Using Text-to-Speech Software as an Editing Tool

sara-letourneau

When I was preparing to edit my novel last year, one technique I considered was reading each chapter out loud. That way, I could hear the words instead of simply seeing them, and gauge whether sentences or paragraphs were too long through listening. Yet I also saw the drawbacks: Reading each chapter out loud could be time-consuming – and it could tire out my voice. (And no one enjoys going hoarse or having a sore throat, right?)

Around that time, one of my writing friends mentioned a tool in her editing arsenal that she was grateful for: text-to-speech (TTS) software. In other words, your computer “narrates” a selected portion of your manuscript while you read along either on your screen or with a printed copy.

My first thought? “That’s BRILLIANT. I should try it!” And now that I have, I plan to continue using TTS software when editing future stories.

So, how can TTS software help with your editing? What should you watch out for when trying it? And what programs can you use? You might be surprised with the last one. But let’s start with…

Three Ways Text-to-Speech Software Can Help with Editing

Courtesy: Pixabay

#1: It Lets You Listen to the Flow of Your Writing. While a computer’s monotone isn’t as engaging or expressive as a human voice, it still brings the words you wrote to life. This way, you can listen to the writing and judge its effectiveness better than when reading it from a printed page. Is the flow smooth at times and rough or choppy at others? Does any weird sentence structure give you pause? Do incorrect or flawed word choices stick out? These and other shortcomings will wave like red flags as the TTS software narrates the text.

#2: It Brings Typos to Your Attention. Ever reviewed your writing for spelling or grammar, then realized a day later that you missed a typo, like “their” instead of “there”? Our brains (and our computer’s Spellcheck) often overlook these small errors and “read” them as the intended words. But with TTS software, we’re more likely to catch these typos as the computer “verbalizes” them. Hearing those mistakes in someone else’s voice, either real or robotic, makes them more noticeable so we can fix them in the next draft.

#3: You Get the “Reading Out Loud” Experience While Saving Your Voice. As fun as it might sound to read your work out loud, imagine how dry your throat might be and how winded you might feel after each reading. TTS software doesn’t read at a faster rate, but it does allow you to conserve your vocal and respiratory energy. Besides, no writing advice is good advice is if it recommends you sacrifice health and well-being for your craft’s sake. (*wink*)

What to Be Careful of When Using Text-to-Speech Software

Read Along with a Print Copy or On Your Computer Screen. You might be tempted to sit back and listen, but it’s better to be an active participant. As your TTS software narrates the text, read along either on your computer screen or on a printed copy of your manuscript. This will prompt you to pay close attention to the written words and the audio so you can find potential changes. (In other words, it prevents you from “sleeping on the job”!)

Select Short Sections of Text at a Time. Having TTS software read an entire scene or chapter can be taxing on your brain. The longer your computer reads without pausing, the more likely you’ll lose your place as you read along or forget ideas for possible changes. Instead, select one page or a few paragraphs at a time, and give yourself breaks in between so you can mentally process each “reading” and make notes of future edits.

Expect Foreign or Invented Words to Be Mispronounced. This happened during my WIP frequently, since it’s a YA fantasy story set in a fictional world – and some of my software’s pronunciations of my invented terms left me in stitches! But it’s important to know you might run into this if your manuscript also features foreign or made-up words. And if it does, have a good chuckle, then let it go so you can focus on the real issues.

Which Programs Offer Text-To-Speech Software?

Many of us already have TTS software on our computers without realizing it. Here are some of the programs that come equipped with it:

  • Microsoft Word comes with a Speak command, which you can access via Word’s Quick Access Toolbar once you add the shortcut. (Speak is also available on Microsoft Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint.)
  • Computers using Windows 10 feature a Narrator function, which reads text, calendar appointments, and other notifications aloud. Check out this detailed guide on Narrator for more information.
  • If you own a Mac, your operating system also comes with TTS capabilities. Go to System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech, then select the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” checkbox. (Click here for the complete instructions for English-speaking users.)
  • Scrivener has a built-in TTS function as well. When you’re ready, click Edit > Speech > Start Speaking to use it.
  • Other TTS software options include Voice Dream, Natural Reader, and several other programs listed here.

