Listen to yourself
Authors have some tremendous tools at their disposal. Powerful bibliographic management software as well as programs to create eye-popping bar charts are just a couple examples. Some of these tools get a lot of buzz. But there are some features of old standards that can surprise.
All of the major word processing software programs offer a Read Aloud feature. This feature reads to you the text you have written. I will speak about Microsoft Word, but these points are true for most of the other word processing programs available on computers or online.
Read Aloud offers a variety of voices (male and female) as well as different speeds. The narrator seems very, very close to normal speech. It has none of that robotic, jerky quality from ten years ago.
This simple tool might be one of the most powerful (and underused) editing aspects of Word.
For years I have been (and continue to be) a proponent of reading your work aloud as a final quality control step. It allows the author to catch awkward phrasing or a missing word. Mostly it allows the author to hear the cadence of their work. Are the sentences too long? Complicated? Is it unclear who or what is being discussed? This still remains a top method to edit your work.
But Read Aloud takes this idea to the next level. One of the problems with reading yourself could be missing words. Let’s say a “the” is missing from a sentence. I might read the sentence (that I wrote) and my mind may insert the word even if it is not there. Or I may add an intonation to create meaning that a reader couldn’t know. The neutral voice that comes with the software will not know that but will emulate your reader’s understanding of the words not the tone. In these instances, more clearly stating your meaning in words is invaluable.
Also, I sometimes become fatigued when reading aloud my own work and start to (mentally) drift from the task. This will not happen to Read Aloud.
I have used this feature with content I am writing including chapters, reports, memos, this blog post, and even long emails. I have made countless small improvements to my work. Does it come out perfect? No. We are still on a long curve of becoming better writers and editors. If I do not understand some of the more complex rules of grammar when I write a paper, hearing and filtering back through the same brain that created it won’t make it perfect. But it will surely improve it.
I have become such a fan of using it, I have learned the keyboard shortcut to turn it on and off (Alt+Ctrl+space bar for the PC). It also has a menu option. I encourage you to use it at first and final draft. Let me know how you like it. I look forward to hearing from you.
John Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.