If you’ve ever come across a writer reading their own work out loud while working, there’s no need to worry. They are not experiencing an issue with keeping an internal monologue or a crazy person carrying on a conversation with people that aren’t there: they are actually going through an effective editing process. Writers help themselves produce better quality content that contains fewer errors by reading what they wrote out loud as part of the editing process. The human brain actually does a lot of nifty things behind the scenes like correcting obvious errors for us as well as filtering out information that it deems unimportant. While this is a wonderful subconscious skill for making sense of the world around you, it can be a writer’s own worst enemy especially in circumstances where a writer is also the editor.
Your brain normally does you a favor by filling in missing words or making sense of a sentence where there’s an incorrect word; however, your higher familiarity with your own content will make your mental “autocorrect” much sharper than what anyone else will experience when reading your text. When you read to yourself silently, you go through the words very quickly. When you read the content out loud it forces you to slow down and be more diligent with each word you read. It also lets you hear the content which can make it easier to catch mistakes. This practice is particularly useful for catching missing words and punctuation errors like misplaced commas. Additionally, since you’re paying a bit more attention to the words when reading out loud, you’re keener to pick up on spelling errors.
While it’s not going to help you catch mistakes, one of the main perks of reading your content out loud is you can analyze the tone of the work. Reading out loud can help steer your word selection and sentence structure towards something more conversational. If you notice that you’re using words that people normally wouldn’t use when talking, changing those words to synonyms that people commonly use will make your writing easier to understand. Using common phrasing can make the work sound less sophisticated, but it opens your writing to interpretation by a larger audience and saves them having to reference a dictionary to follow your writing.
You should also pay attention to your breathing when you’re reading. If you find yourself needing to take multiple breaths within a sentence it’s an indication that your audience may have difficulty following that sentence. Additionally, taking breaths at spots that create irregular sounding pauses in the sentences indicates flow issues. Taking a breath on things like compound sentence conjunctions and punctuation is normal. While it’s not terrible to run out of breath near the end of the sentence, as writing allows us to be a little longer with the sentence structure than speaking, if you’re doing it all the time you may be using more words than you need to or writing excessively long sentences. Reading out loud also makes run-on sentences stick out clearly, identifies confusing sentence structures, and makes awkward word repetition very obvious.
If you’re looking to take your proofreading a step further, try combining the practices of reading your work backwards and reading it out loud. This kind of proofreading doesn’t work on its own, but is extremely effective for identifying spelling mistakes in your work because it removes the words from a flowing context and narrows detail scrutiny.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.