He looked at me gone out.
You read everything aloud?
Even the 10,000-word letters?
I was being interviewed for a podcast and we’d got on to my editing process.
Yep, I answered. Pretty much.
Between you and me, dear reader, sometimes I’m in a rush and won’t get a chance.
But I would say nine times out of ten, I read aloud each bit of copy I produce.
(I’m doing it now to this very piece.)
Your reaction to this idea probably falls into one of these three categories:
A) Yep, good idea. Do it myself sometimes.
B) Really? That sounds time-consuming, not sure I can be bothered. Or…
C) I don’t need to. My copy is always perfect.
If you fall into Category A – great. Please share this piece and tell other people they should try it.
If you fall into Category B – hold on a minute. This piece is for you.
If you fall into Category C – er, maybe read on, but chances are – if you think that way – you’re probably not going to like this.
So, assuming we’re mostly Bs from here (and a few As who just want to read my thoughts anyway), here’s why I read stuff aloud and recommend you do the same…
It’s helpful on a technical level
First thing: reading copy aloud is good for proofing.
When you read your copy aloud, you force yourself to confront the text in a different way to how you do in your head.
Spelling-wise, because you’re scanning the words differently, you’ll often spot an error or two you didn’t see when reviewing in your head.
Grammar-wise, the same thing happens. A certain turn of phrase might seem OK in your head – but when you read it aloud, you hesitate. You have to pause in places you didn’t plan.
This is all very useful.
And it’s a pretty quick process too.
It can certainly save you having to print out and work through each line backward and what have you.
But for me, reading your copy aloud is not just a proofing exercise.
It’s really about authenticity.
Write how you talk – to an extent
I’ve figured out the main thing I dislike about those nutty LinkedIn-marketing-ninja-guru-type people…
It’s when they make proclamations about copywriting or marketing with the absolute conviction they are right and theirs is the only way.
The world is not black and white. Neither is copywriting or marketing.
There is always nuance.
It’s why I added ‘to an extent’ in that subhead.
See, my general advice to all writers is that you should write how you speak.
And therein is the problem: sometimes I might say ‘speak’, sometimes ‘talk’.
It depends. And when it comes to writing how you speak…I don’t mean go on long, rambling digressions, writing sentences that end in the middle and picking up on random thoughts halfway through a paragraph.
That’s how we really speak, most of the time.
When we say write how you speak (and it is ‘we’ – it’s not just my advice: many other writers say the same) the intention is to encourage unpretentious, simple and non-hyperbolic language.
In other words:
Don’t write like an advertisement…
Write like a human.
I’m sure some famous guru said the best advertising often doesn’t feel like advertising, right?
And so we come back to the point…
Reading your copy aloud helps you to check for words or phrases that might sound OK in your head, but when you say them aloud they sound weird, fake, pretentious.
Or even worse: they make you cringe.
When this happens, it’s a clear indication to edit.
It takes discipline
Reading your copy aloud takes discipline.
Discipline to do it in the first place…
But also discipline to change something when you stumble.
I guarantee at some point you’ll hesitate or read a word wrong and correct your speaking voice rather than the words you’ve written on the page.
You’ll think: Oh, wait, I should have read it like that…
But this is just the point:
If you hesitate when reading your own copy, your reader will probably do the same thing when they come to read it in their mind.
Of course, if you do struggle to read aloud and check yourself at the same time, it’s a good idea to get someone else to read your copy back to you.
In fact, this can be even more effective for spotting those places where you haven’t quite got a line right, the rhythm is wrong or there’s a word you have to pause over.
Of course, I’ve been a little presumptuous…
You might be wondering: why bother checking the flow at all?
So what if a reader stops to figure out a sentence or look up a word they don’t know?
The problem is every time your reader’s attention is interrupted – in a way you didn’t mean to – you risk them turning away from your copy.
Think of it like a driving test…
One black mark might be OK – it’s only a small thing.
But keep racking up those ‘small things’ and they soon add up to a big fail.
It’s why I believe it’s worth doing anything that helps to keep your reader’s attention where it should be…
And in my experience, reading your copy aloud certainly does that.
P.S. If you’ve not got hold of a copy of my book yet, you might be persuaded to do so after reading a recent blog by a former Ogilvy copywriter, Tim den Heijer.
Tim now helps run B.R.A.I.N. Creatives over in Amsterdam and recently wrote a great blog about the book…