Voice notes: how to create first drafts and capture ideas without friction

May 16, 2022

Writing might be hard. Imagine riding a bike and getting a good essay idea. If you’re not a Red Bull stunt rider, you have to stop to type it into a note-taking app. That’s irritating, but you did that. Then you got home to start working on the essay. You’re kind of ready to start writing but something is stopping you. It is The Fear of the Blank Page. Thinking of starting new writing from scratch makes you feel anxious. Especially if you’re a perfectionist. That’s where voice notes can help.

With the power of voice notes you can:

  • Take notes on the fly. Stopping and typing text takes extra time and requires extra effort. While riding a bike, you could just record yourself explaining the idea without the need to stop. Making voice notes is especially useful when you don’t have a clear concept yet. Recording a 4 min long explanation takes much less effort than typing it. And you can always turn it into text later (we’ll cover that technique).
  • Create the first draft faster. A blank list is the first thing you face when starting a new blog post, essay, or social media publication. Seeing it might be intimidating for many of us. Creating the first draft with a voice can reduce the pressure because we don’t care much about perfect sentence structure or grammar while speaking. Speaking is easier and more relaxed. That can help you get drafts done faster.
  • Increase production speed. Skipping the “staring to the white screen” phase while creating first drafts and capturing ideas on the fly may increase your production speed.

Your essay writing workflow may look like that:

Utilizing voice notes in essay writing workflow

That workflow doesn’t include the researching stage for the sake of simplicity. The key idea is that having low-friction note-taking and drafting practices can make the whole process smoother. Eliminating the stagnation phases will therefore increase the overall writing production speed.

Good apps to start with voice notes

Before smartphones became ubiquitous, making usable voice notes required a good microphone. Nowadays, we carry good setups just in our pockets.

Before going further, we have to distinguish between voice notes apps and voice recognition software. A voice note can be just an audio recording you send to your friends on WhatsApp. Voice recognition software allows you to transcribe recordings (turn audio into text). Alright, now let’s cover some of them.

Alice is a simple iOS app that allows you to record audio and get its transcribed version via email. It’s primarily made for journalists and might help a lot while making an interview. Alice is fast and easy. Its coolest features, in my opinion, are:

  • Recording starts on the opening;
  • Automation: recordings are named automatically and along with transcripts can be directly sent to Google Drive or Dropbox;
  • The app is dead simple and only have a few basic actions.
Alice in aciton

Otter is like a note-taking assistant that can record audio and transcribe it on the fly. The latter is especially handy for Zoom meetings, and there is an integration for that.

Otter is good at working with long audio, such as meeting recordings, first drafts, and, surprisingly, podcasts. When I was preparing the research for the current post, I transcribed a part of Tim Ferriss’s interview with Noah Feldman using Otter. Having a text version of the podcast, I found useful information much faster and copied it to my research document. Here are some of the features I’m excited about:

  • Transcribing audio real-time;
  • Highlighting text (real-time and afterward);
  • Cross-platforming (Web, Android, iOS) and fast access to starting a new recoding on mobile.
Otter in action

Yoosh is a student collaboration app that allows you to take voice notes in channels. Making voice notes is a new feature that has just been added to the app. Basically, it works like sending voice messages to your friend chats. While Otter is good for processing long voice notes, Yoosh is handy for making and managing short ones. As a user and developer of Yoosh, I can emphasize the following:

  • Handiness while taking voice notes on the go. Just like in messengers, you can record audio straight into channels. Hold the mic icon to make a short voice note or swipe it up to capture a long explanation;
  • Interactiveness. You can download voice notes, reply and react to them and share them on other channels. That might be useful, for example, for brainstorming with collaborators;
  • Multi-functionality. Along with voice notes, the app allows making text notes and chatting with collaborators. Instead of just recording audio memos, you can also manage whole group projects with low effort;

Yoosh doesn’t have an embedded audio-to-text feature yet. Let us know if you think we should add it. For now, we can use Otter as a workaround (download the audio for Yoosh and upload it into Otter to get a transcript).

Yoosh in action

Now, after we’ve listed some tools for making voice notes, let’s add them to the essay writing workflow I suggested in the beginning.

Essay writing workflow completed with apps

Surely, there are much more apps for making voice notes and transcribing them. Looking for professional voice recognition software, take a look at Dragon. Or try the free oTranscribe tool if you need something simple. Even Microsoft Word and Google Docs have those features embedded.

Use cases: when to use voice notes

We talked about the benefits of taking voice notes and highlighted some tools. Let’s come up with some solid use cases. Voice notes can be used by:

  • journalists for processing interviews
  • writers and students for making first drafts of essays and articles
  • Instagram bloggers for drafting publication captures
  • musicians for singing melody ideas
  • screenwriters for telling stories
  • meeting participants for meeting notes reviewing
  • and anyone else for capturing sudden ideas or long explanations

Best practices for taking voice notes

I’ve already mentioned Tim Ferriss’s interview with Noah Feldman. Noah has been using voice recognition software for years. He shared actionable pieces of advice for taking voice notes.

  • Speak slower than normal. That way you'll have a little bit more time to think and shape ideas more clearly.
  • Imagine explaining something to an audience. That will gently force you to come up with arguments and convincing points.
  • Make an outline. Write down several points you want to elaborate on and the end goal you’ll try to reach while explaining. That can help you to stay on the topic.
  • Bring as many points as you can and delete unnecessary later. Remember, you’re drafting.

Bottom line

Making voice notes might significantly increase your writing productivity and make the process more relaxed. So, it’s definitely worth trying. Start simple: draft your next Instagram capture using voice. Then try to draft your next essay the same way.


At Yoosh, we’re trying to make student collaboration easier. We have just added a voice recording feature. Yoosh is a nice place to start with voice notes. Try it and let us know what you think. Discover more features on our home page.

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