Read It (Out) Loud, Read It Proud

You know what’s the worst? Spending days lovingly crafting a story or an essay, hours coming up with the perfect metaphors and similes, and even more hours revising it piece by piece, only to turn it in and realize that (doh!) you didn’t proofread it carefully enough and ended up with some rather hilarious unfortunate errors.

Story time!

(Let me preface this story by saying that I am generally unamused by any mention of the awful word you’re about to see, but I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it in this instance.)

Several years ago I was critiquing a grad school classmate’s short story in a fiction workshop when I came across what to this day is the most hilarious typo I have ever seen in my life. The classmate intended to write a sentence that said something like, “John popped the balloon and it flew around the room, sputtering until it fell to its death,” but he actually wrote (wait for it), “John pooped the balloon and it flew around the room, sputtering until it fell to its death.”

I circled the word several times so that when my classmate went through the stories our class turned back to him he would see the error that he obviously overlooked. It was the very least I could do for him.

The even better part of the story is that during class I silently pointed the typo out to the person next to me and she had to leave the room so that she could laugh. It took her five minutes to come back.

Yes, even (future) teachers can be immature sometimes.

Of course, we all make mistakes and typos are a part of our technologically advanced lives. I see typos everywhere, including in my own work. Just last week I was proofing a story of mine to read at a community art gathering and I found several errors I had to clean up. The thing is, many typos can be avoided with some careful proofreading and do make all the difference to your readers. Failing to proofread is a sign of laziness. If I see one or two understandable typos I can overlook them, but when typos are abound in a story or paper I’m reading I simply cannot take it seriously. Believe me when I tell you, while your teacher will be thoroughly amused if you accidentally leave the “r” out of the word “shirt,” she will not be able to overlook it. (You’d be surprised how often I see that one.)

Reading over your work is the most obvious way to proofread for typos, but other methods tend to work better, and my personal favorite way is one I actually require my students to do for their final revisions in my class. Read it out loud!

Yes, reading your work out loud will help you catch more errors and write clearer sentences than you ever thought possible. You see, when you read your work silently to yourself you’re not really reading it—at least not as closely as it needs to be read. You’re really just recalling what you wrote. When you read your work out loud you’re forced to read every single word and you can hear how your words sound. Reading out loud has so many advantages. Actually, when I was reading the aforementioned story of mine out loud to myself last week, I realized that it sounded weird in the past tense and that I needed to change it to present tense. Changing the story to present tense really helped the way I presented it when I read it in front of a crowd of people. I also found a few typos and weird sentences that I had missed when I proofread silently, but when I read the piece out loud the errors just jumped off the page at me and I was able to fix them before I embarrassed myself in a public setting.

So, there’s your quick fix. Before you turn in an assignment (either in school or at work) read it to yourself out loud first. You will be glad you did.  After all, no one wants to give their teacher or boss balloon nightmares.


About Jaclyn Sullivan

I'm a full time Instructional Designer and a sometimes adjunct professor of English Composition. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and I'm a published fiction and non-fiction writer. Check me out on LinkedIn: I'm a big fan of post-modern literature and swear by the lessons of Kurt Vonnegut. Some of my favorite writers include Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, Grace Paley, Flannery O'Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Raymond Carver. I like Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, actual birds, pictures of cats, actual cats, animals in general, polka dots, exercise, iced coffee, reading, writing, tv-viewing, the Internet, and food. I dislike rain on days when my hair looks good, sweating, t-rex arms, public bathrooms, books being made into awful movies, and when The Walking Dead is on hiatus.
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