That Doesn’t Sound Right–Revising ‘Out Loud’

11 July 2013

 Image by Travis Isaacs


Have you ever read a sentence or phrase in a document and thought to yourself, ‘That doesn’t sound right’? Maybe it was a strange idea, or maybe the word choice seemed weird. But something about it just wasn’t right.


Most of the time we read silently – just looking and thinking about words on a page (or screen) – not reading aloud. So it’s funny to think that something doesn’t ‘sound right’ if you’re not actually hearing it.


Where did that expression come from?


It could be from the early centuries after Christ, when few people were educated. Back then, only priests and monks from religious orders were able to read. Priests read biblical passages aloud to their parishioners, most of whom were not educated.


Since reading aloud then was so common (as it was for centuries), that may be where we get the idea of something in a written text not ‘sounding’ right.


‘Copycat’ reading

I’ve spoken before about the ‘copycat writing’ method, where you copy someone else’s writing to get a feel for the style and to ‘soak in’ the grammar and syntax. I still believe that this is a good method for developing your writing style.


But what about ‘copycat reading’? When you read aloud, you’re using your sight, speech and hearing all at the same time, and the more senses you use, the better you learn.


You feel the rhythm of a text. You hear the writer’s voice, as well as their attitudes and emotions.


Revising ‘out loud’

In a recent post by Richard Nordquist at ‘’, he said, ‘One way to revise effectively is to read your writing out loud–or better yet, have someone else read it to you.’


It’s probably not feasible to expect someone to read your written documents aloud to you. (They don’t have the time – and they may think that it’s quite ‘childish’.)


But you can still read your own stuff out loud. I often do that before publishing a document or sending an email. I also read aloud at least some of other people’s documents that I’ve edited. In some cases, I find that that’s the only way to figure out what the writer means. Reading out loud makes me slow down, which also helps me see (hear) things I may have overlooked.


Nordquist quoted several writers who listed the advantages of reading aloud to revise something you’ve written. It helps you

·      catch awkward and unclear passages

·      recognize ideas that need to be clarified or developed further

·      ‘find a voice’, for example whether to use first person (I) or third person (he/she)

·      find what feels ‘right in the mouth’ and what sounds ‘right in the ear’ [I like this one the best.]

·      see and hear problems in the text, including awkward phrasings, repetition of vocabulary and problems of coherence.


After you literally hear something that ‘doesn’t sound right’, you can make changes to it that result in a text that sounds natural, one that tells the full ‘story’ and flows logically.


Where can you read out loud?

Many offices are open plan–where desks are in small cubicles that are not enclosed. If you read something out loud from your cubicle, you may disturb your neighbors.


Well, you don’t have to read LOUDLY. You can speak in a quiet voice, one that’s just barely audible to yourself.


Or you may be embarrassed for someone else to hear what you’ve written. (To be honest, if my husband walks by my office door while I’m reading out loud, I tend to stop reading until he’s no longer near, or I start to speak much more quietly.)


In this case, try to go to a place where there aren’t many people around. If possible, take your writing home and do your reading and revising in a more private setting.


Have you ever tried ‘revising out loud’? What benefits have you seen from it? Do you have other ideas on how to read aloud in an office setting (and not interrupt your colleagues)? Share your ideas in the comments.


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