Recently, I found a short story that I had written many years ago when computers were not that common. It is 25 pages of handwriting. Obviously, I don't want to spend hours typing it. My typing speed is not good.

I am wondering what is an efficient but easy way to convert it into text, given the technological advancements of the last few years e.g. apps.

I don't have a big budget so recommendation on a free, open source, but reliable software would be great.

I am planning to publish the story so a good presentation is vital.


4 Answers 4


Almost every computing platform now supports some form of speech recognition software. If you can read your own handwriting, then that offers a cheap and relatively painless way of getting your draft into a text file.

Obviously you should test the software you choose on a few paragraphs before committing to reading in all 25 pages. Some applications have a way of being "trained" to match your voice and will improve as you go.

Another option would be to record your reading as an mp3 file and then investigate the programs that are designed to convert .mp3 to .txt; then you can read once and convert several times. If different apps work better with particular portions of the document you can then edit together the various "takes" like a recording engineer.

You request for "good presentation" of the product will demand that you handle the formatting separately. The conversion apps I use generate raw text not word processor files.

  • Note you are going to lose most of punctuation and the text will require considerable amount of editing. Text recognition software is poor at recognizing homophones.
    – SF.
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 12:06
  • @SF Decent speech to text software allows you to speak the punctuation as you go. It should also include the facility to "correct" any inappropriate choices between homophones; simply watch the screen as you speak and fix errors as they occur.
    – Fortiter
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 13:01
  • Speech recognition is genuinely your best option. The error ratio when compared with handwriting recognition software/hardware is vastly superior. You'll still have to comb through enough garbage by the time you're done that you might wish you had just retyped it. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 14:33

You won't like this answer, but I'm going to give it anyway.

The best way to convert handwriting into text is to type it up.

Don't skip it just because it's a little tedious. Typing up work is a valuable opportunity for engaging with each word and sentence of the text. Scanning over the text on the screen isn't the same thing. I always use the typing-up of work to do an extra draft (usually I've done a couple of drafts longhand already). Especially since this is an old story - surely in those intervening years you've grown as a writer, or have a different perspective than you had when you wrote it? Isn't this a great chance to revise your work?

Another piece of (probably unwanted) advice. Assuming you don't have a disability that prevents you from touch-typing at speed, you should learn to do so.

Finally, if you do decide to use OCR, you shouldn't rely on its accuracy. Don't trust the damn thing as far as you can throw it. The more accurate it looks, the more likely it is that some subtle error will slip through. Assume it will fill your story with errors.

  • Seconding that, and if your typing speed is poor, consider hiring someone with better typing speed. 25 pages isn't all that much for a skilled typist, and you can contract people over the net, sending them scans of the original.
    – SF.
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 12:08

The best solution would be OCR Software ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_character_recognition ) since you can scan your pages and it will understand the handwrite and change them to plain text.

Expect a few errors. It's normal, but most of the text will be fine. A simple review should be enough.

  • 1
    OCR produces "few errors" in case of printed text, and between "many" and "far too much to be of any use" for handwriting.
    – SF.
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 12:04
  • Not exactly. I worked with speech recognition software and in practice they need a lot of "calibration" to work in a good way and get "used" to somebody's normal reading. OCR has this problem too but, for a one time only usage (the case here) it will work better than speech recognition. Both can be calibrated for long term usage but when I advised OCR, I was strictly aiming to one time usage Commented May 30, 2013 at 9:39

Or, as a suggestion, find someone who does enjoy typing (and happens to be fast and accurate) and pay them to do it. You wouldn't be the first, and I doubt there are writers who wouldn't mind a little extra cash on the side. It's a thought. Try a Craigslist posting for a Ghostwriter, give them a target deadline, and a quote for the price. You might be surprise if you throw in a few extra dollars for people who prioritize it and get it done in say... less than a week. I do it rather regularly along with my own projects.

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