Writing and Editing: Do you Read it Aloud?

Reading Aloud

Baby type (by Sydenham Lions)Were you forced to read out loud as a child? Do you still read aloud? Chances are you have learnt the habit of silent reading. I admit openly that reading my work out loud was not a habit. However, when recov­er­ing from serious problems with my eyes, it is something I do almost every time I write. More correctly, I have the computer read it to me.

Doing so actually helps spot errors. There are times, when I have the software read a single sentence as many as ten times, before being satis­fied that it is right. Worse; it is the times I do not have it read aloud that I have published errant work.

One aspect about reading your work aloud (or having it read to you by someone else) is taking anoth­er step before public­a­tion. That gives you addition­al time to reflect on many aspects of the things that you have actually written. Did you mean to say that? Often the words written, seem at first glance correct, but are far from it. A second (third, or even fourth) look should be natur­al for writers. All too many people dash to publish, when more care shouls be taken. Use every tactic possible to make sure your present­a­tion is edited, polished, improved, then modified again until it is right.


Speaking is Different from Reading

When we say anything out loud we will do so with a slightly differ­ent emphas­is than a person reading those same words. It is a fact of life. It cannot be helped as when we speak our accent comes into play. Truth is two differ­ent people will say exactly the same words in slightly differ­ent ways. Each will place a differ­ent emphas­is on the various parts of the sentences or paragraphs as they speak. Accent is fascin­at­ing as there are hundreds of accents both local and foreign. Each impacts under­stand­ing.

When you read your piece out loud you are looking for a natur­al ebb and flow rather like water flowing down the stream, it should both inform but sound natur­al in the process, sentences should flow natur­ally, the point of reading it aloud is to ensure this happens. Any other result should cause you to edit what you have written.

I have both edited for an on-line magazine and moder­ated articles on a gener­al writing web site and have seen many challen­ging submis­sions. One day I found myself looking at a poorly written submis­sion, many of the ideas in it were good, but the sentences were badly construc­ted. Using the reading software it became clear where the sentences failed to make sense, for example where the writer failed to make proper use of defin­ite and indef­in­ite articles, but also where phrases were incom­plete, making the ideas diffi­cult to read, omitting words makes a massive differ­ence to under­stand­ing.


The Flow of the Words

Flow of words by turningablindeye.wordpress.comWords are peculi­ar objects. We cannot simply throw them in the air and use them as they land. Normally words MUST be used in a specif­ic order to make sense. Miss out a crucial word (often a small one like “in”, “of”, or “at”) and the whole phrase changes its meaning or perhaps loses meaning altogeth­er. Truth is even highly paid writers make basic mistakes in their haste to get something completed for a deadline. Thankfully, as far as the public know, they have editors to to perfect the work. Editors catch most mistakes. Yet, even with the quality control cycle that happens with profes­sion­ally published books it is still possible to find errors and some people delight in telling the editor­i­al staff about what they have found.

Here are a few examples that I have noted over the years:

  • … practising yoga since early can overcome various health problems”
  • If there’re fat people it is because they have abandoned Mediterranean diet…”
  • …  his gener­os­ity and courage to speak truth…”
  • Why most of the men prefer beauti­ful girlfriend.”
  • … you must a good command of english…”
  • I think that the “paranor­mal activ­ity” is any strange event which can’t be proved or under­stood…”
  • … they passed it on follow­ing gener­a­tions”
  • We are not enough civil­ized for Facebook”
  • … it melt my lipstick away.”

Each of these are real-life examples of errors I have spotted which could be recti­fied easily had the writer read the work aloud. Indeed I spotted some as software read the words on a web page to me.


Breaking them down

A few days ago I woke early to practice my yoga exercises, trouble is my wife found me locked in place where I had fallen asleep. Rising early was not a good idea after all. It is likely the writer meant to say “…practi­cing yoga from an early age can overcome various health problems…” anoth­er accept­able phase is “since early in your life”. This is certainly one of those mistakes anoth­er person would have spotted reading aloud.

I cannot skip over the errant contrac­tion “there’re”. The writer is confus­ing it with “they’re”, correct use “there are”. Reading this aloud may not have highlighted the error, should you believe the contrac­tion a valid form. While inval­id for use as narra­tion, a speak­er may use this term if using a peculi­ar accent. Therefore it would be valid for speech.

The words “Mediterranean diet” are incor­rectly used. A direct article is used. It should always be referred to as “the Mediterranean diet”. Truth is too many people are getting lazy with their use of direct or indir­ect articles. Nouns must always be prefixed by “a”, “an”, or ‘the”. We normally speak “the truth” and of course insert­ing “the” before “paranor­mal activ­ity” in the next phrase is a case of super­flu­ous usage. Most men do prefer a beauti­ful girlfriend and that partic­u­lar sentence came using “the men” which is not required.


And more…

Of course “they” should pass it on “to” follow­ing gener­a­tions, this is an example of people dropping those vitally import­ant little words from their sentences, the ones most commonly dropped are “it”, “is” “in”, “at”, “or”, “and”, and “to”. If writers read their article out loud they would realise that these little words are actually missing. It is easy to make a slip in your typing. Editors may find it tough to identi­fy these errors without reading the words out loud.

Switching word order can make a lot of differ­ence as in “we are not enough civil­ized for Facebook”. We may not be ‘enough civil­ised’ but should be ‘civil­ised enough’. Such a simple slip. My reading software catches so many of these errors when I make them in my writing. The worst aspect here it that this is normally the type of error you need anoth­er person to find for you. The reason, you will always read the sentence as you planned it, not as it actually is.

Lipstick colour by Lisy CC0 Public Domain from PixabayThe last one of these would certainly have been found by reading it out loud “… it melt my lipstick away” the words look to be in past tense. “Melted” being correct. On the other-hand, if the sentence were in current tense then “melts” would be appro­pri­ate. The verb ‘melt’ is always affected by the tense in which it is used. When it becomes a noun it is “melting”. Misuse is clear­er from reading aloud.



Reading aloud doesn’t provide the solution to every error in our writing, but it is a good way to help resolve some of the problems of editing and perfect­ing English usage.




Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for discuss­ing awkward subject of reading blog posts aloud. All images used here come from royalty free or public domain image collec­tions, such as Pixabay.





  1. This is a good idea. Sometimes we write something in the belief that we have written something akin to a master­piece. However, when we read it to ourselves, we find silly mistakes.

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