The limits of “Read your writing aloud”

“Read your writing aloud” is a fairly common bit of advice to new (and not-so-new) writers. Reading out loud is supposed to help the writer spot problems with sentence flow, dropped words, and a host of other issues.

It does work, and work well… up to a point.

Y’see, when they’re your own words, you already know how you intended the sentences to flow; you already know how you imagine the characters speaking. You add emphasis where you know you want emphasis, and you pause where you want a pause, even if those things aren’t shown in the marks on the page. You read the words aloud the way you hear them in your own head, not the way they’re actually written.

Reading aloud doesn’t do much for catching punctuation errors, and (obviously) it doesn’t do much for catching homophone glitches. Aloud sounds the same as allowed, after all.

Just like using a spelling/grammar check program, reading aloud will help with self-editing, but don’t rely on it entirely.

About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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2 Responses to The limits of “Read your writing aloud”

  1. Standing on its own, no proofreading technique is either foolproof or sufficient to serve all technical requirements or writing styles, but someone who has had much practice reading aloud does a better job catching the problems you cited; unfortunately, over the past 40 years, reading aloud has fallen out of favor in public schools (at least in the USA, where no child is supposed to “feel bad” about poor performance, especially if it’s a public performance).

    That’s one reason why I recommend putting a manuscript through a text-to-speech generator (TTS), too. The program’s first pass is usually rough, and some of the audible glitches will be due to software limitations rather than writing errors, but TTS does force a careful re-examination of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed. I do prescribe heavily to the “read aloud” method, but I also attempt to listen to myself as I read so I know when to add emphasis, ellipsis, etc. There have been a lot of good editing tip posts lately, which is very convenient for me as I just started editing my latest finished work yesterday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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