Move your lips (and shake your hips if you want to, that is not required) and hear your words before you hit “post”. If you have someone you can read it to, that helps too. I commonly read my own articles to my spouse who will freely tell me when I am not making any sense!
Doing this will have amazing benefits to your writing quality. It is also the third hardest task you will encounter in the publishing process. (The first being choosing a topic, and the second, writing the first draft.) Why? Because no matter if I am editing or writing something, it will likely be the third to tenth time I have read those words. Being as honest as possible “I don’t want to read it again”. Even if the writer is as eloquent as William Shakespeare with the wit of Tim Conway… it starts to be a physically painful process to look at those words again.
The pain is worth it as it does wonders for my output. This is because it forces me to experience every word and every phrase as they are going to sound to the reader. The material sounds alive, and I get to know how it will feel to read the article (for the better or worse!)
You may be thinking, if you are going over the article multiple times, how do you miss glaring issues. On each pass, it is natural to start targeting the place where you think there are major issues. If I missed something once, I probably will miss it in other editing passes too, because each pass starts to just narrow in on the things you recently have changed. If I didn’t change it last pass, it is fine. Realistically, I could make changes every single pass, many many many times over, but every article only has so much time allotted to it.
When I don’t do this step, I more frequently than I like to admit, I get an email from and author that says, “It looks like you missed something.” Usually, it is something that I thought I did, often halfway finished. (Admittedly an example of this prompted this blog. I really thought I had done the final read through for that blog… but I was clearly wrong!)
The values of reading the article aloud
The kinds of things I typically find by reading my (and my author’s) articles aloud are:
- Awkward phrasing: You often write a phrase in a way that seems interesting, but then read out loud and think “ugh.” I do this a lot when I am trying to sound cool or smart and saying it out loud ends in me reading it multiple times. I often try too hard to be funny, cool, witty, etc, when it isn’t as useful as I hoped in earlier edits.
- Incorrect facts: When I read an article in its entirety out loud, incorrect statements seem to be more obvious. A common example is improper negation. For example, if the writer said: “In this article, I have mentioned how you should read your articles multiple times. Doing this will often hurt the quality of your article.” Reading it aloud makes the two sentences connect and the error often stands out. One sentence may have been edited to match something else, and the writer missed the first one.
- Spelling errors: Subtle ones stand out when you are reading an article in a way that you don’t feel when you are scanning a document over and over. Sadly, spelling errors feel worse than major editing issues because once you see one, it just stands out.
- Plagiarism: Big variances in tone are often a major giveaway that you copied something and didn’t put it in your own words. Ideally this is found early, but sometimes… And let me note this: nothing is worse than finding out a large part of a document is plagiarized. On rare occasion though, early in the editing process it doesn’t stand out as much because it is easy to get bogged down in fixing stuff that isn’t right.
Note that some duplication is allowed, but only if it is a reasonable amount and attributed. The next editor’s post will be all about the subject of plagiarism!
Are there negatives? Two that I can think of.
- Punctuation: You don’t punctuate like you speak.
For example, when I said that previous sentence I said out loud, “You don’t punctuate [pause for drama] like you speak.”
Naturally I want to put a comma after the word “punctuate”, but that is not how it works. So, it becomes a struggle not to add a lot of commas to tell the reader where to pause like I want them to read it. Sometimes I will put an ellipsis (…), but best to not go overboard with that either.
- It can lead to more major edits: Now, this is probably an overall positive, but this is supposed to be the final step. Just read it over, change a phrase or two, and move on so you can post it and move on.
But then you realize something big. That section… would be better somewhere else. (And if you make major changes, you must do the whole reading aloud thing again, which can lead to more big changes, or even worse, undoing the previous changes!)
Yes, there are negatives, but the really only feel like negatives because you are ready to move on.
The writing process is a lot of fun, overall. Researching, writing code, writing the text, editing other people’s writing, etc. It is something that I have loved to do for many years and now it is what I do many hours a week.
The only hard part of it is making sure you keep the quality up. Typos, missing paragraphs and images, confusing or incorrect statements, etc. can take something this is a wonderful tool to help others and turn it into a negative experience. It is a common suggestion to do one last read of your work before putting it out there.
My suggestion changes that in only one way. Read it aloud so you hear it, and you don’t start scanning it and miss something important. It is well worth the effort.