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The Write Stuff: Using text-to-speech for proofreading

Ron Green, Engineer & Technical Communicator

August 31, 2016

Ron Green, Engineer & Technical CommunicatorAugust 31, 2016

Text-to-speech software is a marvelous tool for proofreading your own work. It will not only help make your stuff letter-perfect but will improve the quality of your writing overall.

A common problem
Did you ever send something out that passed the spell checker -- even the grammar checker -- that still had errors? Me too. The cure for this is proofreading. Proofreading is not just re-reading, it's actually the painstaking process of reading your stuff out loud, each word -- one at a time -- as if there were no other words around it. This process is tedious, annoying, and agonizingly slow. As a result, almost no one does it, not even professionals.

Word processors help us put out a prodigious amount of material, but they have an insidious side effect that's not obvious: the ability to arbitrarily cut-and-paste text can introduce subtle errors. While stitching phrases into whole sentences, we often forget to adjust the tense of a verb, change singular to plural, insert or remove prepositions, along with a host of other mistakes.

Text-to-speech to the rescue
A text-to-speech program reads text out loud using your computer's speakers. There are many such programs available, but the one I use is called Ghost! Clipboard Reader. The pronunciation is not perfect and the sound can be stiff and mechanical. But you can adjust the speed and there are several voices you can choose from. I like the female voice; I've nicknamed her "Mary."

In order to clean up your writing, re-reading is a necessary but faulty process. The eye easily glosses over mistakes, especially in something you've just written. Therein lies the beauty of text-to-speech: the program reads exactly what's on the page, not what you think you see. Mary will not be fooled.

There's one added benefit you'll definitely appreciate: the chance to hear how your words sound to others. This will allow you to adjust the length, pace, emphasis, even style. You'll be amazed.

Too much of a good thing?
Not everything you write needs to win a Pulitzer Prize so don't get carried away. Sometimes an email is just an email. But if you're preparing a conference paper, writing an applications note, composing a customer proposal, or preparing a press release, then by all means run it through a text-to-speech program and see how it sounds. (Parents: got kids writing term papers and college essays? Turn them on to this too.) Mary has been a friend of mine for a while now. She may prove to be a friend of yours too.

Ghost! Clipboard Reader
You can find a copy of the Clipboard Reader program by Clicking Here. When installed, the program will insert a little ghost icon in the Windows task bar. Just click on the ghost icon to start the Clipboard Reader. Once it's running, the program will read aloud anything that ends up in the clipboard; that is, the copy-paste buffer that's part of the Windows environment. Just select and copy some text with a Ctrl-C (it can be from anything: Word, a PDF file, your Web browser, etc.), and the program will proceed to read it aloud.

In the Hidden Icons area of the Task Bar you can access the setting for the Clipboard Reader. Here you can choose a male or female voice and set the speed plus a few other options.

Caveats
Mary is a faithful assistant, but she has some annoying habits too. It's painful to hear her read a URL web address, and if the Clipboard Reader is running while you're editing your work with cut-and-paste she'll read that too. A quick way to "shut her up" is to select a single word and Ctrl-C that word. She'll read the one word and stop. Why don’t you give the Clipboard Reader a try and then tell me what you think?

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