Dictation: Meaning, Preparation

Dictation: Meaning, Preparation

What is Dictation?

To save time, the businessperson learns to dictate communications. By dictating, he or she hands over the most time-consuming part of communication, the mechanical acts of writing and typing, to someone else.

Besides saving time, dictation also frequently results in a more effective style; the communication tends to be more conversational, without the stodgy over-formality that creeps into so much business writing. Like most valuable shortcuts, dictation isn’t as easy as it might seem.

The person who can sit in front of a stenographer or a dictation machine and dictate fluent, well-organized communication has had to work long and hard to develop the skill. One’s first attempts at dictation are usually marred by an apparent paralysis of the vocal cords. The presence of a stenographer with a pencil poised or a machine with a live microphone can be intimidating.

Even after the initial “stage fright” is overcome, dictated communications still tend to ramble, lacking conciseness, unity, or any other semblance of an effective style. A good deal of practice is necessary. Also necessary is a firm grasp of the principles of effective communication, the principles to which this book has been devoted. In time, after many frustrating attempts, the dictating skill takes shape.

From then on, the skill reaps dividends. The ability to dictate is becoming increasingly imperative in business and industry. Many companies insist that their employees dictate their communications; workloads are just too heavy to allow for pencil and paper.

And the requirement that you dictate in no way lessens the expectation that your communications will be fluent, well-organized, and effective.

Effective dictation is a process of three phases: preparation, actual dictation, and post-dictation responsibility.

Preparation for Dictation

You cannot dictate effectively unless you do some planning.

Be sure that you’ve clearly defined the purpose of the communication to be dictated. If it’s a letter or a memo, determine precisely what reactions you want from its recipient and keep those desired reactions uppermost in your mind.

With your purpose clearly in mind, determine the order in which your facts and ideas should be presented. You may even want to jot down a brief outline to help you in dictating longer letters and memos. When evoking reactions, remember the strategy patterns provided in this book elsewhere. When dictating a report, you will surely want an outline to guide you.

If your communication is in answer to one you’ve received, reread the communication you are answering. If you’re dictating a report or a memo at the written request of someone, reread that request. If the request was oral, recall its details as clearly as you can.

Visualize your intended reader. A communication is always more effective when written with its specific audience in mind.

If, as you go through these steps, a key phrase—the right way of saying something—pops into your mind, don’t trust yourself to remember it when you need it. Jot it down right away.

Dictation Itself

Only after these preparatory steps are you ready to dictate effectively. Effective dictation is pretty much the result of good habits. So-

Relax. Your prose will sound unnatural unless you feel natural dictating it.

Speak in your natural voice at a fairly constant speed, a little slower than your normal rate. (Average speech is about 120 words per minute; slow down to about 90 for dictation.)

Enunciate clearly, even to the point of sounding artificial, when you have to distinguish between words that sound very much alike—such as affect (say aah-fect) and effect (sayee-fect).

Spell out anything that might confuse the person doing the transcribing—the names of persons, companies, and places, for instance, and words that sound the same as other words, such as coarse/course, through/I threw, or cite/site/sight.

Dictate all but the most obvious punctuation marks. At the end of a sentence, say period (or question mark or exclamation point). At the end of a paragraph, say new paragraph. Wherever you want a semicolon, a dash, or quotation marks, say so. (But do trust the stenographer to insert the most obvious punctuation marks, such as commas in a series or between city and state. You don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence.)

When you catch yourself making a mistake, stop to correct it immediately. If you don’t, you’ll probably forget it until you see it in type, then you’ll have to waste a lot more time revising it.

Be sure to dictate to your stenographer any instructions regarding attachments, enclosures, and copies and any special instructions about format that aren’t self-evident.

Do not hesitate to stop for a readback (or playback if you’re using a machine) at any time during dictation if you think you could have said something more effectively or if you want to hear the “flow” of what you’ve already dictated.

A short letter might sound like this when dictated by an executive into a dictating machine for a secretary:

Example of Dictation in Dictating Machine
Jean type the following letter please with two copies the extra copy going to Paul Martin our eastern regional consultant the letter goes to mister Anthony Rowan that’s r-o-w-A-n 501 Fifth Avenue New York New York 10026 Dear Mister Rowan It is with great pleasure that we add your name to the list of patrons whose contributions correction Jean make that generous patrons whose contributions have kept alive the work of our foundation period new paragraph At eight thirty on the evening of October 4 no correct that it’s October 5 our executive staff will be meeting at. the Centurion Plaza that’s capital C-e-n-t-u-r-i-o-n capital P plaza in New York period I would be pleased no strike pleased Jean I would be pleased no strike pleased Jean I would be delighted to have you attend as my guest so that we may discuss comma among other things comma our plans for the park site s-i-t-e in Texas period A late supper will be served colon pheasant under glass I believe period new paragraph Again let me express our thanks for your thoughtful support comma and our hope of seeing you in New York period Very truly yours Jean please get this out as soon as possible I should have gotten to it last week thanks that’s all

After Dictation

It’s the secretary’s job to transcribe your dictated communication into final form, but it’s your responsibility to ensure that the secretary does it well. The communication goes out over your signature, not the secretary’s. The impression it makes on its reader will be attributed to you. The faith you have in your secretary’s ability will, of course, determine how closely you check a final draft, but you should always make the following checks:

Read the transcribed draft carefully.

Insist on accuracy, neatness, and mechanical excellence. Do not hesitate to have an unacceptable draft retyped, whether the mistakes are the transcriber’s or your own. Set your standards high; any good secretary will respect you for them.

When an acceptable final draft is ready, sign it. Your signature signifies your responsibility for the document.

The letter dictated to Anthony Rowan in New York should look like this in final draft:

Example of After Dictation of a Letter
September 2, 19

Mr. Anthony Rowan
501 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10026

Dear Mr. Rowan:
It is with great pleasure that we add your name to the list of generous patrons whose contributions have kept alive the work of our foundation.

At 8 : 30 on the evening of October 5, our executive staff will be meeting at the Centurion Plaza in New York. I would be delighted to have you attend as my guest so that we may discuss, among other things, our plans for the park site in Texas. A late supper will be served:

Again let me express our thanks for your thoughtful support, and our hope of seeing you in New York.          

Very truly yours,
Foster Carmichael
Assistant Director
FC :jw
copy: Paul Martin

Some Don’ts About Dictating

Dictation is a process involving two individuals. When you dictate, have consideration for that other person.

Don’t waste time with your own poor planning.

Don’t assume that the other person can read your mind or will understand all the technicalities about which you may be dictating.

Don’t neglect to praise your secretary for work well done. Dictation is a process of economy, employing the talents of two specialists working as a team. All the rules of effective team effort must be in force if the team is to be successful.