Want to Improve Your Writing? Read It Aloud

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“I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we need to please both.”
Jane Yolen, author of sci-fi/fantasy novels

Reviewing and proofing your writing is a normal part of your routine. But if you want to take your writing to a whole new level, try reading it out loud.

Experts say reading your manuscript out loud can help you notice mistakes in your writing that you wouldn’t normally catch by simply reading it silently and seeing the words in your head. Reading out loud can also streamline your editing process because you’ll notice the mistakes faster. That said, it doesn’t guarantee that it will catch every mistake, but it will alert you to a lot of them.

“Read a passage aloud and you’ll get an immediate sense of how it ‘should’ feel; the way the words fit together and work as a whole,” writes Robert Wood, editor at Standout Books. “The same way you can hear a missed beat or a wrong chord in music, you understand when your phrasing is awkward or unwieldy.”

If you haven’t made out-loud reading part of your review process yet, here are a few tips for making it work and what you should listen for.

1. Notice the passages where you stumble over the language. If you struggle to read sentences that are complex or contain several difficult-to-pronounce words, your readers will struggle too. Make a note in the manuscript to simplify the language for your readers.

2. Notice if sentences are overly long and wordy. They can be more noticeable when you read them out loud. Also notice if sentences are poorly constructed and confusing. Will readers understand what you are attempting to say? Is there a better way to express what you want to say? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ll need to rewrite those sections for clarity and conciseness.

3. Notice the pacing and rhythm of the language. Do you need to slow down the pacing, or pick it up? Do you get bogged down in too many unnecessary details that slow down the pace of the story? Reading out loud will make you more aware of the natural rhythm of the words.

4. Notice if there are misspelled words, grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. For example, are there too many commas in your sentences? Or are they added in the wrong places, which can change the meaning of the sentence?

5. Pay attention to the tone of your manuscript. Is the tone appropriate for your piece? Is it appropriate for your audience? For example, is the tone too formal for a room full of parents at a PTA meeting, or is it too casual for the company’s board of directors?

6. Pay attention to the sequence of ideas or story scenes. When you or someone else reads your work out loud, listen to the order of ideas. Do they move seamlessly from one to the next? Ditto for short stories and novels. Note if scenes develop in a logical sequence. Also listen for transitions between ideas and paragraphs. Reading out loud can reveal gaps in story lines and thought processes.

7. Notice any repetitions. Did you explain one idea on page three, then again on page five? That’s a sign that you need to condense your content, and rewrite for better clarity.

8. Listen for filler material. Publishing expert Jane Friedman says many writers tend to add filler copy in their manuscripts. These sections and sentences don’t add any meaningful information to the reader. If you notice filler copy, get out the scissors and begin cutting. Make sure every sentence you write, or every section or scene, provides meaning and value to the overall piece.

If you have trouble recognizing these elements as you read your work out loud, it might be helpful to have someone else read it out loud to you. According to the University of North Carolina Writing Center, when someone else reads your manuscript out loud, you receive information in a different way. Most people have more experience listening to and speaking English than they do reading and editing it, the center explains. If your reading partner stumbles over the words or gets lost, those may be places where you need to revise to make your meaning clearer for your readers.

The UNC Writing Center offers the following strategies for reading and reviewing your written work out loud.

* Print out a copy to read. When you read from a printed page, you’ll be able to make notes on the page and mark the places that need revision.

* Read only what you see on the page. If necessary, use a finger to point to each word you see as you say it out loud. The brain has a tendency to “smooth over” mistakes on the page by filling in missing words or making corrections.

* Read out loud at a moderate pace. If you read too fast, you may gloss over words and phrases that need fixing. Slowing down your pace will help you notice errors more easily.

* Read one section or paragraph at a time. Covering up most of the manuscript as you read out loud will help you stay focused on only the material in front of you so you don’t race ahead.

No matter what type of writing you do – nonfiction, memoir, or fiction – learning to read your work out loud can help you catch errors you might otherwise miss. That can make you a better writer in the long run.

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