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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. 

Learn about our upcoming classes, including Proofreading Like a Pro.

Syntax Training


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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