Center For Practice Management, Microsoft Office, Productivity

The Power of Speech: Voice Options in MS Word

Microsoft 365 has a lot of options for interacting with the spoken word. Native tools in the Microsoft 365 office suite let you dictate a document or email. If you are used to recording your notes or capturing audio from a meeting and asking your support staff to transcribe it, now you can upload the audio file and MS Word will transcribe the text. MS Word also has a read aloud feature, which is helpful for editing your own work. Read on to learn more!


Dictate is a feature in Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint. It can be found in the software versions and the browser versions of the apps. Dictate lets you talk to your computer and converts your words to text. The button is in the Home tab in the Voice group in the Ribbon. You will need a microphone, either a headset, earbuds or use the built-in microphone in your device. Then click on the Dictate button in the Ribbon and start talking. Magically your words appear. The processing of speech to text is done in the Microsoft cloud. It keeps up well if you talk fast but may lag a bit. Like other dictation tools, you can use voice commands, like “full stop”, “new paragraph”, or “delete last 5 words”. Here is the full list of voice commands.

Office Watch has written extensively about the pros and cons of Dictate, as well as providing a step by step tutorial. You will need to set up your microphone if you have never used your microphone on your computer before.  It’s pretty good about recognizing if you have an external device though one issue that might come up is if you switch to different headsets or use different microphones you may have to go back and figure out which one it’s trying to recognize. Once you start dictating you can toggle dictate on and off with a click of the button.

One difference in functionality between the software version and the browser version of Word is that Dictate for Word in the browser lets you turn on auto-punctuate. It does a rather good job and you will not have to use as many voice commands to add periods and new paragraphs. When you turn on Dictate in the browser version of Word click on the gear icon to toggle on and off Voice Commands and Auto Punctuate. This feature is especially useful for people who have not used dictation before and are not used to using voice commands. Of course, you will need to make corrections to your document, as dictate is not perfect.

Dictate is not like Dragon Naturally Speaking. You can’t tell your entire system what to do (open Outlook, new email, etc.) though if you want to do that you can train and use Cortana, the Windows 10 voice assistant to get some of that functionality.


Transcribe is only currently available in the browser version of MS Word for Microsoft 365 subscribers. The Transcribe button is in the drop-down option in the Dictate button in the Ribbon. You take an audio file, whether a recording of a webinar, voice notes you make on your phone, recording from a deposition or even use Transcribe to do the recording, and upload it from your computer with the Transcribe tools.  For instance, if you record a Zoom meeting you can download the audio file and then upload it into Transcribe in Word online. Transcribe identifies (or tries to) different voices and labels them as Speaker 1, Speaker 2, etc.  Depending on the length of the recording it may take quite a while for the Transcription to finish. There is a 200MB limit for an uploaded file, and 300 transcription upload minutes per month. While the recording formats that Transcribe works with are listed as .MP4 .M4A .MP3 and .WAV, Office Watch discovered other formats may work including .AAC and .M4B.

Once Transcribe has finished you will see a Transcribe pane that lets you edit the transcription before you add it to a document. You can change the speaker name and the text in the editing pane. If you have a question about the text of the transcription you can click on the “play” button for each speaker section to hear what was said and make corrections. Then at the bottom of the Transcription pane you can add all or just some of the transcription to the document.

Transcription recordings are saved in MS OneDrive. If you add all the transcription to a document and then go back to make edits it will pull the audio file back from OneDrive. A link to the full transcription is inserted at the top of the document. If you open the Word document that you have added the transcription to in the Word software the link to the recording in OneDrive will still appear. You can download the recording.

Microsoft has an excellent tutorial on Transcribe and Office Watch offers a tutorial as well as some trouble shooting suggestions.

Read Aloud

If you frequently need to edit your own work the Read Aloud feature available in Word for Microsoft 365 and in Word 2019 can be extremely helpful. The Read Aloud button is in the Review Tab in the Speech group.  When you click on it a voice reads the text of the document to you. You will need headphones or speakers to hear the playback. A small toolbar will appear when you click Read Aloud. You can start, pause, rewind, and forward the playback. Tools like spelling and grammar check can only go so far. Having your document read aloud to you helps you hear repetitive words, phraseology and more.

The toolbar also lets you choose a playback speed and change the voice from the default Microsoft David to Zira or Mark. If you want other voices, or want to hear your document read back to you with a British or Australian accent you can see all the voices installed by going to Windows Settings | Ease of Use | Narrator | scroll down to Personalize Narrator’s Voice.

The Editor tools also have read back features. You can play grammar and spelling suggestions aloud. There are more things you can do with Read Aloud, as outlined by Office Watch.


If you want to give your assistant a break or reduce spend on external transcription services, the Transcribe feature can be particularly useful. If you like to dictate or just need a way to get out from behind your keyboard and pace, the Dictate feature is free to use. Read Aloud is a useful editing tool, especially if you have read and re-read something you have written until your eyes are blurry. These tools are part of the Office products so try them!