Shout-out to the typos that make it through three rounds of content edits, copyedits, and two rounds of proofreading. I am inspired by your dedication and tenacity. (Unknown)
You’ve written and edited your blog post. You’ve proofread it, added the links, photos, and keywords. It’s just about ready to go — but something isn’t quite right. You can’t put your finger on it, but you feel there’s something missing or out of place. A tenacious typo or missing word, perhaps, that eluded your proofreading skills. Or maybe it’s an important topic and you just want that extra level of reassurance before pressing the publish button.
That’s where text-to-speech (TTS) comes in. There’s nothing quite like having your words read aloud to you to help gauge the tone and flow of the piece. It can help you identify repetition, omissions, typos, and awkward phrasing. It couldn’t be easier, and it needn’t cost a penny. Let’s take a look.
My First Experience of Text-to-Speech
I remember the first time I stumbled on the potential of TTS. I was at STACK Newcastle, one of my all-time happy places. I’d called in to enjoy the live music and a beer. Sat at a bench, surrounded by the lunchtime clientele, I took out my phone and continued proofreading my latest blog post. For the first time, I noticed the Read Aloud function, tucked away in Word’s Review menu. I put on my Bluetooth headset and clicked the button.
It was a fascinating and valuable exercise. It highlighted several typos I’d missed in earlier editing passes. More than that, though, I found it incredibly moving to hear my words read back to me, artificial voice or not. Like most writers, I often doubt the quality and value of my writing. It might sound corny but the experience was profoundly validating. I’m not ashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes.
I don’t use TTS for every blog post. I tend to reserve it for longer articles, or ones where the topic is particularly important to me. But it’s something I employ now and again and always find it worthwhile.
My Blogging Workflow
My blogging workflow is essentially unchanged from when I described it a couple of years ago, although I’ve added an app called QuickEdit+ into the mix. I find it easier to add HTML and CSS tags there. It also has live previews so I can test links before moving my article into Blogger. I also tend to work exclusively on my Android phone and tablet, rarely if ever using my PC. My typical workflow these days is as follows:
Google Keep (initial notes, idea development, drafting, and basic edits)
Microsoft Word (smart quotes, editing, and proofreading)
QuickEdit+ (HTML and CSS tags, links, and link testing)
Blogger (images and final proofing before publication)
If I’m using TTS, it’s best to do so before adding HTML and CSS tags and links (otherwise these will be read back along with the basic text). I find Microsoft Read Aloud the most convenient, as I have the article in Word anyway. I’ll sometimes copy and paste the document into NaturalReader or Epub if I want to try a different voice.
I’ll list the methods I’ve used, but no matter what hardware and operating system you prefer, there will be a TTS solution for you. You can pay for extra options, but it’s likely that the free services will be more than adequate.
Microsoft Read Aloud
Read Aloud is one of a number of TTS options available to users of Microsoft Word and Office. Other options include Immersive Reader, Narrator, Speak (Windows only), and Speech (MacOS only). If you routinely use Word / Office, this is probably the best place to start. Options vary with version and operating system (Web, Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android). You can find full details on the Microsoft support page.
Published by Naturalsoft Ltd, NaturalReader is a text-to-speech service (website and app) that supports text files, PDFs, webpages, and eBooks (excluding DR-protected formats such as iBooks, Kindle, and Nook). The free service more than meets my needs but there are subscription levels offering more options.
Epub Reader is a free app by Librera which allows you to read a wide range of document formats and includes a TTS voice engine. I find the voices less natural than those of Read Aloud and NaturalReader, but it is highly customisable and you may find it fits your workflow perfectly.
One More Tool in Your Toolbox
It might seem a lot of effort to go to, just have some synthetic voice read your lovingly crafted words back to you. Some TTS voices do sound artificial, but others are excellent. Most TTS systems offer a choice of male and female voices, and you can often vary the tone and reading speed to suit your preferences.
It’s not only applicable to bloggers, of course. Whatever you write, you may find it valuable as a proofing tool, or simply enjoy hearing your precious words read back to you. Ultimately, TTS is one more tool in your writer’s toolbox, to use or not as you wish.
Over to You
In this post I have described my experience using Text-to-Speech systems as part of my blogging workflow. Have you used TTS? If so, did you find it valuable? What other editing and proofing tools do you use? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.
Photo by Laurent Jollet at Unsplash.