May 2010 Archives


A Free Program to Help with Your Writing

So called knowledge work requires clear written communication. Whether you are writing an email, a speech, or an article, you need to write well if you want your message to to be intelligible.

Unfortunately, although computer processing power increases every year, we cannot yet instruct our computers to compose email messages based on verbal commands alone. Eventually this will come, but while we wait, we need good written communication (and plenty of it) to keep the world on track.

So, allow me to share a tip which I have used on and off for several years which has saved me from shipping many typos and missing words in my written work. My writing is far from perfect, but by using this tool I invariably catch mistakes and improve writing clarity.

This tool is a free program called 'Please Read' ( Please Read is a simple text to speech conversion program with a very simple user interface. For the record I should emphasize that I am not in any way affiliated with the company which produces Please Read. I am just a satisfied user.

There are other text to speech programs around and similar utilities built into various operating systems and applications. However, I have used Please Read 2003 for several years and can recommend it as an easy to use and useful program. Of course, where I refer to Please Read you can substitute the text to speech program of your choice.

For Windows users, who want to try Please Read, visit the Please Read site, download and then install Please Read 2003. This is a free download. You will then have a utility program which can convert English text into speech on your Windows Desktop.

Then when you need to check some text, simply copy the text in your authoring program, paste the copy into Please Read 2003 and play your work back to yourself electronically. The fact that the words are spoken with a computer generated voice and with an intonation produced from your text and punctuation alone will give you a very different perspective on your work. Additionally, you will be forced to slow down, because your perception of speech is slower than your reading speed, and you will think of possible tweaks that can be applied to the words.

Generally you will immediately detect missing words which you miss in a traditional editing session because your eyes skip mistakes, reading what you wanted to write, not what you actually wrote. However, your ears immediately detect these problems. You may also find some of the typos which word processors happily let through - because they are correctly spelled words (like two for too, for example), because Please Read supplies the intonation for the words in the speech that it generates.

Using Please Read, you will literally hear problems with your text and grammar just as if you were listening to a speech being made. Generally when listening to the play back of the words, I look away from the screen, so that I am focused on the auditory input alone.

By listening to the text you will be able to detach from your original intentions for the text and hear the text as a whole. So you will be able to determine the overall structure of the piece. Is the overall message captured correctly? Think of a context in which this text might be used verbally and compare how your article sounds. For example, would what you are hearing from Please Read work as a news piece on CNN, ABC or CBS?

Generally for a short piece of text as soon as I hear an error, I stop the play back, make the correction and then restart the play back from the beginning. I find that this works better than generating a list of errors which have to be fixed sequentially.

So Please Read will help you with the basic mechanics of your text, the flow of the text and its overall structure. When you do not have an in-house proof reader or editor, it is a substantial help. And for the record, when I checked this article using Please Read, I found 6 mistakes! Give Please Read a try. I think that you will like it!

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