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Editing One's Work

byHistory Nut©

Editing One's Work: Using a Text to Speech Program as a Proofreading Tool

In December 2006 I posted this to Literotica under the title: Using Microsoft Reader as a Proofreading Tool. Since that time, MS Reader has been changed in such a way that it is no longer useful for this purpose.

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What follows below is the original essay on the need for proofreading, followed by comments on text to speech programs that are available as freeware.

As writers we are obligated to write in a manner that makes reading a pleasure for those who read our stories, articles, essays, or books.

The need to tell a good story is almost so obvious that it needs no further comment. Almost, but not quite: a good story must flow smoothly from one scene to the next so that the reader does not get lost and confused by a sudden change of direction in the story line.

When we are traveling on the highway, we depend on information signs along the way to tell us where we need to turn in order to get to where we are going. In a similar manner, readers need something to tell them that the story line is changing. It may be switching from person A to person B, or it may be a change of location, or time. But, if you, as a writer, don't tell the reader that the change of direction is coming up, he will try to go straight ahead and become lost and confused. We call the information signs that we as writers use 'transitions.' Others have written volumes about the proper use of transitions, so I will not try to instruct you in their use at this time. I mention them here, because as you are editing your work before submitting it for publication, you must look for those transitions that keep the reader going where you want the story to take him.

Properly constructed sentences and paragraphs are also essential to good writing, writing that is a pleasure to read. A sentence must contain only one idea. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark. Three punctuation marks can signal the end of a sentence. The most common one is the period (.). The second most frequently end punctuation is the question mark (?). The third is the exclamation mark (!). With the exception of the period, only one sentence ending mark should be used, and more than one period can be used only for a specific purpose. When you wish to tell the reader that the sentence he is reading has begun, but has no end, you end it with three periods. We call these three periods and ellipse. Ellipses are used only to show an unfinished sentence. They are not meant to show a long pause in a sentence. That is done with one of the internal punctuation marks.

The use of internal punctuation marks seems to be in flux, so I suggest that you read a good, recently published, book on grammar and punctuation to learn the proper use of these essential tools of good writing.

Internal punctuation is essential to good writing because they set the pace of what is written. They are similar to speed limit signs along the highway. Each one tells the reader to slow down a little, to take a breath and move forward a little more cautiously.

In past years, many people had little access to books, and many could not read. Nevertheless, they enjoyed a good story and attended public readings. The reader read from a book or a script. The internal punctuation in each sentence told him where, and how long to pause to make what he was reading sound more dramatic, more life like.

Now that nearly all people can read, and books are readily available, the internal punctuation in a sentence is somewhat less important. Yet -- effectively used, it can help us convey to our readers what we want them to understand, or to vicariously experience.

The internal punctuation marks are the comma (,) the semi-colon (;), the colon (:), the n-dash (--) and the m-dash (—). Some people also consider the n-space and m-space internal punctuation marks. These spaces are of the same length as the dashes of the same name.

If you are reading aloud, a comma tells you to take a quick, short breath before continuing on. A semi colon signals a pause for two short breaths, and a colon signals three breaths. M and n dashes tell the reader to pause for dramatic effect. The length of the pause is shown by the length of the dash. It is longer than the three breath pause shown by a colon, and is open to interpretation by the reader.

To see internal punctuation at work, go to your public library on the morning that one of the librarians is reading to a group of children. Hear for yourself the effect of these internal punctuation marks on what the librarian is reading to the children.

Sentences are systematically arranged together to make paragraphs. Visualize, if you will, a table. The entire table is a paragraph. It has unity, and is well balanced. Its legs are the sentences it contains. Every sentence must fit that table. If the sentences do not fit, the table is unstable, and will look strange. Just as a table does not look right if it has two legs that are straight, another that is round, and one that is ornately carved, a paragraph does not look right if the sentences within it are written in a different style, or a different verb tense.

Now it is time to clear the confusion you probably have about the sub-title of this article. We all do our best to edit our work. But; I have found in my own experience that merely reading my work to my self does not always catch all of my typos, punctuation errors, and syntax errors. To catch these errors I have to hear what I've written while following along visually on the typed page. I used to have my wife read my manuscripts to me. Since her death, however, I have no one to read to me. Still, I need to hear my words so that I can know they are right.

Initially, I recommended using Microsoft Reader to listen to the text that you have written. During this past year, MS Reader has been revised in a manner that does not lend itself to use as a proof reading tool. Since I still need to hear my stories in order to edit and correct instances where I have used a wrong word, but spelled it correctly, thereby missing it when doing a spell check, or to revise a clumsily written sentence, I have been forced to find another text to speech program.

I hate to buy software without being able to try it, therefore, I did a Google search for "freeware, text to speech programs." I found eighteen programs that can be downloaded free of charge. One site lists a rating for each program, the date it was added to the site, and the number of downloads since that date.

Of the programs I downloaded and tested, NaturalReader 7 seems well suited for use as a proof reading tool. I like this program because it highlights the sentence being read and uses a contrasting highlight for the word under the cursor. This allows me to read the text while listening to it, thereby giving me two ways to find things I need to change.

Although my personal choice, at this time, is NaturalReader 7, other writers may find one of the other programs better suited to their needs.

Nearly all of these programs are available as freeware, however, the freeware versions are often stripped down versions, and while adequate the voices used still sound artificial. For a nominal cost, one or more full versions are available with a variety of natural sounding male and female voices. Moreover, the full versions of many of these programs are also capable of reading in various non-English languages and do so with correct pronunciation and inflection. Many of these programs also allow one to save the text as a mp3, or a wave file. This allows a writer to copy the spoken text to a CD or DVD for use as an audio book.

One final thought: by downloading these programs as freeware, one can test them and delete ones that do not work to one's satisfaction. Then, if desired, a full featured version of the most satisfactory program can be bought with some assurance that it will meet ones needs.

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