So, give TTS software a try the next time you edit your work. You might find that it helps your process in a way you hadn’t expected, and that the quality of your writing in later drafts – the ones that matter most – is even stronger than before.

Do you use text-to-speech software as part of your writing process? If you have, which program(s) would you recommend? Do you have other experience or advice with reading your manuscript out loud during the editing stage?

sara-_framedSara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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45 Responses to Using Text-to-Speech Software as an Editing Tool

  1. John Noller says:

    I am an aspiring writer. Because I am visually impaired, I use text to speech to access text and to proof/edit text that I have written. I was excited to read in this aritcle that Scrivener has “built-in TTS.” I immediately downloaded the trial Windows version of Scrivener to try it out. Alas, the “edit” menu in the Windows version offers no TTS function that I can find. I searched the manual for “speak,” “speech” and TTS and got no hits. Either the TTS functionality is limited to the Mac or the TTS function is well hidden on the Windows version. If you are any other reader can enlighten me I will much appreciate it. I guess for now I will stick to Text Aloud and Microsoft Word for all my writing and editing needs. Not nearly as elegant as Scrivener but Text Aljoud offers the most fluid TTS I’ve been able to find and there are a bunch of good editing add-ins for Word. The Microsfot “speak” function in Word does work, by the way, but the Microsoft voices suck and it is buggy when I try to use more lifelike third-party voices.

  2. Michael says:

    Thank you Sara, your tips are very helpful! In fact, I installed text to speech Panopreter, it includes a text to speech toolbar for Microsoft Word. By using this tool bar, I can have the text read out, sometimes, I convert the content into MP3, and import the mp3 file into the smart phone, and listen it.

    • John Noller says:

      Hi, Michael,

      I had never heard of Panopreter and I appreciate your mentioning it. I was intrigued and cuoldn’t find any reviews of the program so I downloaded a 30-day trial copy and tried it out.

      Two things I liked were (1) it was able to use the Ivona voices I have installed on my computer, something that Microsoft Word and other apps in Microsoft Office could not do; and (2) it was able to open and read PDF documents flawlessly, although it displays only the text contents of a PDF, not any of the formatting.

      Panopreter’s interface is simple, clean and totally intuitive. In my quick tryout, the quality of the TTS narrative was flawless. I prefer to have available the dozens of additional options offered by TextAloud but if you want to keep it totally simple, you might prefer Panopreter.

      All that said, I quickly spotted three issues that to me seem like deal breakers:

      (1) Panopreter cannot open Word .docx documents (and probably not legacy .doc either, although I didn’t try a .doc format file ). They don’t even show up in the “open” dialogue.

      (2) Panopreter offers no way that I can find to pick where the TTS narration starts. It starts at the beginning of the document, every time, even if a block of text has been selected. That might be ok if your purpose is to record a document to mp3 (a capability that I did not text) but it severely cramps the user’s ability to proof and edit a document.

      (3) Panopreter positions itself as “free” but that is true only for a 30 day trial period. The license fee is $30, at least that is true for the 64 bit version that I tested. And if like myself you have low tolerance for robotic voices, you will need to purchase some lifelike voices and that will probably end up costing you more than the software itself.

      I totally support paying for shareware and several of the apps I use regularly are shareware for which I gladly paid the license fee. But the base cost of both TextAloud and Natural Reader, both of which offer many more options, is about the same as Panopreter. In short, Panopreter does not seem to offer anything that its cometitors do not and it seems overpriced for what it offers.

      Moreover, both Text Aloud and Natural Reader offer options to purchse voices that are guaranteed to work with the program. I didn’t see any similar offers from Panopreter.

      Note: I am retired and have no affiliation with NextUp (Text Aloud), Natural Reader or any other commercial interest. II do appreiate Michael’s mention of Panoprter and hope this review is not overkill.

