You can type your documents the old-fashioned way in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but dictating your text can be a handier option. Maybe you prefer to dictate your words as they occur to you, or you require a feature with more accessibility than the typical keyboard can provide. Microsoft offers several different dictation tools and features; which one you can use depends on the flavor of Office you run.

Certain versions of Office programs include a built-in Dictate tool you can access through an icon on the Ribbon. Dictate is based on a Microsoft Garage project that was developed to test dictation across Office applications. The standalone add-on is no longer active and will stop working as of Oct. 15, 2019, but the tool itself has graduated to be included in several Office programs.

Dictate works similarly across the board, but let's just check it out in the programs where it's available: Microsoft Word for Office 365, PowerPoint for Office 365, the free Word for the web, the free OneNote for the web, and the free OneNote app for Windows 10.

If you have Word for Office 365, launch the program and open a document. Position your cursor where you want to start dictating. Click on the Dictate icon on the Home Ribbon. The first time you do this, Word may ask for permission to use your microphone. Grant that permission. You can now start speaking.

You can dictate words, punctuation, and specific actions such as "new line" and "new paragraph." You may want to dictate just a few sentences or a single paragraph at a time and then stop so you can review your text for any mistakes. To stop dictating, press the Dictate icon again.

Let's check out Word for the web. Go to Office.com and sign in with your Microsoft Account. At the main Office screen, click the icon for Word. Create a new document or open an existing document. Click the Dictate icon on the Home Ribbon and dictate your text.

When finished, click the icon again to turn off Dictation. To see other languages available for dictation, click the Down arrow next to the Dictate icon and choose the language you'd like to use.

The Microsoft Office Dictate tool doesn't work with Excel or earlier versions of Office, and Dictate doesn't offer a way to easily correct mistakes, add words to a dictionary, or manage settings.

An option that can resolve these limitations is the speech-recognition tool built directly into Windows 10. Use this feature in any Windows program, including all your Office applications.

Open a program like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. This works with all versions of Office, including Office 365, Office 2019, and prior versions. Hold down the Win key and press H. A dictation toolbar pops up. You can now begin dictating your text. As with the Dictate tool, you can dictate punctuation and specific actions.

The tool allows you to dictate actions for moving around the screen. For example, you can say "tab" to move to the next cell in the column, or "new line" to move to the next cell in the row. You can also say things like "Undo that" to erase the last word you dictated. Microsoft provides a full list of phrases and actions you can dictate with Windows speech recognition.

Finally, you can always try a third-party voice-dictation program that works with Office, other applications, and Windows in general. These products typically cost a few bucks, but they provide more power and flexibility than you'll find in Microsoft's free and built-in tools.

One such option is Nuance's Dragon program, which costs $150 for the Home Edition and $300 for the Professional Individual Edition. Another option is Braina, which offers a free lite version and a pro version for $49 per year or $139 for lifetime use.

Surviving a long and varied career in publishing, advertising, and IT, Lance Whitney now wears a few different technology hats. By day, he's a journalist, software trainer, and sometime Web developer. By night, he's asleep. These days, he writes news stories, columns, and reviews for CNET and other technology sites and publications. He's written tw... See Full Bio

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