Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Catch mistakes by reading aloud, part of Writing in Plain English.
- So, how do you know if your writing is easy to read to comprehend, and clear is plain. One way to achieve that is to read the message aloud, not just aloud in your brain with your eyes but aloud with your voice. Say the words. Listen to the way they actually sound. I guarantee that you will hear redundancies, lack of transition or coherency, convoluted sentence, or choppy elementary sentence structure. Plain English also includes being grammatically correct and proofread thoroughly.
Aloud reading is always one of the best techniques to correct those kinds of mistakes as well. Scholarly studies have been done on this concept. For example, Peter Elbow of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studied this concept and explains the theoretical aspect in Revising By Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know. He said readers will find your writing clearer and more inviting when your language is comfortable to speak aloud.
When it is, readers don't have to work as hard to understand your words. They seem to hear the meaning come up off the page. Think about the first word you learned. You learned them by listening to them. Probably someone read aloud to you. Our ears learn to hear word flow, idea connection, and key ideas before we begin learning to speak or to write. When you hear your draft, your brain processes the information in a different way, and you will notice things that you are hearing that you didn't see before.
Most business writing should have a conversational tone. Formal reports are an exception, of course, and don't confuse conversational with slang. We'll analyze formal and informal in another lesson. But if you wouldn't say something to someone face to face, then it doesn't have a conversational tone. My courses Business Writing Fundamentals, and Business Writing Strategies further discuss conversational tone, and formal versus informal writing. Per your request may look good on paper, but when you read it aloud, it sounds stilted to most of us.
Not something I've actually said to anyone lately. But I have said here is the list you wanted, or the inventory list is attached. Also as you read aloud, picture the person who will receive your message seated across the desk from you. Read with a pace you would use. Take the aloud reading seriously for it to work. When one of my students ask what I mean by an awkward sounding or unclear comment on his grade business document, the first thing I always say is read this sentence to me.
99% of the time, that aloud reading is enough for her to hear the awkwardness, the unclarity. Let me share something personal about the courses I record. I follow the writing process: Outline, Research, Write a Rough Draft, Ask the producer for feedback, and Revise based on the input. Then, I read the scripts aloud and make changes. And then read aloud again and make changes. And I'm usually reading aloud and making minor changes two minutes before the recording begins.
What looked good on paper two months ago now has been revised at least six or seven times and has a much more conversational tone as I'm sharing it with you now. At least, I hope. What's my point? When I actually hear the words, I immediately notice what's wrong with my writing. I need a different word choice. The sentence flow isn't smooth, or the paragraphs go from one idea to another without connecting. Of course, I know how they connect, but you aren't in my mind to make that leap.
Maybe I need to explain more or less, or it just sounds awkward. You might even use a Text to Speech program. Natural Reader is a free Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software converts any written text, including Word, PDF files, and emails, into spoken words. This allows you to listen to your printed file, or edit it in a word processing program. If you've never used one, take time to experiment with a free Text to Speech Reader.
The links to some you could experiment with are in the Exercise File. Let's go through an example from a business document. Your company RYAL is asking another company E.M. Inc. if it's interested in forming an informal partnership. Here's the written version. Read it to yourself with only your eyes. If you actually wrote this, as you read it to yourself, chances are it made sense to you. It should since you wrote it.
And maybe you didn't notice any major problems, or maybe you scanned so quickly you barely saw words at all. Now, read aloud with me. Ready? We would like to know if E.M. Inc. would be interested in receiving additional funding for its car share program as well as adding thousands of volunteers to your network. Stop. I'm confused. Third person name of the company is used in the first line. And then, changes to second person your in the second line.
A question mark. That sentence isn't a question. It's a statement. We would like to know. Let's continue reading. Because RYAL has a large network of team members, we would like to find and provide volunteers for E.M.'s car share program Cars for Hope. So, we're offering the opportunity to become a partner of RYAL, a beacon of community development. Stop. How's that sentence different from the first one. We're offering money and volunteers, and I'm not sure I know what a community development beacon is.
Let's read the next portion. So, we can help meet your specific needs. Please help us ascertain the possibility of providing these funds by answering the following questions. Stop. So far in the letter, no mention has been made of E.M. having needs. Ascertain the possibility of providing these funds by answering. Something doesn't sound right. Really wordy. Over use of Ps and ings, and six multi-syllabled words strung together.
Here's the next segment aloud. We're wondering if there are any potential volunteer opportunities of the Cars for Hope program for this upcoming summer and we want to know you anticipated and predictable responsibilities of the potential volunteers? Also, it would be nice if you would tell us a time commitment of future volunteer opportunities? Stop. Maybe some intended questions but not any direct ones. We were wondering and we want to know. Anticipated and predictable.
Are those different? Time commitment of future opportunities. Probably not any past opportunities left. And trying to determine how many answers are wanted is not easy. And, of course, an are needed to be added to you. The correct word is you're, and the filler there results in wordiness. And the last paragraph. So that Cars for Hope may receive the maximum and largest amount of summer volunteers, please send your response statements by the end of February so we may have something set up by June, and be sure to include any additional information that you think would be beneficial and send your response to this address.
Or call this number. Stop. Maximum and largest? Are both those words needed? Send your response statements? Wordy sound. Why not please respond by? This quick discussion focuses on just some of the issues just enough so that you can hear some of the key concerns. We'll come back to this letter later in the course. So, even though we know what the words additional, volunteers, opportunities, possibilities mean, and the average sentence is about 18 words, hearing those words put together helped us identify confusing lack of plain English areas.
So, to craft stronger writing, plainer, clearer, easier to understand with one reading, try listening to what you've written.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
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- Understanding plain English
- Catching mistakes by reading aloud
- Simplifying sentences
- Using strong verbs and meaningful words
- Avoiding corporate jargon
- Finding the right voice and tone
- Editing flow and content
- Writing in a conversational style