Sound Check Your Writing

Reading Aloud Helps Fine Tune Copy

“The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.”

Robert Frost, poet

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Don Murray raised a few eyebrows 25 years ago when he entered the Boston Globe newsroom during his first day as the newspaper’s writing coach and announced: “I can tell you the names of your three best writers.”

Jack Driscoll, the newspaper’s editor, allowed the scene to play out as Murray pointed to one man and two women who were indeed considered the Globe’s finest. When Driscoll inquired how Murray knew, the reply was simple: “Their lips move when they write.”

Reading aloud helped writers improve their prose 25 years ago and can enhance your writing today – whether you’re creating a letter, proposal, news release or feature article. Award-winning editor and writing coach Ann Wylie contends that reading copy aloud – hearing the words instead of just staring at them – is an “essential technique that separates master writers from the ‘might-have-beens.’”

Wylie and others make the case for investing the extra time to give voice to your copy:

Eliminate errors 

All writers make mistakes – especially when racing toward a deadline. We omit, misspell and repeat words, make grammatical errors and cut and paste sentences to the wrong paragraphs.

Even though the eyes are good editors and often detect these types of errors, the ears catch what the eyes miss because sentences containing these mistakes sound wrong. Reading copy aloud is especially helpful when proofreading.

Improve writing quality

James Chartrand in her How to Find Your Writing Voice blog claims “the best way to get your message across – and have people feel that message is genuine and worth listening to – is to sound absolutely, completely natural.” She refers to sub-vocalization, the natural brain process readers use to imagine the sounds of words and hear them in their minds as they read. Sub-vocalization increases people’s understanding of what they read and helps them remember information longer.

Reading your writing aloud provides the opportunity to modify your work so it sounds better during the sub-vocalization process. You’ll identify awkward and choppy sentences, improve transitions and replace monotonous words with more exciting choices.

Create conversational copy.

The most interesting and understandable copy is conversational and sounds the same as people speak. Murray wrote “Effective writing has the illusion of speech without its bad habits…The writing should flow with grace, pace and clarity — not the way we speak but, better than that, the way we should speak.”

Written pieces should sound friendly, knowledgeable and approachable – even technical writing. When reading aloud, your voice will snag on phrases that sound insincere or unnatural. Hearing your prose aloud can also improve the rhythm or the lyrical quality of your words. Make sure you continue to read aloud as you work through every revision.

Confirm the order is logical.

Even when you compose shorter pieces such as letters and online work, you must present the information in a logical order to promote greater comprehension. When you read an entire piece aloud, you can identify ideas that seem out of place or would make more sense in another location. You can also confirm the lead captures readers’ attention and the message communicated is clear, concise and complete.

Chartrand probably best summarizes the advantages of reading writing aloud in How to Become a Better Writer and Get Readers Loving You when she states: “You should read your work aloud because it helps you provide people with a better reading experience…”

A final word of advice: read slowly and focus on every word. Reading too quickly will allow you to fall into the same trap of glossing over errors and opportunities to improve your copy.

So, go ahead, print off your next written work and try reading it aloud. Your dog or spouse may look at you questioningly, but the results will be worth it.

Please share how reading aloud has helped improve your writing.

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