Start revising by reading the essay aloud

Professionals writers read their writing aloud.When I ask students to read their essays aloud for the first time, and to listen for mistakes, they often feel foolish and skip this step.  Then I ask them to read the essay aloud to me, and whoa!  Mistake after mistake becomes apparent.

When we read with our eyes, we read what we want to be there, not noticing some mistakes which are obvious when we read aloud.  I haven’t taught a student yet who hasn’t found mistakes when reading his essay aloud.  I instruct the student to read only the words that are there.  When they do, they stop when something sounds funny.  Usually it’s a grammar mistake.

But there are all kinds of errors that a student can find when reading his work aloud.

  • Is something missing—a word, a word ending, a sentence? Is a whole idea missing?  If so, add the missing parts now.
  • Is a word or an idea duplicated needlessly? Sometimes a student will write the word “the” at the end of a line and then write the word “the” at the beginning of the next line.  Cross one of the words out.  Or a student repeats phrases from one sentence to the next, such as, “ Let me tell you about my brother.  My brother. . .”  Those two sentences can be easily combined to eliminate the duplication.
  • Are ideas out of order? Whole paragraphs can be numbered to rearrange them.  Sentences can be circled and marked with arrows to move somewhere else.  Words can be transposed.
  • Is a sentence unclear, or even if it is clear, could it be said with fewer words?
  • Are ideas incomplete? Complete them in the margins or on the back of the paper.
  • Every subtopic sentence should support the main idea of the essay. This is the time to check to see that it does.  If a subtopic sentence is off-topic, does it belong in this essay?  Students are dismayed to X out a whole paragraph, but sometimes that is necessary to stick to the one main idea.
  • Are certain words overused? Such words might be “then,” “just,” “so,” “really,” “like” and “because.”  If they are overused, eliminate most of them.

In our next blog we will look at revising verbs, the most important words in writing.

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