Why You Should Dictate Your Search, Not Type It

FILE PHOTO: Microsoft Corp's Bing search engine is seen on a computer in this illustration picture taken January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Microsoft Corp's Bing search engine is seen on a computer in this illustration picture taken January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)


  • A study finds that people get better results when they speak rather than type

Does it make a difference if you dictate rather than type your query for an online search?

The answer, according to a recent paper, is yes. The researcher found that when study participants dictated their response into a search engine, they tended to give the query more forethought, and as a consequence the queries were more detailed and people were more satisfied with the search results.

“Interacting with voice technologies is almost like speaking in a second language," says Shiri Melumad, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and the study’s author. She says people often chose their words carefully when dictating a search because they are concerned voice technology will misconstrue their query. Also, people instinctively think about how an audience will perceive their words when they are said out loud, even if no one is present, she says.

In one part of the study, 2,500 participants were asked to do an online search for wireless headphones. Half the participants conducted the search by typing their query and the other half dictated their query into the search engine. The author found the vocalized queries were more likely to reference a brand name, and mention a specific price and the intended use for the headphones, such as wireless headphones for running or wireless noise-canceling headphones.

When participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with the search results on a seven-point scale, with seven reflecting the highest satisfaction, their collective ranking was 6.12. The collective score for participants who typed their query was 5.94 on the same seven-point scale. Although the difference is small, Melumad says that the large sample size, and the fact that it was replicated in other experiments, make the results meaningful.

In another part of the study, participants were asked to search for a product that would help them be more productive or comfortable at home. Participants were divided into three groups: one that dictated their queries, a second that typed their queries, and a third that was asked to think about their search for 30 seconds before typing out a query.

Melumad found the group that typed out their search without waiting had less-detailed queries; they were less likely to mention a brand name or a product’s purpose. They were also less satisfied with their search result, ranking their overall satisfaction at 5.99 on the seven-point scale compared with 6.08 for the group asked to think about their typed query and 6.14 for the group dictating their query.

“In absolute terms the difference may be small, but applied at scale—the number of daily Google searches—the consequences become quite meaningful," Melumad says.

Melumad also surveyed participants about their actual experiences with voice assistants, search-engine dictation and text searches. A similar pattern emerged: When participants thought about vocalizing queries (either speaking to a voice assistant or dictating to a search engine), they remembered feeling more worried about being misunderstood, giving more forethought to their queries and making more of an effort to be specific in their queries.

“As consumers increasingly gather information through voice-assisted technologies, the shift may alter both the nature of their queries and the types of information they are ultimately exposed to," says Melumad.

Ms. Ward is a writer in Vermont. She can be reached at

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