Writing and Editing: Do you Read it Aloud?

Reading out Loud

Baby type (by Sydenham Lions)That was some­thing we were forced to do as a child in junior school when learn­ing to read. I have to open­ly admit that read­ing my work aloud was not a habit I had ever devel­oped, until recov­er­ing from seri­ous prob­lems with my eyes, but now it is some­thing I do almost every time I write, or more cor­rect­ly I have the com­put­er read it to me. Doing so actu­al­ly helps spot the errors, there have been times when I have the soft­ware read me a sin­gle sen­tence as many as ten times before I can be 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 that it is anoth­er step that must be per­formed before pub­li­ca­tion and gives you addi­tion­al time to reflect on many aspects of the things that you have actu­al­ly writ­ten. Did you mean to say that? Often there are words we write which seem at first glance to be cor­rect, but can be far from it, a sec­ond (or third) look should be a nat­ur­al course. There are all too many peo­ple that dash to pub­lish, when they should use every pos­si­ble tac­tic to ensure their 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 and can­not be helped as when we speak our accent comes into play and truth is two dif­fer­ent peo­ple will say exact­ly the same words in slight­ly dif­fer­ent ways, they will place a dif­fer­ent empha­sis on the var­i­ous parts of the sen­tences or para­graphs as they speak. Accent is fas­ci­nat­ing and there can be hun­dreds of accents both local and for­eign that impact how our work is understood.

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 any 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 but thank­ful­ly, as far as the pub­lic are con­cerned, they have edi­tors to catch the mis­takes (well the major­i­ty of them any­way), 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 some were spot­ted most effec­tive­ly as the soft­ware read the words 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 posi­tion 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” it seems the writer is con­fus­ing it with “they’re” cor­rect use “there are” may not have been spot­ted by read­ing aloud if you believe the con­trac­tion to be valid, to my mind this is invalid for nar­ra­tion, but is pos­si­bly some­thing some­one may say if using a pecu­liar accent so may be valid in speech.

The words “Mediter­ranean diet” are used incor­rect­ly because it is a direct arti­cle, so 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 at the cur­rent time and for­get­ting that 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.

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 and it can be tough to pick these errors up 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 we should be civilised enough, such a sim­ple slip. My read­ing soft­ware catch­es so many of these in my writ­ing and the worst aspect here it that this is nor­mal­ly the type of error you need anoth­er per­son to find for you, because you will always read the sen­tence as it should be 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 seem to me to be in past tense so the word should be “melt­ed”, but if the sen­tence were in cur­rent tense then “melts” would be appro­pri­ate, but the verb melt is always affect­ed by the tense it is used in and when it becomes a noun it is “melt­ing”. Mis­use should be 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.




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3 Replies to “Writing and Editing: Do you Read it Aloud?”

  1. […] Writ­ing and Edit­ing: Do you Read it Aloud? […]

  2. 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.

  3. I find so many errors that way.

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