I Like the Sound of That: Reading Aloud for Writers and Editors


I Like the Sound of That: Reading Aloud for Writers and Editors

Reading a manuscript aloud or listening to it being read can help writers and editors identify errors of spelling, grammar, or tone that they might miss otherwise.

If you want to give this a whirl, you can read the manuscript out loud yourself, have someone else read it to you, or use a text-to-speech (TTS) function such as that supplied with Word.

Too Close to the Work

Reading the same text over and over creates familiarity, and this causes you to stop seeing what is there and to see instead what you think is there. Even if a word is missing, because you know it should be there, and because you can see it in your mind, you can easily read right past the omission as if it were actually there.

This is why fresh eyes on a document are always valuable.

To battle familiarity, people will often walk away from a document for long enough that it becomes new again. They might change the font or read the text backwards—anything to help them see the document as though for the first time.

Reading aloud is another useful tool for addressing the familiarity problem. Reading aloud helps with identifying

  • Portions of the manuscript that need to be reordered
  • Inelegant transitions
  • Missing words (prepositions are notorious for going missing or popping up where they shouldn’t)
  • Errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Inappropriate tone


Reading aloud is also fun. For me, it sparks memories of my mother reading to me, and reading to my children at bedtime was one of the chief joys of my life. I read them Tolkien and Lewis, Terry Pratchett and Clive Barker’s Abarat, too many wonderful works to list. Together we explored new worlds, and I miss that.

My first editing gig involved reading aloud as part of a proofreading team for a patent law firm. Patent files weren’t allowed outside the office, so my reading partner and I would go into the firm to do our work.

(We can also note here that for all its benefits, hearing something read aloud won’t help you distinguish between homophones like “allowed” and “aloud.”)

At the patent firm, my partner would read from the patent file and I would follow along in the patent printed by the Patent and Trademark Office, and then I would flag any discrepancies for inclusion on an errata sheet. You might not consider chemical and electrical patents to be riveting reads, but it was a good gig.

I also spent nearly fifteen years as an editor for an audiobook company, so audio has been a big part of my life.

When copyediting, I usually read aloud during my final cleanup pass, and I find this helpful for refocusing on the work.

I haven’t incorporated Word’s TTS function in my processes yet, but it is something I want to investigate for helping me ferret out errors, and authors will likely find it helpful as well when editing their work (not to mention that it’s always cool to hear your work read aloud).

Microsoft provides instructions for using the TTS feature here.

The program’s reading is a bit robotic, but it’s not as bad as you might think, and (in Word 2016, at least) you can choose from three voices: Microsoft David, Microsoft Zira, and Microsoft Mark. You can also change the speed of the audio from painfully slow to nearly impossible to keep up.

Word highlights each word as it’s read, so you can decide to listen as you pace the room or do a follow-the-bouncing-ball-style read along.

For all the heat Word takes—much of it understandable—the program does have a lot of powerful features. Is Word’s TTS function something you’ve played with?

(As a side note, studies have indicated that reading aloud helps boost memory and retain information, though the effects of listening to text read aloud are not as great.)



I’m a copyeditor and the owner of Castle Walls Editing. If you have a manuscript and need a copyeditor, contact me through this site or email me at James@castlewallsediting.com.



Microsoft Corporation. “Use the Speak Text-to-Speech Feature to Read Text Aloud.” Accessed December 17, 2018.  https://support.office.com/en-us/article/use-the-speak-text-to-speech-feature-to-read-text-aloud-459e7704-a76d-4fe2-ab48-189d6b83333c

Railton, David. “Reading Aloud Boosts Memory.” Medical News Today. Accessed December 17, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320377.php

Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Reading Aloud.” Accessed December 17, 2018. https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/

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