Confession: when no one is around, I talk to myself.
Yep. I pace around my house and read the same document to myself repeatedly with different inflections. I’ll listen for the version that sounds best, the sentences that feel the most natural coming out of my mouth, and the areas that need a good rework. And you should, too.
Why engage in this mild form of lunacy? It’s all part of the writing process. You may be thinking, “Oh, come on, Oriana. Maybe if I was writing a script or a poem that would make sense, but I’m writing business stuff. I just need to get my point across.” True. But I would argue that a PowerPoint Presentation is a script. A tagline can be as emotive as a poem. And the best way to make sure your point is getting across is to hear the words out loud. Even if your document is dryer than Section 2 of Sarbanes-Oxley, you need to hear what you’re writing out loud. Here’s why…
How did no one catch that?
Those are words you never want to hear. Reading what you’ve written out loud gives you a second set of eyes – well, ears – to catch errors and typos your eyes may not otherwise catch because you’re so familiar with the material. Our brains also tend to make connections between words that don’t exist. So you could read the sentence “She was going to store but forgot her purse,” and your brain may not catch that you missed an article, especially if in your head, you’ve always presumed the article was there. Reading each sentence out loud and slowly will help you find mistakes before they go to print.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
You may also find that something you thought sounded good just doesn’t. I bet you can’t wait to see how impressed the boss will be when he sees that thorough explanation of why the company should change suppliers based on market demands. Go ahead and read it out loud for me. Go on. I’ll wait while you finish reading.…
Wow, this is quite the theory…
Yeah, you’ve got one heck of a run-on sentence.
It didn’t seem that long when you typed it, but reading out loud, your mouth is parched and seasons have changed. Reading out loud is more in line with how long it will take fresh eyes to read and comprehend the material. If it feels too wordy or just strange coming out of your mouth, it will probably read that way to new readers. Now you know you have to go back and shorten that part into more digestible sections of text for your audience.
Don’t you take that tone with me.
You write with a particular audience in mind. This creates your tone. Is your audience young and hip? Then you write young and hip. Is it more conservative and classic? Then you write conservative and classic. But make sure you read your work out loud to check for that. When you’re reading out loud, see if anything physical about you changes. Say you’re writing to a conservative audience. Does your posture straighten up? Is your mouth speaking crisply and calmly? How about a young millennial crowd—is your stance a bit more relaxed? Are you using your hands more? These are all good indications that you’re on the right track, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that until your ears and body have a chance to take in what you’ve written.
Learn to love hearing your own voice.
When I worked on the news desk, I would often partner up with another writer and we would read our articles to each other. This is ideal because it gives you a chance to hear your words through someone else’s eyes. When that’s not possible, find a quiet, private space where you can read to yourself, or even better, record yourself reading, and then play it back. You can use voice recorder apps or computer programs. Do this twice: once to take notes on the document as you hear yourself reading to watch for errors or awkward sections, and a second time to see if you’re happy with the overall tone and structure.
And if you have time constraints or are a bit uncomfortable reading aloud, reach out to a writer and/or editor who can help you make sure that your message is coming across the way you want it to, and that everything is correct. Having a partner with a fresh set of eyes is critical to checking your work. And when your article is printed without errors and hitting all the right notes, you’ll be one step closer to never having to write about Sarbanes-Oxley again. Kidding, that thing won’t be going away any time soon.