Improve your writing by having it read back to you

Does it sound like a human is speaking to you?

Richard Feynman is still considered one of the greatest teachers that ever lived. He could explain complicated scientific subjects to the layman. His method, unlike most scientist, was to use simple words to convey complex ideas in a way we can all relate. He spoke in a human language.

I may be the last person to give you advice on how to write, but I know a certain type of writing that rings best in my ears. The most brilliant of writings are those that have a voice. They don't just feel like text you read. You can almost hear the voice of the author.

Some people prefer their written words to sound like an exposition, one that requires a rigorous understanding of the subject to follow along. I prefer a human voice. At the end of the day, we write for humans, so might as well make it sound human. This means, you have to look at the choice of words and the style of writing after you have conveyed your message.

I'm not an expert in making words sound like they are spoken, but the human ear is naturally tuned to pick up the human voice. So when I write a blog post, like this one you are reading, I first try to read it out loud.

My favorite word in English is "Viviparous". I will probably never write a piece on this blog where it will be appropriate to use this word. But I find myself trying to sneak it into a blog post from time to time. It sounds fantastic in my head, it conveys the imagery of a vivacious being giving birth. And I would love to use it to describe a powerful idea coming to life. But when I read it out loud, I strike it off immediately. If I still find myself wanting to use the word, I go to the next step: Have the post read to me.

Most people I know wouldn't read this blog even if I force them to, so I can't get friends and family to read or edit my writing. But what I can do is use a Text to Speech (TTS) engine to read back my writing. I use a free one online like You will be surprised at all the mistakes you will catch when you hear what you wrote read back to you. The reason is, when you are reading back your own writing, you are partially reciting it from memory and not necessarily reading the words you see on the screen.

Some sentences are technically correct when written, but they sound off when spoken. This is not to mean that you should add words like "Like, totally like whatever, you know" in your piece to make it sound spoken. Instead it means to use simple words people can understand rather than an endeavor to utilize a unit of language your audience can comprehend.

I also use From Text to Speech for longer text I write and listen to it as a whole to see if it all make sense.

Either way the message is to hear your text being read back to you. It allows you to catch obvious mistake, improve your flow, and at the very least, make it human friendly.


Ilka :

Hey Ibrahim, thank you for this very helpful advice!

That encourages me to come out with my simple writing. I am right there with you that our writing should be sound human. I will definitely work with your recommended speech tools. :))

Ibrahim :

Thanks @Ilka. I hope this method will be of great use to you.

Dom :

Great! Paul Graham is one of the great masters of this style. Derek Sivers maybe takes it too far, but at least extreme minimalism saves the reader a lot of time. And while Gwern isn't, I really like how invested he is in the process of making his writing better

I just found your blog because I saw a post linked on HackerNews, and I'm binging right now. Good stuff

Ibrahim :

Hey Dom

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I definitely enjoy Derek Sivers writing and often use it as an inspiration.

Also, I'm so glad you shared the link to gwern. I know I had read that page in the past but I could not make myself remember the website. So you've done me a great service :)

Always happy to have a new reader!

Let's hear your thoughts

For my eyes only