Reading aloud is the easiest, most efficient way to revise any written report, according to Peter Elbow, English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Revising by Reading Aloud: What the Mouth and Ear Know. When writers read aloud, what the ears hear and the tongue speaks does not sound the same as when the writer reads the words inside their own head. Reading aloud makes the revision process easy, even if there is no one available to listen other than the dust bunnies.
Elbow says that it is important to “use the mentality of our vernacular speech” when writing. In this way, authors should write the same way they speak. When this is done, the message will be clearer to the intended audience. There are entire websites dedicated to teaching writers to read their work aloud in the later stages of revision. The ear will hear what the eye will automatically correct. Even when things read well on paper, the ear does not always take pleasure in the sound of the words and the tongue may occasionally find it difficult to fluently move from word to word. When this happens, it is important to repeat the reading-out-loud process until both ear and tongue are satisfied.
For Those Intimidated by Reading Aloud:
- Deep breaths can calm down a writer before reading their manuscript. The reader can also keep a rhythm in their head to keep their reading at a steady pace.
- Readers should sit down if possible. Being relaxed and comfortable will ease body tension and put the reader and listeners at an equal level.
- Be extremely familiar with the work that will be read. If the writer knows the information well, it will be easier for a layperson to hear what is unclear. Clarity is a primary reason for reading to other people during the revision process.
- Read passionately and slowly. The slow, deliberate manner will help listeners understand the author’s intended meaning. The natural inflection in the voice helps the listener hear words and sentences that do not flow well when spoken. Reading with passion will help to ease the feeling of being nervous, as it will cause listeners to focus on the words, not the reader.
- Enunciation is important in the reading and revision process. Each word must be heard clearly. Therefore, the writer must read their words slowly during this stage of the revision process.
- Expect mistakes. Reading aloud helps to catch errors missed in previous revisions. Tripping over words while reading is normal if one is nervous. Beware, as it may indicate the need for revision.
The untutored tongue, as it is referred to by Elbow, is a tongue that does not use standard English in everyday conversation. This accounts for the majority of writers. Reading aloud during revision focuses on clarity. It does not use the thinking required in early editing. However, writers who use this technique for revision can certainly sharpen their thinking. According to Elbow, listening to their words in their own voice can teach the writer how to best reach the widest audience possible. A strong title will attract the reader. Content that is easy to understand will hold the reader’s attention and excite them to want more.
Elbow asserts that reading aloud transforms the writer’s role to listener. He also says, “the presence of a listener forces the reader to hear” the words through someone else’s ears. A writer must learn to hear the message in their words. Once this is achieved, the author will be able to listen while they write.
John Schultz taught the “Story Workshop Method” that made writers read aloud. First, the students read a few lines one syllable at a time from a well-written published piece. Next, they were required to make their voices change from high to low while reading. Then, Schultz taught them to alternate syllables from loud to soft. These exercises perhaps made all writers look silly, but it removed the nervousness of reading in front of others while forcing the ear of the writer to hear the message. A misplaced word or lack of clarity stands out for both listener and writer.
Elbow claims if a writer works with their words until they sound correct to the ear and are easy to say with the tongue, the result will be a strong and clear message which jumps off the page for the reader. Writers need to trust their tongue and ears over grammar styles they have been taught. Elbow discovered that writers who appear to be naturally born to write already read their work out loud.
Whenever possible, it is best to read to another person. A listener who does not clearly understand the topic will ask questions. These questions will enable the writer to know what needs to be added so the message is clear.
Once a writer is accustomed to reading aloud, more active verbs will be used. In general, active verbs are not only easier to speak, they also provide the reader with a clear sequence of ideas. Elbow contends that reading aloud when revising will help to solve common problems that often hinder a writer’s intended message.
One problem reading aloud will fix is the run-on sentence. Those never-ending sentences will fluster the most avid reader. The rhythm and flow will be interrupted; therefore, the mistake will be easily heard.
Reading aloud will allow the writer to focus on the message. The author will be able to hear when the message is lost and know to make revisions and get back on track. Pauses will be heard naturally making punctuation revisions easy as well. This is not Elbow’s original idea, as reading aloud has been common practice for centuries.
The reading aloud process for revising can be tedious and embarrassing, but it will allow the writer to learn continued editing patterns and be able to break those bad writing habits. Elbow says reading aloud makes better writers become great listeners. One who is conditioned to listen while writing learns revisions are made easy simply through the training of the ear and tongue. Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write;” therefore, just read aloud.
Opinion by Jeanette Smith
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Peter Elbow–University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know.
Writers Net: Reading Aloud Edit
Stephen King: On Writing
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