Text-to-Speech for Editing

Text-to-speech (TTS)– also called Read aloud technology–is a popular assistive technology in which a computer or computerized device reads the words on the screen aloud to the user.

TTS is used for many things, and the number of applications is increasing. If you like rabbit holes, there’s a lot here to investigate. Just Google it and you’ll be amazed. But today let’s talk about TTS in the context of editing. PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, Word, Scrivener, Google docs, and LibreOffice all have it built into their programs. Open Office and WordPerfect do not. Code can be inserted into WordPerfect for TTS, but it sounds complicated.

There are long lists of programs which are supposed to be better than the TTS built into the programs above. Many of them advertise as “free,” but most are only free for a trial period.

We’ve been told to read our manuscript out loud as part of our editing, or have someone else read it to us. I’ve found that even when I read out loud, I still skip over incorrect or missing words and letters. And good luck finding someone else with enough time and patience to read your manuscript to you.

Debbie posted a wonderful article on editing two years ago – https://killzoneblog.com/2020/09/help-i-have-flies-in-my-files.html – including using TTS, but, today, let’s focus on TTS in our editing routine.

Please share your knowledge:

  1. Do you use TTS in your editing process?
  2. In which program do you use it?
  3. Where or when in the editing process do you use it?
  4. How useful do you believe it is?
  5. If you use one of the “monthly fee” programs, which one did you choose?
This entry was posted in editing, text-to-speech, Writing by Steve Hooley. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at: https://stevehooleywriter.com/mad-river-magic/

34 thoughts on “Text-to-Speech for Editing

  1. Good morning, Steve.

    I do not use text-to-speech tools for the same reason I don’t use/like audiobooks. I don’t like being “read-to,” if you will. As with audiobooks, I consider TTS to be a wonderful tool for a large number of people and have recommended them to a number of people. It’s just not for me.

    Thanks once again, Steve. Have a terrific weekend!

    • Thanks, Joe. I expected that there would be many who would say “No, thanks,” this morning. It appears that the first four responders are in agreement with you.

      It’s a good thing that there are so many different opinions, and it’s fun to learn from each other’s experience.

      Hope you have a terrific weekend, too!

  2. Somewhat in line with the “rules of writing” post earlier this week, I’ve never been fully convinced of the need to read my writing out loud. For one thing, I am very noise sensitive. I have only used TTS a very few times using the built in feature in software. I manage to listen for about a paragraph before the “fingernails on chalkboard” effect forces me to turn it off. Even if it was a normal sounding voice I wouldn’t use it. I’m one of the few who also doesn’t ‘listen’ to books on audio.

    I DO believe in printing out a physical copy of the manuscript to edit, instead of just looking at it on your computer screen. That works for me.

    • Thanks, BK. And it looks like you might be in the majority on this topic.

      I agree that printing out a physical copy of the manuscript is a good idea. I got hooked on using TTS when I had made about ten passes over my manuscript, then printed it and read it, then thought I would try the TTS on Word. I was astounded how many words I “read” that weren’t on the page, or how many letters I had misused (“is” for “it,” etc.)

      We all “learn” differently. I retained info from lectures better than reading the text. Each person has to find what works best for them.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Steve.

    One of my trusted betas uses Natural Reader and alerts me to boo-boos. I’m eternally grateful to her b/c the robotic voice irritates me. I prefer proofing with a print copy in a different, larger font.

    The best system is the one that works for you.

    • I agree, Debbie. I change the font and “read along” while the irritating voice reads it to me. I find that the voice in Scrivener sounds more conversational with smoother flow. The voice in Word is slower and choppy. Both work for me, and I find that I have to make fewer passes through the manuscript until I’m not finding anything that tells me to “read” again.

      You’re right, the best system is the one that works for you.

      And, I noticed that “you” was italicized. Nice!

  4. I don’t use TTS at all. Some readers instruct Alexa to read ebooks, turning them into audiobooks. I don’t think I could do that, either. I need to actually see words on the page or the characters don’t spring to life.

    Have a great weekend, Steve!