  3. B. J. Myrick says:

    I have used natural reader for many years and love it. There is a free version that I use but you can buy the paid version if you don’t like the voice on the free version. I’ve always been happy wit the voice on the free version, though.

    I have found it helpful in catching punctuation errors because if you leave out an ending period, it rushes right on to the next word, alerting you to the error. It helps immensely with pacing, and all the other things mentioned above.

  4. Dee says:

    I haven’t been able to find TTS on Scrivener anywhere. I don’t have that option under Edit. It also isn’t found after searching for it in the manual. 🙁

    • Meredith says:

      Must be only in the Mac version. Yet another feature I can’t access on my PC version. 🙁

      • John Noller says:

        I just posted a similar comment about Scrivener for Windows (which I downloaded as a trial version after reading Sara’s post.) I did a similar search of menus and manual. I sent her a message asking if the TTS might be Mac-only.

  5. Lyn says:

    Thank you for this hint. I hadn’t thought of a computer doing the reading out loud but I will use that function now. The specific hints about where the technology resides are helpful. The truth is in the details.

  6. Risa Nyman says:

    This is so helpful. When I listen to the MS being read by the computer, I hear places I need to fix, especially sometimes in transitions. I fix quick typos as it is being read but for other things I want to fix, I highlight them and go back after the reading. If I started to rewrite even part of a sentence while it is still being read, I would miss a lot.

    Thank you for writing about this. I’m sure it help a lot of writers who aren’t using text-tos-peech yet.

    • Sara L. says:

      You’re very welcome, Risa! Like you, I had a habit initially of fixing typos and making other edits while the computer was still reading. But then I realized how much it distracted me from the rest of the text. So now I do what you do: highlighting areas to fix as the computer narrates, then going back later to make those edits.

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  9. I’ll have to give this a try! I have Word 2010, so I hope it has this feature. And thanks for the tip about having it read sections at a time. I wouldn’t have thought of that otherwise.

  10. Wow! I’ve heard of this but I didn’t know you could do this. I need to try it. Maybe it’ll help me be more thorough with my edits.

  11. JOHN T.SHEA says:

    I spoke too soon about ‘Moira’ who only reads one paragraph from each selection! My Macbook’s ‘speak text’ seems incompatible with the Open Office Writer word processor I use.

    It does work with PDFs, but Adobe Acrobat Reader requires a long slow ‘Content Preparation’ process. Apple’s Preview works immediately but does glitch. And of course ‘Moira’ talks like a robot but better than I expected.

  12. Faith says:

    Great post, Sara!
    I’ve run my voice hoarse plenty of times reading through drafts as I’ve edited. Even recently with my proof copy of Eléonore. 😉
    I haven’t used a TTS software before, but I think it’s something I’ll definitely be looking into now. And the tips are great. Definitely a lot to keep in mind!
    Thank you 🙂

    • Sara L. says:

      You’re welcome, Faith! Let me know if you end up trying TTS software the next time you edit your work. I’d love to hear whether it worked for you. 🙂

  13. I’m always excited to hear about tools that can help make the writing/editing process easier—especially when those tools are already available :). Thanks so much for laying this out so clearly, Sara.

  14. I’ve never considered using a tool like this but as it’s sitting there on Scrivener I’ll try it out. Will be odd having a computer read my words though!

    • Sara L. says:

      It was definitely weird the first time I used Speak on Microsoft Word. The “voice” takes some getting used to. But after a couple chapters, I realized how helpful it had already been with my editing – and I don’t question things that are helpful. 😉 I hope it works for you too, Johanne!

  15. JOHN T. SHEA says:

    Many thanks, Sara! I now have the free services of a read aloud person called ‘Moira’, courtesy of Apple. My diary catches her out but not my WIP, thank heavens!

  16. Jack Tyler says:

    Yes, wonderful tool! I tend to drop small words when I’m typing fast, and to be unable to find typos once they’re on the page, and this tech is priceless for nailing those pesky errors! I use yWriter6 (a version for Windows; there are other marks for Macs and other platforms), an organization tool for long manuscripts, that has this for a feature, and don’t know how I wrote anything remotely readable before I discovered it.

