Brutal Proofreading: Your Errors Read Aloud

by | Mar 30, 2010 | Writing Matters Blog | 4 comments

The most fun response to my post Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing came from fellow writing instructor and consultant Rosemary Camilleri:

“Your Mac users may not know it but they have a ‘Speech’ feature built into Mac OX 10.4, 10.5, and following. It’s called Text to Speech. Their computer will read any text aloud.

Furthermore, the Mac will read text at the speed you choose, in the voice you choose (Alex? Bruce? Vicki? Victoria? Agnes? Princess? Bubbles? Bells? Boing? Bad News? Hysterical? Zarvox?).

This feature is great: I turn it on so that, as I proofread, I hear the honest truth about what I typed (computers have no mercy).”

As luck had it, I recently bought an iMac, so I took Text to Speech out for a spin, running a few paragraphs through a variety of voices: deep-and-droning Ralph, robotic Vicki, muffled Whisper, the back-from-the-dead Bahh, and the melodious Cellos. I settled on easy-listening Alex.

Rosemary was right about using Text to Speech as a proofreading tool. My ear did hear the grammar and spelling errors, a left-out word, or the wrong word. And because Alex was reading, my eyes saw punctuation and capitalization errors as I followed along. 

Want to try it out? Here are instructions for a Mac:

  1. Click on the “Apple icon” in the upper-right hand corner of the screen.
  2. Select “System Preferences.”
  3. Select the “Speech” icon under Systems.
  4. Select “Text to Speech” from the pop-up.
  5. Select a “System Voice” from the drop-down list.
  6. Click the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” box.
  7. Click “Set Key”
  8. Enter a “Key Combination” to activate Text to Speech.

To have your computer read in the voice you’ve selected, highlight the text and press your chosen key combination. (Mine is Control+V). Sit back and listen.

I checked out the Text to Speech feature on my Windows XP computer. It has an accessibility feature that can be configured to read text, but it seemed complicated to set up and use. I don’t know whether Windows 7 has a Text to Speech feature similar to Mac. (Any Windows 7 people out there? Let me know!)

This was proofreading made fun. I found that I was making spelling errors on purpose, so I could see if Alex caught them.

Last word: All of the voices mispronounced my name. (Mar i lynn e Rud ick instead of Marilyn Ru dick). You can imagine how they mangled Leslie O’Flahavan!

— Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)

Tags: Editing, Grammar and usage, Spelling


  1. Yikes! I just listened to “Alex” read two pages of my most recent effort.
    I had enjoyed it before. As I read it, It was erudite, well-researched yet approachable, thoughtfully structured, and satisfying. My only criticism? Perhaps too derivative of Tom Robbins essays, with his trademark playful use of language that, while fun, still evokes the wrenching tragedy of our shared humanity.
    Instead, Alex made it sound like one of those sessions at an academic conference where an ernest bore wastes an hour of your life reading from single-spaced pages held in quietly shaking hands.
    He didn’t find any errors in grammar or usage, although his pronunciation of “crowdsourcing” made me check the original for typos. But goodness, he made me feel like I’d written Vogon poetry.
    So, thanks for the advice. But if that’s reality, I choose to reject it.

  2. Perhaps Apple will upgrade the application so that you could choose to have Alec Baldwin–not Alex– read your prose, or better yet, James Earl Jones. But the upside of Alex’s boring drone is that it forces you to focus on the mechanics and not be seduced by the melody of your writing.
    I admit, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out about Vogons–fictional alien race in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy– and, according to Wikipedia, writers of “the third worst poetry in the universe.”
    I’m now curious about the first and second worst writers of poetry. Stiff competition for Alex!

  3. This sounds fun, if brutal, and my husband just bought a Mac! (It’s so cool I can only wear black when I use it). Years ago we had a Mac with PageMaker installed. One time the Speech command got turned on by mistake, and a feminine robotic voice startled us by saying that “Pajama-ker” was having a printing problem! It was endearing.

  4. I agree with you about how cool the Mac is. And I know what you mean by wearing black when you use it. It is so sleek and beautifully designed that I feel a compulsion to clean my office so that it is as uncluttered as the Mac. (But I manage to resist the compulsion to clean!)

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Upcoming Events

Recent Posts

Writing Workbook