Why You Should Read Your Work Aloud

Read your work aloud, even if you have to wear a funny hat to do it.One of the principles outlined in my e-book is that of reading one’s work aloud. It’s a principle by which I live and breathe. I don’t remember when it became a part of my writing process (College? Grad school? My mom?), but it’s a part of it. It’s critical to the pieces I write at Write Right, and it’s equally critical, if not more so, to the poems I write. My work is a part of an oral tradition, even if it isn’t read aloud by my readers.

Why should you read your work aloud? I suppose the first reason is obvious. It allows you to catch errors you’ve made in your writing. You’ll spot missing words and misspelled words. You’ll trip over sentences and realize that the sentences are a little mangled and require some attention. You’ll discover you have two, distinct ideas in one paragraph, and you need to separate them. Of course, it’s easy to read your work too quickly and to gloss over the errors. If you want to catch errors in your work, you need to read slowly, as though you’re reading the text for the very first time. You also can borrow an idea from Lindsay Bell-Wheeler who says to read your work backwards, that is, from the conclusion to the beginning.

The second reason may not be as obvious, but it’s one that perhaps is more dear to me than the one of catching errors. Reading aloud lets you hear the rhythm of your speech. It makes you aware of the flow of your work and of language itself. As you become accustomed to that rhythm and flow, you learn how to interrupt it. In my case, I sometimes break the rhythm by inserting a short sentence or a fragment in a paragraph that consists of longer sentences. It’s a way of capturing attention and of alerting the reader to take note or to prepare for some change that is about to occur.

The third reason, again not that obvious, is that reading your work aloud prepares you to discuss your work in person. Somehow – and I don’t know how – the words permeate better when they’re read aloud. I become comfortable with the words and the ideas they represent. I remember them and can talk about them because they have become familiar to me.

Do you read your work aloud? If so, why?

Photo: Lee Bennett (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Comments

  1. I do. It allows me to hear the pace at which I believe someone might read my words, and check if the punctuation allows for the appropriate pauses. (think Eats, Shoots and Leaves:) Writing makes it real. Reading, especially aloud, makes it come to life. Cheers! Kaarina

    • KDillabough I think reading for punctuation was drilled into me in the fourth grade. It’s probably why I have such a conflicted relationship with exclamation points. 🙂
      My mom also read to my brothers and me. I think that might be part of where my love for language originates.

      • Erin F. I tend to have a loving relationship with exclamation points:)

        • KDillabough You have no idea how I struggled when I was given a poetry exercise that required the use of one – one – exclamation point. I’m prone to using exclamation points in casual conversation, but I rarely use them in my posts or poems. Dashes and parentheses on the other hand…I love dashes and parentheses. And semicolons. And ellipses. Never mind. I like all punctuation marks.

        • Erin F. We are the punctuation mark posse…or at least pair:)

  2. I’m like you – I always read my work aloud. And it’s something I require of my team when they’re writing. In fact, they know if I say, “Have you read this aloud?” they still have some work to do.

  3. Daniel J. Cohen says:

    Good post Mizz Feldman. Reading aloud is the ultimate method for targeting misused words, too. Those dang things are tricky on the eyes, but when you use your ears, you are likely to catch them.

  4. suddenlyjamie says:

    Always. No matter what. 🙂 
    Reading my writing aloud is a critical part of my editing process. I’ve never been one for reading a piece backwards (gives me a headache), and my printer has been out of ink for years, so editing the print copy is not feasible. 
    BUT … I never skip reading a piece aloud. No matter what it is – blog post, fiction, marcom. I’ve even been known to read emails aloud before hitting “Send.” 
    Great habit to develop. 🙂

    • suddenlyjamie You’re in the perfect place if you read your emails aloud. I don’t think I read my texts or tweets aloud, but I do quibble over them.
      I’ve never read a piece backwards, either. I’m not sure I’d have the patience for it.

      • suddenlyjamie says:

        Erin F. suddenlyjamie I’m in the same boat – texts and tweets get a couple re-reads and a “real-time,” if you will, edit. Reading backwards – forget it. Who has the time? 
        PS: Side note – I try hard not to shorten too many words like “grt” or “fwd” … I know economy of space is an issue, but something in me twitches at the complete abbreviation of the English language. Petty, and not always viable, but there it is. 
        PPS: I love the word “quibble.” 🙂

        • suddenlyjamie Same here! I’ve been known to send two tweets just to avoid abbreviating words.
          Isn’t “quibble” a nice word? It’s another word that doesn’t see enough usage.

  5. I rarely read my work aloud nor do I read it backwards. It is not because I don’t think those methods are effective or useful because they are.
    However, I usually read it to myself and that is where I catch mistakes and issues.

    • thejoshuawilner I use both methods, but I’m more prone to read my work aloud if I’m working on some sort of rhythm, debating a line break, or having trouble with a sentence or two. Some of the more poetic posts here were read aloud before I published them.

    • thejoshuawilner Erin F. I read to myself but unfortunately, I still catch omitted words and messed up phrasing months later.

  6. When I have more time or want a more thorough edit, I do try reading backwards. It definitely helps with typos and sentence construction. I’ve tried reading aloud over the years but never really incorporated it into my process. I should probably try to… blogging has made me almost too informal in style.

    • Adam | Customer Experience You also could try writing in second or third person. I do it because I find it fun to experiment, and sometimes first person simply isn’t the right choice. I also think it’s a way to work into a different style or to refresh the one you’re using.
      I truly don’t know where the reading aloud originates. I assume it’s from school, which means I had plenty of time to turn the practice into a habit. I said this in another comment, but I don’t always read everything aloud – maybe because I can hear myself saying the words as I write them? Reading aloud depends on the assignment or on what I’m trying to accomplish. Most of the time, I read aloud to ensure clarity.

  7. Oh my gosh, Erin. As soon as I saw your title I was hit with the sense of where did this idea/habit go? When did I stop doing it? I don’t know. But I did. 
    I remember reading aloud my papers in college but during the many years between then and now it slipped my mind. And I feel that it’s especially crucial in the writing that I currently do–more feelings-based.
    One reason that I can think of for dropping this practice is that I usually write in public. I hesitate to present on the spot! Get kicked out of Starbucks.
    Thank you for the reminder!

    • garrystafford Haha! It might be a little odd to read aloud at Starbucks. Maybe you should give it a shot? Just tell people it’s an impromptu poetry slam and see if you can get other people to participate. 🙂

  8. I agree completely. I read over and over again, but not always aloud. Great tip, Erin, and I wish you had reminded me before I hit “publish” just 15 minutes ago.

    • barrettrossie It takes deliberate practice to make reading aloud a habit. The tricky part is reading slowly. It’s just as easy to fill in words when reading aloud as it when reading silently, especially if you’ve been working with a piece for a while. You have to read the work word by word rather than by sentence or paragraph.

  9. I have a couple of blogs that are humorous, and I read the posts aloud for them sometimes. That’s so I can tell if the jokes are coming through clearly or not.
    But I think it’s worth doing for any style of writing. If it can be read easily, and it sounds natural, that’s a bonus. People will tend to give up if it’s too much of a struggle, after all.

    • AusMatt That they do. You also bring up another point – reading aloud helps us to keep our audience in mind. We’re supposed to speak with them not to or at them.

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