    • Sara L. says:

      yWriter6 isn’t a program I had found when I was searching for other TTS options, so thanks for sharing that, Jack. Glad to hear it’s working well for you!

    • John Noller says:

      Jack, thank you so much for bringing my attention to yWriter. I just spent several hours downloading and exploring yWriter. I think I’ve ended my quest for a Windows-based writing application that incorporates decent TTS capability. It has very capable TTS functionality, not as refined as a dedicated TTS applicaiton like TextAljoud (which I use for initial drafting/editing) but more flexible and capable than Microsoft Word. I require TTS because I am visually impaired and the lack of TTS is what has caused me to turn away from lots of very respected Windows-based writing tools. But TTS is not the only thing that yWriter has going for it. Its designer is a published auhtor who created and continues to develop the program for his own use. It offers a plethora of useful functions for organizing novel-length writing projects and I think I will be using it for that purpose for my current writing project.

      • I’m so glad you’ve found something that works for you, John. This mention of it is the first I’d heard of yWriter. With all the technology available today, I’m always so happy to see people finding that perfect match :). Happy writing!

      • Jack T. says:

        Glad to spread the word, John. I’m not associated with yWriter in any way; I just like to share cool things I’ve found. I’m really happy that it’s working for you

        Read well, and write better!
        ~ Jack

  17. A.S. Akkalon says:

    I’ve done this in the past and it was great for picking up missing words that I couldn’t see by reading silently. Though, as you say, the pronunciation of my characters’ names drove me mad. (And I couldn’t figure out why the same name was pronounced a number of different ways different times it appeared–this made ignoring the issue even harder.)

    • Sara L. says:

      ^^ That’s why I learned to not take the mispronunciations too seriously. Between the foreign names and invented words in my MS, it was bound to happen often. So I accepted it, and chuckled every time. 😉

      Thanks for reading, A.S.!

  18. sjhigbee says:

    Great article, Sara. I swear by this tool! It is also available on PDF formats, so if folks don’t have one of the more modern versions of Word you can turn your work into a PDF and engage the Speak function.

    • Sara L. says:

      Good to know! I hadn’t thought of checking my PDF program. And thank you for reading, Sarah – and for turning me on to TTS software in the first place. 😉

  19. I am looking forward to trying this out as I often get editing fatigue. Thanks so much, Sara! 🙂

  20. Mandie Hines says:

    This is an excellent tool, Sara. I wrote a post about the “Speak Selected Text” tool in Microsoft Word last September and use it on not only my stories, but even posts for my blog. The thing I like the most about it is that it will only read what is on the page. The brain has a way of editing even as you read aloud. The computer will only read what’s on the page. I recently found the computer pronounces even some common words in a peculiar way though.
    My writing group recently discussed reading the dialogue of another member’s manuscript aloud with different people playing the different characters in the story as a test to see if the dialogue sounds natural. I think it will be a fun experiment.

    • Sara L. says:

      “The thing I like the most about it is that it will only read what is on the page. The brain has a way of editing even as you read aloud.”

      Exactly. That’s what I’ve noticed before when I read my work either out loud or silently / to myself. That’s a big reason why I listed “catching typos” as Benefit #2 to using TTS software for editing. It calls those mistakes out in a way that’s hard for us to miss, since we’re actively listening and hearing the words.

      That sounds like a fun exercise for your writing group! I can imagine it being both entertaining and helpful. Good luck with that, and thanks very much for commenting!

  21. Sheri Levy says:

    This is wonderful advice. Thanks for sharing. I wil try this out.

  22. Excellent post. My wife is my editor, and I will read the text to her as we edit. This will be an excellent way for me to save my voice while working. We frequently have to take a break from working because of my voice. Thanks!

    • Sara L. says:

      You’re very welcome, J.L.! TTS software sounds like a great alternative in your case, so I hope it works out for well for you. And I think it’s sweet that your wife helps you with your editing. 🙂

  23. Marilyn says:

    Thank you for this tip. Sounds very helpful. I’m going to try it.

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