10 May 2011

Text-to-speech as a proofing aid

Even when an author thinks he has spell-checked, grammar checked, thoroughly eyeballed, and otherwise checked to death a piece of writing, errors always remain. Sometimes a grammar check will overlook extraneous words (usually little ones like “a” or “to”) left behind by moves; sometimes it will not pick up words omitted or even repeated.

Because of the compensatory way the brain works when reading, it can be hard or even impossible for the author himself to notice these errors – first because his brain elides missing words or ignores extraneous ones, and secondly because he already knows the text so well that he re-reads too quickly to pick them up. That’s why it is so useful to have other people proof a text, but even they are fallible: their brains compensate too.

The Amazon Kindle has a text-to-speech facility. The technology is not quite there yet, and I wouldn’t want to use it as a substitute for an audio book, but I have found the Kindle’s robot an ally when proofing text. If you read along with the speech, errors are made obvious. Moreover, reading aloud can pinpoint subtler problems and suggest rejigging certain sentences to make them flow better.

While there are more sophisticated text-to-speech systems available, the Kindle has one built-in and lets you proof anywhere. I suppose you could annotate the text, but it’s quicker just to make a written note of a faulty phrase that can be found later on the computer with the search function. Once I encounter a mistake, I switch off the speech using Shift-Sym, make my note, then switch on again. When the speech resumes it starts from the top of the “page”, so to minimize repetition I enlarge the text and the margins to get about eighty or a hundred words on a screen. (Note for non-geeks: use KindleGen to create a MOBI of your text. KindleGen eats HTML, which is easily generated by the “Save As” function of Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org Writer.)

While text-to-speech may not save you the expense of a professional editor, it’s a valuable addition to the writer’s armoury.


none said...

Great advice!
I will try this.

Chris said...

I am in the process of writing my first novel (near completion) and have stumbled upon this myself, particularly for sentence flow.