Using Text-to-Speech software to proof your writing
By: Edward Frank, July 9, 2014
Writers, admit it, you know you suck at editing your own writing. You are literate and intelligent, at least most of you are, but you can’t find the mistakes in your own writing. It really isn’t your fault, but appears to be a function hardwired into our brains relating to how we deal with language. There are any number of memes on Facebook dealing with this blind spot in reading text.
How many of you remember Laurence Fishburne in the movie “The Matrix” as Morpheus? His is the image often used in several of these memes. The first line of one them reads “What I if told you” and the second reads “you read the first sentence wrong.” You might have caught the error here while reading it, but with the graphic image present, chances are you skimmed over the transposition of “I” and “if” in the text. A similar effect occurs to a much greater extent when you read your own words on paper or on the screen. You read what you think you have written. Your inner voice speaks the words you intended to say regardless of what is actually written in the text itself. You simply don’t see the errors.
This is one of the places where editors can help you. They are wonderful devices, everyone should have one they can plug in when needed. They read the words you have actually written, rather than what you think you have written. But alas, not everyone has one sitting on their kitchen shelf to pull out when needed. Or perhaps you want the draft to be a little more polished before sending it off to an editor so that you appear at least semi-literate. That is where text-to-speech software can help.
If you are using Windows version 7 or higher, it has a text-to-speech function built into the operating system. It is called “Narrator” and is located in the folder “Windows Ease of Access.” Just click on the icon and it will actually talk you through how to use the program. Essentially you use a box to highlight the text you want read aloud and the program reads it. You can select around a page and a half of single spaced text to read at one time. If you are going to be using this regularly it is easy to copy the shortcut to the desktop or pin it to the start menu temporarily.
If you are using Microsoft Word, it also has a text-to-speech function. This can be added to your quick access bar at the top for ease of use. Go to the down menu icon on the right side of the “Quick Access Toolbar” to get the “Customize Quick Access Toolbar Menu.” Select “More Commands.” From the top left box select “All Commands.” Scroll down the box below this and find the command “Speech.” Click the “Add” button on the right side of the box and the “Speech” icon will be added to the “Quick Access Tool Bar.” To use the “Speech” function, just highlight the text you want read aloud and click the “Speech” icon. This program will read aloud a similar amount of text before stopping.
Edward Frank is a Writer and a Filmmaker.
If you are using Mac OSX or higher there also is an option for text-to-speech. The steps to set this up are straight forward. Click “System Preferences” (gear button). Click “Dictation and Speech” (microphone icon). Click Text to Speech. Select “Speak selected text when key is pressed.” Click “Change Key.” On the bottom left of the keyboard is a button called “Option” located between “Control” and “Command.” Without releasing the button press “Option” then press “Escape.” Then press “Ok.” Now whatever text you highlight on the screen will be read aloud when you press “Option (hold) – Escape.” You can optionally chose to customize the voice options. One online video recommends “Samantha.”
If the built in options do not meet your needs there are standalone programs, both free and for purchase, that will also add text to speech capabilities. Some of these will allow more customization than do the built in options, or may allow longer portions of text to be read at one time. I don’t have any experience with any of these and cannot make any specific recommendations.
I have found this process to be extremely helpful in my own work. The limited amount of text that is read at one time is not really a limitation. It allows you to go back and fix the errors while they are still in the forefront of your thoughts. There are glitches in how these programs read the text. They may fail to differentiate between read and read, present tense versus past tense, or they may read dates such as 1839 oddly to our sensibilities as one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine, while other dates like 2004 will be read simply as two thousand four. With more than an occasional use, these known glitches will not even be noticed in use, while misspelled words, words out of order, wrong words, and extra words will generally be caught. Malapropisms, where the author doesn’t know the correct meaning of the word, and homonyms will still be a problem.
My name is Edward Frank. By training I am a geologist with published research on caves found in the United States, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I am the webmaster, BBS administrator, and run the Facebook Page for the Native Tree Society and am involved with tree research with the group. I am the author, or coauthor, of a number of tree related articles and publications available for download from the NTS website and NTS BBS. I write science fiction and fantasy stories reflecting a lifelong love of the genres. Most recently I published a fantasy role playing game Knarf 4, available through Amazon Kindle. I also write non-fiction. I currently am working on a book on “The Old-Growth Forests at Cook Forest State Park, PA” targeting older children and teens. I am presently working on a documentary film: “The Black Guides of Mammoth Cave.” I am suave, sophisticated, funny, kind, considerate, thoughtful, brilliant, devilishly handsome, and above all modest.