Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

#29    Read your stuff aloud at least once

Sometimes a surplus of sibilants sneaks into sentences. Or an annoying alliteration afflicts your prose. The words you type have sounds to them that may not be apparent to you when you compose them. The process of speaking the words aloud gives you the chance to hear unfortunate combinations of sounds that can prove a distraction to your readers.
You are more familiar with your words than your readers are. You know both what you put onto paper, and also what you did not--the stuff you considered putting onto paper, but decided against. This can get into your way in a few ways.

For one thing, you can devise a sentence that is perfectly clear, albeit complicated. And thus the sentence goes on and on treading down one rabbit trail and up another. In your head, all the pauses are perfect and the delineation between clauses are clear. Trouble is that the sentence is too long and complicated to be grasped as a whole by someone who does not already know what the sentence intends to mean.

When you read such a sentence aloud, you'll find yourself stumbling over words. This is a clue. Or you'll find yourself out of breath before you're halfway through it. Or you'll botch the phrasing and pause someplace mid-clause. These are also clues. Simplify that sentence.

When you're writing your attention may wander or distractions may cause a word or punctuation to go missing. Likewise, your sense of grammatical correctness may nod off momentarily. Reading your prose aloud will bring these omissions to light.

Likewise, when you're editing your work, your eye may skip past typos. You are more familiar with your work than anyone in the world, and your eye can slide over niggling details. When reading aloud your tongue, which moves much more slowly, will trip over them.

There are text-to-speech programs out there. I've never tried using them to vet my prose, but I think it would be an interesting experiment. If anyone reading this has ever performed an experiment like this, please let me know whether it worked as well as reading it aloud yourself.

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