Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Virtues of Reading Your Writing Aloud, Part 1

You don’t have to be a grammar expert to be a good writer; in fact, grammar experts can make the worst writers. Good writing requires clarity, conciseness, grace, and vigor. Most people capable of speaking with clarity, conciseness, grace, and vigor can also write with these attributes. (I say “most people” because those with certain learning disabilities or insufficient education in basic literacy might be excluded from this vast majority of the population who are capable of good writing.)

The number one tip for good writing has nothing to do with knowing a noun from a verb, or understanding run-on sentences and sentence fragments, or distinguishing a comma from a semicolon. It is what I have said in all my books and courses on writing:

Read your document aloud to hear how it sounds. If you stumble over your words, or feel you’re rambling, or get to the end of the sentence and forgot what you wrote at
its beginning, then fix the sentence by saying what you wrote as if your readers
were standing in front of you. Then simply copy what you’ve said.

If we apply our natural fluency with language, we could fix most of our mangled prose without any help—or, at least, without any help after a brief instructional period. Reading those sentences that we wrote in haste will aid us in detecting ambiguity, repetition, awkwardness, and lifelessness. The practice will make us change sentences like:

There are times that circumstances dictate when people have to act forthrightly
and boldly, you have to stand up for yourself, honestly, to fight against all
kinds of oppression.

to:

People sometimes encounter situations that demand bold action against
oppression.

I’ll be looking at the four benefits of reading drafts aloud—clarity, conciseness, grace, and vigor—one at a time in the next four posts of WORDS ON THE LINE.

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