One simple approach to instantly improve your writing

Everybody writes. Whether it’s an email to a friend, your resume, a sales proposal, website copy or the next best-selling book, readers expect clear and error free writing. The problem is that it’s really hard to proofread your own work. Your brain sees what you meant to write, not what’s actually on the page.

I wish I’d known about this easily overlooked tool years ago. It’s been a huge help in finding errors in my blog posts, books and other important documents that were invisible to me before. Text to speech is a simple way to find and fix typos, missing words and editing blunders in your work.

Nic McPhee via flickr cc

Nic McPhee via flickr cc

Even if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who’s a good proofreader, there’s a limit to how often you can call on them. As long as your computer runs a recent operating system, text to speech is the next best option. Hearing your words can help find awkward sentences and uncover less obvious typos. Once you’ve configured the voice and pace to your liking, text to speech is only a keystroke away.


First-time setup

To get started you’ll need to activate Text to Speech and select your preferred voice and speaking rate.

Dictation and Speech settings

Dictation and Speech settings

  1. From the  menu, select System Preferences.
  2. Open Dictation & Speech.
  3. If necessary, select the Text to Speech button at the top of the window.
  4. Enable Speak selected text when the key is pressed. option + esc is the default but you can reassign it with the Change key… button.
  5. Experiment with the system voice and speaking rate until you find something you like. Click Play to hear the current settings.

Using text to speech on a Mac

Text to Speech is now available from any text editing application. If you don’t have any text selected the entire document will be read back to you. I find it better to work through a paragraph at a time (because I have so many typos to fix).

  1. Select the paragraph you want read back.
  2. Press option + esc.
  3. Press option + esc again to stop before the end of the selected text.


First-time setup

The Narrator in Windows 8 does the same job.

  1. Open PC Settings and select Ease of Access, Speech Recognition, Narrator.
  2. Turn Narrator on.
  3. Experiment with the voice, speed and pitch until you find settings that work for you.

The default settings make Narrator more verbose than needed. Microsoft provide instructions for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 to customise these settings.

Using Narrator on Windows

Without any text selected, Windows will read from the current cursor position to the end of the document.

  1. Select the paragraph you want read back.
  2. Press win + enter to activate Narrator.
  3. Press caps lock + m to read the selected passage.
  4. Press ctrl to stop or press win + enter to turn Narrator off.

Next time you write an important document or email message, give text to speech a try. I’ll bet you find something you’ve overlooked.

Question: What other tools or techniques do you find helpful in reviewing documents? Leave a comment below.

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5 Responses

  1. tim sprosen says:

    Thanks John. Will give this a try with my next draft. Your brain seeing what you meant to write rather than what is on the page is an important point you make and well made. Thanks again, Tim

  2. Angela says:

    USEFUL! Thank you John!

  1. December 14, 2015

    […] hundreds of silly mistakes that I’ve read straight over. I’ve previously written about how to use text to speech to catch errors that are otherwise […]

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