands work better van Google’s Android voice commands. I’m using Android right now because I am using a tablet in bed. But as you can see, there are some errors in Google’s voice recognition. And those errors are evident in my comment. But as I said, I do find that Microsoft Works better.

    Jeff Taylor · March 12, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Just to point out the obvious…your comment has a 97% accuracy rate. And that’s including the “error” in “Works,” given that Microsoft Works is an actual program. Without the “Works” error, it’s 98% accurate. I’d also argue that Microsoft would make your “van” error, given the distinctly similar enunciations.

    Jeff Taylor · March 12, 2018 at 6:28 am

    By the way, I typed my reply using Google’s voice to text. The errors that Google picked up are mine.

    Paul Cotter · April 19, 2018 at 8:06 am

    All I can say is keep taking the tablet Open Bracket to bed close bracket

Haywire · March 18, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Is there a speech-to-text command for once you have dictated a message and want to send it hands-free?

What is the command for “send” ?

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