Listening your writing being read out loud to you is a powerful yet underrated method to improve it enormously. And it’s so simple!
When you listen to your words, you suddenly hear extra words that that were slipped in (extra “thats” are a speciality of mine), pauses (commas) that are missing, and better ways to construct your sentences. Other improvements will also pop into your mind.
Your readers are hearing your writing in their head, so you should, too.
I never send a document back to a client without listening to my final edited version … which never turns out to be the final version because, upon listening, I always find improvements to make!
There are three methods that let you listen to your writing:
1. Ask someone to read your words out loud to you. But in truth, probably nobody will want to be bothered doing it.
2. Read it to yourself. Here I like to pretend that I am a reading robot. I force my eyes to look at each word as I say it, not letting them skip ahead as they normally would. I pause only when punctuation dictates that I must. This takes quite a lot of focus and energy.
3. I click the magic green arrow I’ve implemented in Microsoft Word, and a nice American man reads to me. He can’t pronounce Māori words, and he ignores en- and em-dashes, but other than that he’s great. I trust him more than my own voice. All I have to do is listen carefully. This is my low-energy option.
Here’s how to get your own personal reader:
(Note: if you don’t use Microsoft Word, I’m not sure how to help you, but I’m sure there are other options.)
1. Open a Word document. At the very top left of your screen is a little row of icons. Click on the down arrow to the right of them.
2. Choose the “More commands” option.
3. Near the top of the box that pops up you’ll see the words “Popular commands”. Get rid of this by clicking on the arrow next to it, and instead choose “All commands” from the list.
4. Scroll all the way down the resulting list until you see “Speak”. Click on it.
5. To the right of that is a button that says “Add”. Click on it.
6. Click on “OK”.
How I listen and edit
After you’ve gone through that list, look again at the top left corner of your Word screen. You’ll see a little speech bubble with a green arrow in it. Highlight the text you want read, and click on that icon. As long as your speakers are turned on, you’ll hear my American friend’s voice.
I suggest highlighting only two or three paragraphs at a time. You’ll then get a trigger to refocus each time you start a new highlighted section.
As you listen, you’ll hear things you want to change. I can keep a maximum of about three changes in my head before I have to click on the speech bubble to silence the voice. I then go back and make my changes.
I hope this trick helps you as much as it does me!