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What Is a Variable Voice Field?

Within Dragon speech recognition software, a variable field is akin to a blank in a form. It’s a place where you enter information specific to the person or issue you’re discussing. Technically, Dragon calls them “voice fields.” Regardless, just like a blank, the variable field can be placed at the spot (in your document) where the user-determined data is required.

There are some limitations to be noted, just so we’re clear:

  1. Variable fields are reserved for professional or vocational editions of Dragon. For instance, that includes Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Pro, Dragon 13 Legal, and Dragon Medical Practice Edition 2.
  2. Variable fields are part of the text and graphics custom command set built into Dragon. They don’t just pop up out of thin air. You’ll need to insert them within your templates, following a specific syntax. We’ll get to that.


What Are Text and Graphics Commands?

They’re templates. Think of things like letterhead, canned emails, and medical reports.

For some reason, Dragon insists on using unfamiliar terminology for these commands. But there’s a fringe benefit, in that you know exactly what they’re for: words and/or pictures.

The obvious aside, we previously talked at length about how custom commands work in Dragon, including text and graphics macros. Check out this article for more about templates, and learn how to create a template here.


Properties of a Variable Field

With the prerequisites covered, let’s move on to the basic properties of variable fields.

As I mentioned, these work within text and graphics commands—as placeholders. And they have three exciting functions which make them especially helpful.

  1. You can move from field to field by speaking the commands “next field” or “previous field.” This functionality can also be assigned to the buttons of a handheld microphone. See this members-only article for more information.
  2. You can put whatever values you like in them. For instance, insert a list of descriptive words or a unit of measurement—or even leave it blank. More to come on this.
  3. There’s a voice command that will allow you to quickly select default values for all fields, if you so desire.


How to Use a Variable Field

This is probably the easiest part. You should have Dragon open and a text and graphics command handy for testing. If you’re not sure what that is, you read too quickly. Go back to the “What Are Text and Graphics Commands” section.

When you’re ready…

1. We’re going to edit your template. You can use the verbal command “Open Command Browser,” or click Tools > Command Browser. Any custom commands are located in the “User-Defined” folder by default.

2. Find a few places in your template where a specific value would be appropriate.

  • For an example, open the “Medical Templates” folder in the Command Browser. Review the “Dragon CCU Fellow Admit Template,” which utilizes variable fields quite effectively.

3. Place your cursor in one of the locations where you want to insert a field, and press the “Variable” button (at the bottom of the MyCommands Editor).

  • You’ll see that variable syntax requires a left and right enclosing bracket.
  • You may use the “[“ and “]” keys instead of the “Variable” button.

4. Put the appropriate text in-between the [brackets].

  • Keep in mind that anything you dictate will overwrite the text of the field.

5. Finish inserting your variable fields and then click “Save.”

Special: When working with templates and variable fields, there is a command you can use to simply take everything out of brackets. And, you can use it at any time—meaning that you have control over which variable fields get default values.

The command phrase is “Accept defaults.” Anything still within brackets will stay in your document when you say this, leaving only the values behind. For instance, [normal] would become normal. Alternatively, [default value] would become default value, so change the text if you plan on using this command.

Now you’re ready to test your work. Open a text editor of your choice and call up your template. It should reflect the changes you’ve made. Practice navigating back and forth between fields and dictating your responses. You should find that your answers overwrite the fields and create a seamless report, letter, or form.

Functional Limitations

It’s important to clarify something before we go further. The items within the brackets, whether they be numbers, words, or phrases, are mostly there as cues. When you dictate into a field, you’re not choosing a response from multiple options. You’re actually dictating what you want in that field. To wit, if you have the variable field [Tom, Wendy, Michael] in your template, you could dictate “Frank” in the field, and the word “Frank” would show up. “Tom,” “Wendy,” and “Michael” would disappear.

By extension, then, you have to speak every word that you want to appear in the field, no matter how short or long the phrase.


Going Further: Nested Variables

So, you’ve done some testing and everything worked flawlessly. You’re 100% pleased with the results. Excellent, no need to read on.


If you’re curious, here’s a tip that could make variable fields even more powerful. It all depends on your particular template needs, of course.

While working with a client, we determined that the choices of text he wanted in a particular variable field were unwieldy. We’re talking about having [entire sentences stacked together, possibly two or three lines long, between brackets]. In order to make this work, a physician would need to dictate the entire phrase he wanted, which wouldn’t really be any improvement over the normal way of working.

Therefore, we decided to put the power of templates to the test. We theorized that we could create more text and graphics commands to hold his long responses—and then put them in the variable fields.

Lucky for us, it worked like a charm. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Take a look at your template. Find any fields where you’d likely choose from among two or three standard, but lengthy, responses.
  2. Open up the Command Browser and create a separate text and graphics command for each of these responses. It’s as simple as pasting the text into the “Content” box and giving it a short, descriptive name.
  3. Go back to your main template. In the field where you needed the long multiple-choice answers, insert the command names you just created.
  4. Open a blank document and call up your template. You’ll see the fields you created, including the ones with text and graphics commands in brackets. Advance to that field and say the command name of your choosing.

You should see the full response paste itself in the field. Success.

Need Help With Variable Fields?

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