    • Thanks, Sue. I had never heard of Alexa reading books, but then I don’t allow Alexa in my house. Interesting.

      I would agree with the need to see the words on the page, and would argue that the TTS should be used while the writer is reading along.

      Have a great weekend!

  5. I use Office 365’s Read Aloud feature. Gives me a choice of voices to help alleviate some of the boredom. I can adjust the reading speed, too. The voice has become much less robotic over the past few years.
    I also (and think this is critical) watch the cursor jump from word to word the computer reads. I can’t begin to count how many stupid errors I catch by listening instead of reading. I tried reading aloud myself once, but my eye still sees what it expects, so I don’t catch nearly enough. You can find that article here.
    I use it as the very last pass through the manuscript. No point in listening if there are going to be editorial changes before I get to that step.

    • Thanks, Terry, for the link to your TKZ post on this topic. I knew it was out there, but couldn’t find it. I encourage everyone to read it again.

      I agree with your process of using the TTS as the last step in editing. I write in Scrivener, make all the “big picture” edits there, then let Scrivener read it to me (while I read along). Astounding what I miss. I then take the manuscript to Word, and am impressed with how many grammar errors Word still can find. Then I finish with Word reading it to me.

      One other thing, the more conversational reader in Scrivener helps me listen to cadence and rhythm. When the same sentence structure has been used repeatedly, it is easier to hear than see.

      Thanks, Terry, especially for the link to your article! Hope your weekend is free of stupid errors.

  6. Great question, Steve. I don’t use TTS and I need to. I’m master of the missing word, or missing punctuation. I want to up my proof reading game. Reading aloud is another option, but I like the idea of a robotic voice reading my work to me, so that I’m not trying to put drama into the reading (trust me, I will if I do it 🙂

    Terry’s procedure is one I’m going to try–I use Office 365 as well, and will definitely watch the cursor as it jumps from work to work.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks, Dale. It’s amazing what we can “see” on the page when we “know” we put it there in our writing. How could our fingers have not followed our brain’s command?

      I hope your experiment works. I’d be interested to hear what you think after you try it. You often write YMMV. For me, the faster speed of the female voice on Scrivener helps more with cadence, rhythm, and sentence structure. The slower male voice on Word helps more with punctuation and misspelled words.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. Good morning all.

    I do use text-to-speech in Word during the last of my self-editing process. I find it helpful and have caught grammar/typos.

    But, the voices are irritating, I agree. If I could just get my husband to read it to me…but, that’s not happening! The computer voices don’t get excited about anything, and that’s a real bummer.

    Hope everyone has a great day and a good weekend…

    • Thanks, Deb. I like your process. Thanks for sharing your experience. If you ever find a way to get spouses interested in reading our work aloud, let me know.

      I wonder if any of the paid TTS programs have found a way to interpret the context and add emotion.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  8. I have started to use Speechify. The cost is high, but I found it helpful. I use this towards to the end of project to polish it up. I have to transfer my text to the online version of the program for it to work. However, the voice is very close to a real person pronouncing the words.

    I find is useful because I like rhythm. Hearing my writing allows me to make changes and select different words that provide a smoother reader experience.

    • Good morning, Ben

      Thanks for the information on Speechify. I see that they have a “free” option. Is that time limited, or a stripped-down version of their regular product? Did you compare it to the TTS in Word 365 or Word? Or to any other free TTS?

      I agree with using TTS to find the rhythm of our words. I hope it continues to work well for you.

      Thanks for telling us about Speechify.

      • The free version is limited. I also did a lot of comparisons between this program, Word, and other online options. In short, I was tired of listening to robots.

        I believe that the price was around $150 for the year, and for me it was worth it. As a beginning novelist I create my own issues, like other people who commented here. It helps me catch things that slip through.

        I also enjoy using this program when I go on walks or when I’m driving.

  9. I was a very early user (late Eighties) of TTS when it was a standalone program. These days, every computer and phone has it as part of their software because of the Citizens With Disabilities Act. If your word-processing program doesn’t have it, your computer should be able to read aloud in that program.

    If the voice is annoying or boring, you can change the voice and speed it up to the point you have to pay very good attention to keep up. A very good thing if you are proof reading.

