You’re a writing superstar in every sense of the word. You can knock out a thousand words between sips of coffee, and all of your furniture is constructed from books. So, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re an adept reader.
However in terms of writing tips, can an adept reader still benefit from reading aloud?
We generally think of reading aloud as one step before we begin following the text along with one finger while moving our lips. We see it as a bad habit that needs to be dealt with before we’re even able to properly dress ourselves before school.
As adults, if we ever read aloud, it’s usually never for our own benefit, but either to wind our kids down for bed or to let someone know the article that popped up on your Twitter feed.
Stamping the behavior of reading aloud may actually have been counterproductive for our developing skill. There are studies and reports coming in heralding the cognitive benefits concerning the practice of reading out loud to yourself.
Even without the research, a little forethought and common sense can show the benefit of reading aloud.
During our school years, to help with reading and writing tips, the teacher would generally call on someone to stand up and read a passage out loud during a lesson. The act of reading out loud would help us develop an ear for pronunciation and help exercise our mouths to better articulate words.
The Case Study for Reading Aloud
A few years ago, researchers at the University of Waterloo, Colin Macleod and Noah Forrin, published in the journal Memory, a study showing content retention and comprehension when the control group read aloud.
The study asked 95 students to take part in the experiment, in which four conditions were used to identify where content retention was most affected. The subjects were tasked with either reading silently to themselves, reading aloud to themselves, listening to a recording of themselves, or listening to a recording to a third party reading aloud to them.
As you can probably guess from the direction of this article, the most effective measure for memory retention of content was to read aloud to themselves.
The summation is that reading aloud to yourself improved retention not just from visual reading the words and hearing the words, but also the act of vocalizing the words. In terms of writing tips, when you’ve written a sentence, read it aloud to yourself to make sure it has the impact you want.
How Reading Aloud Helps Memory Retention
According to the study, by vocalizing the words, you are attaching a memory to the action. Colin Macleod and Noah Forrin called this occurrence the “production effect”. When you read out loud, you’re engaging multiple parts of the brain, this in itself helps to record the experience into your long-term memory.
Another interesting result that the study picked up is that when we hear ourselves in a recording versus when we hear a third party, we are able to better retain information.
How Reading Aloud Helps Editing
If you go to a library, no matter which book you pick up, there will be errors that should have been edited out.
According to Grammarfactory, if an editor goes through your book three times over the course of an edit:
“In the first read through they’ll catch 80% of the issues (meaning 20% of your errors will remain),
In the second read through they’ll catch 80% of the remaining 20% of issues (80% of 20% is 16%, so 4% of your original errors will remain), and
In the third read through they will catch 80% of the remaining 4% of errors.
80% of 4% is 3.2%, which means 0.8% of your initial errors will still make it into the edited manuscript.”
The truth of the matter is that when we read silently, our brain has a built in autocorrect that ignores typos, constructing a comprehensible narrative.
One of the best writing tips for editing is to force yourself to read aloud. By doing this you will need to focus on every word (keep in mind that even this isn’t foolproof). It will make it obvious when you are missing a phrase, if you have run-on sentences, or if the material is just plain clunky.
If you’re editing dialogue, reading aloud can help to distinguish if the language used sounds credible, or if you’re pontificating for the sake of being wordy or clever.
Reading aloud also helps structure syntax. When you’re using a bevy of adjectives, it can be easy to forget the order that you’re supposed to list them.
One of the writing tips you should be aware of is the order of adjectives, which should proceed as:
If you’re on the last stretch of a 30,000 word book, you may find yourself writing:
“I found three brown round giant decrepit hamsters managing my finances.”
When it should read:
“I found three giant decrepit round brown hamsters managing my finances.”
Although both cases would be horrible to find yourself in, one at least reads a little better.
While reading aloud has its benefits and will help you retain information and edit your pieces more precisely, it’s best to practice this when you’re not at the library or on a crowded subway.