Reading aloud is essential to quality writing. Most people associate reading aloud as an activity they were forced to endure during their time as a student. Memories of a teacher announcing that the students will be reading aloud are met with pleas to a deity for divine intervention. As the moment to read aloud approaches, visceral emotions ranging from angst to elation begin to erupt. The emotion that takes on dominance is largely dependent upon the individual reader’s comfort level relating to the verbiage of the text. A further determining factor affecting the reader is their experience with “standard, written English.” In Peter Elbow’s essay, Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know, he proposes that reading aloud is an act that should be adopted into regular practice by those who seek to improve the quality of their writing.
Elbow explains that standard, written English is a mode of communication that is found within the works of established writers and within the confines of learning institutions where grammar is taught. He observes that most individuals feel discomfort with standard, written English due to the fact that it differs from the language that is ordinarily spoken. When transitioning from speaking to writing mode, Elbow suggests that it is preferred that the writer’s voice remains within the vernacular style. During the final stages of revision, the writer may then adjust word choices, as well as make necessary grammatical modifications. The desired outcome is that the final product will appeal to a wider spectrum of readers, resulting in a higher level of understanding.
In order to ensure understandability in their writing occurs, the writer must balance the vernacular with standard, written English. When clarity is the main objective, Elbow advocates that the writer incorporates reading aloud during the late stages of revision. Once the product is polished and free from most grammatical errors, reading aloud provides an opportunity for the text to come alive. It is during this stage of revision where the writer takes on the persona of the reader. Is the flow of language comfortable to read? Is the message present within the text clear, concise, and true to the writer’s original intent? The answers to each of these questions are likely to reveal themselves during this stage.
Certainly, conversational speaking contains distinctive differences from written communication. Unlike formal text, informality is present during everyday verbal exchanges. Non-verbal cues serve as bridges that link spoken content, as well as implied meaning. Unfortunately, written text does not leverage the benefit of non-verbal cues. Therefore, it is imperative that a final revision of text takes into account that the readership will inevitably bring with them varied biases and life experiences, as well as a regional understanding of language and/or verbiage. Reading aloud can provide the writer an opportunity to address these concerns.
Early drafts of text may contain many deficiencies that prove elusive during beginning attempts at revision. Long-winded language is a common issue for most writers. Enthusiastic sharing of thoughts takes form as a never-ending sentence. However, when reading aloud, revisers are able to rephrase language choices and correct punctuation so the awkwardness is removed. Inevitably, the result is a flowing sentence structure that allows readership to have a pleasurable reading experience.
Lastly, Elbow identifies two other instances to support that reading aloud during the final revision stage will result in producing a refined final product. Most individuals are less cognizant of spoken grammatical choices. By reading aloud, grammatical issues will more readily reveal themselves. If a high quality of writing is to occur, it is reasonable to acknowledge that an open mind and a critical ear are essential tools that are used during all phases of revision. Rather than holding a tight grip of what has “worked” in the past, the goal is to grow as a writer. Elbow’s essay provides compelling evidence that reading aloud will dramatically affect text in a manner where the masses are able to receive the writer’s message with clarity and ease.
Opinion and Blog by Garrett Sayers
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Peter Elbow–-University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know.
Image Courtesy of Ignacio Palomo Duartes’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License