Sometimes—okay, most of the time—students that come in to revise an essay give me a sidelong glance or an uncomfortable laugh when I ask them to read their essays out loud. Asking writers to read their papers out loud isn't done because I don't have anything to say, or because I'm actually a Grad Assistant for the English department that never learned how to read. (I can... I promise.)
After walking through the assignment guidelines together, I find having students read their draft to me is important for a couple of reasons. Even though they may sometimes be hesitant to do so, I have come to believe that it is a very good place for students to begin working with their writing.
First of all, as a writer, I find that reading my work out loud pushes me to own my ideas and my words. I put them on the paper—or the Microsoft Word doc—didn't I? Even if I am not entirely sure of the strength of my argument or the clarity of my claims, I chose words that turned into sentences that turned into paragraphs (you get the idea). Those words are mine, and the revisions will be mine, too.
This brings me to the other, bigger reason for having students read their drafts out loud in a consultation. Revision.
It's natural to read through your own work many times as you type. You know what you want to say—what you meant to say—and sometimes your eyes see what you meant instead of what you wrote. This happens to all of us.
Reading sentences out loud during the proofreading/editing process is an effective way to hear errors that are sometimes easy to miss otherwise. Whether you type slowly with your eyes on your index fingers or your hands fly like mad across the keys, making mistakes is inevitable. Typos are a part of writing life.
However, when someone asks us—or we ask ourselves—to read our words out loud, we read them slower than we do when we silently skim through. Listening to the way that the words are working on the paper is a very effective way to engage with the writing.
From issues of verb tense to problems with plurals, reading a rough draft aloud helps students across disciplines to catch their own mistakes. Hearing a word repeated twice in a sentence or a dozen times in a paragraph is more obvious to the ear than to the eye.
In the Writing Center we strive to help students, not by fixing their papers, but by showing them ways to become better writers. Learning proofreading skills is so important in a university setting, because writing papers is a pretty typical part of college life. It's good to know that something as quick as reading an essay out loud can clean up an essay. Even if it seems like a strange request.
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