Proofreading by Listening: Text-to-Speech

When it comes to proofreading, many people recommend reading aloud what you have written. That technique often works well. But to be successful using it, you must read what is on the page or screen–not what should be there. Reading what is actually there is challenging because you know what you intended.

You can use Microsoft's Text-to-Speech feature to read your text aloud for you. It doesn't read what you meant to type–only what is on the screen, so it may help you catch errors that you and your grammar and spelling checker overlook.

Here is how to add the Text-to-Speech feature to your Word and Outlook toolbar in Office 2010:

1. Open Word or a new Outlook email.

2. Next to the Quick Access Toolbar (on my screen, it is a small toolbar in the upper left corner), click the down arrow, which opens the Customize Quick Access Toolbar dropdown menu.

3. Click More Commands.

4. In the box labeled Choose commands from, click All Commands.

5. Scroll through the alphabetic list of commands, to Speak. Double-click it.

6. Click Add, which appears to the right of the list.

7. Click OK.

When you look at your Quick Access Toolbar, you will see that a small balloon symbol appears. It is labeled Speak selected text. Select the text you want to hear; then click the balloon.

Listen carefully. If you hear words you did not intend, you can investigate and correct them. 

I just copied the text above into a Word document, but I replaced three words with the wrong word: then for there, dawn for down, and lint for list. My purpose was to see how distinctly the narrator pronounced the words and whether I would notice the errors when I listened. Of course, I was listening carefully (as anyone would need to do to make this technique useful), and it was easy for me to hear the odd words and correct them.

If you have time to listen to your document being read aloud, the Text-to-Speech feature may help you find errors in your writing. 

According to Microsoft literature, Windows 7 offers a similar feature called Narrator.

I could have used this proofreading help last week, when I sent out my newsletter to over 17,000 readers. I was rushing to finish it in a Chicago hotel, just before meeting my young nephews and traveling to Seattle with them. In that rush, I typed "chief financial owner" rather than "chief financial officer" in an article. It's an error Text-to-Speech could have helped me find easily–if I had had the time to listen.

I am grateful to client Karen J., who works in a Portland, Oregon, law firm, for telling me about Text-to-Speech as a proofreading aid. If you are aware of other narration features that might be helpful in finding errors, please share them. 

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  1. Lynn – Thanks for the idea. I just tried Win 7 Narrator. It’s a bit tricky to get it to read what you actually want it to read, but pasting the text into Notepad seems to work reasonably well.

  2. What a wonderful tool! In a Mac Air go to: System Preferences, click Speech that says: Speak selected text when the key is pressed. From there you can change the key combination that you will use in the future to enable the text-to-speech function, the speaker’s speed and even the system’s voice!

  3. Ooops! Should have used the proofreading tool, I’m sorry after clicking speech it is supposed to read: check the box that says: Speak Selected Text When the Key is Pressed…

  4. Thank you Karen J and Lynn for this wonderful tool. Much easier to close my eyes and listen to what I have written than to visually proofread where the tendency is to read, as you say, what you expect to be there.


  5. Great idea, I print to proofread, this is much friendly to the environment.

    By the way Windows 8 also has the Narrator.

  6. Great tip. By the time comes to proofread, I’ve usually read documents several times and it becomes very hard to pick up errors. I’ll try this feature for some extra help.

  7. Hello, Idara, Billie, MaryHazel, Jennifer, Jakki, and Ruth. I am glad you like this proofreading aid.

    Let’s remember that listening to a narrator helps us recognize only errors involving words. We still need to review punctuation, the spelling of names, number accuracy, formatting, and other aspects of our writing. I wish it were easier!

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing.


  8. You know, in life you come across an idea which is so simple that you wonder why it did not strike you in the first place. Well this post is one of those ideas!
    Countless times I have used the text-to-speech feature for listening to my fav novels (I don’t download audio books – they take lot of space and also, sometime, I love to read rather than listen) but never used for proofreading!
    Well, at least from now on I would start using it.
    Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  9. Wow.. This is great idea. Although you posted this last year, and I only found out just now! Thanks a lot and I am sure it is very useful.


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