    About 15 years ago, one of my publishers had the brilliant idea of offering TTS versions of our novels using a sophisticated program with really good voices. I freaked out, pulled together a bunch of legal research, and shot it down because TTS hadn’t been established as a right to be sold, and audiobook companies wouldn’t touch a novel they considered already out as an audiobook.

    Some authors laughed at me, but I explained how improved TTS was from just a few years before. These days, it’s hard to tell the difference between TTS and a bland human narrator so I laugh in the general direction of these people.

    TTS has never been legally established as a right because it’s not worth a legal battle on either side, but big publishers sell it anyway. So, goodbye to another right.

  10. I do the same process as Terry, using the Read Aloud option in Word in my final editing phase. I find so many mistakes listening to the words and following the cursor. Also easier (for me) to catch clunky sentences or word choices. Using it, I give a much cleaner manuscript to my editor. 🙂

    • Thanks, Cecilia. I agree. I’ve also found that I can use it earlier and decrease the number of edits (and time) in the editing process, i.e. a cleaner manuscript, and in less time.

      Thanks for sharing your process.

  11. Like a couple of others here, I use TTS in Word in the final editing run-through. I’ve been amazed at the errors I found. There weren’t a lot of them, but several editors and I all missed them.

    I agree with you, also, Steve, that listening to the cadence is helpful.

    • Thanks, Kay. It is amazing what Word finds after we’ve read over it multiple times. And getting the cadence right can make the reader feel a smooth ride of ups and downs vs. driving down the railroad ties.

      Hope your weekend is a good one.

  12. For me, it is an unbelievably necessary and useful tool. I use the built-in Mac voice, with male or female chosen for whose pov the scene is in.

    Any time I’m too tired to think or type (very frequent when you have ME/CFS), I can take the next step in editing or writing by… LETTING THE COMPUTER READ MY PREVIOUS WORK TO ME!

    It shows flaws, in pacing, in parsing, in using the wrong word completely, in flow, in content (because it isn’t me reading something for the nth time), you name it.

    I use it many times in writing a scene: for a paragraph, for a phrase, for a section or the whole scene.

    I don’t think, though, that I will use it for ever producing an audiobook – unless I’m willing to switch the designation from mainstream contemporary literary fiction – to comedy!

    It will go along reasonably smooth and mellow, and then get something ludicrously wrong (good way to wake yourself up when editing).

    I go back and forth as necessary between AutoCrit for editing (only the counting functions, thank you very much) and having the computer read to me.

    Sort of like having a service animal – if I let it, it pokes me to improve something by forcing its attention on me.

    I don’t mind its mindlessness at all – it complements mine.

    • Thanks, Alicia, for your thorough answer. I had never thought about the advantages of TTS with chronic disorders such as ME/CFS. And I like your idea of switching the sex of the voice depending on the POV character. Excellent.

      Your third paragraph about the things you pick up, besides wrong or misspelled words, points to the possibility that there may be even more benefits to use of TTS.

      I’m sold on the benefits of TTS. Your comment has inspired me to look for some additional benefits.

      I hope your writing continues, and you find ever more ways to use technology to your benefit.


      • My writing is just at the edge of IMPOSSIBLE, and the techniques I’ve had to develop to deal with my particular kind of semi-functional brain have become second nature over almost thirty years of writing fiction.

        But I’m happy with the product, and that’s what counts, and will, maybe, write about all those tricks and the craft that goes with them – because most people who have as damaged a brain can’t/don’t write fiction at all.

        Most of them don’t actually WANT to write fiction – so there may not be a huge audience out there for it – though many of the bits and pieces would be useful to some other kinds of stuck writers.

        In any case, it will have to wait – fiction comes first. Showing anyone else how I hold the undergarments together with safety pins and gluesticks is a distant second.

        • Your determination and perseverance are admirable, Alicia. Congratulations on what you have achieved, and I hope you do write about those tricks and craft. Good luck with your fiction.

  13. Good topic, Steve. I’ve played around with a few TTS aps as well as STT stuff. I think we’re in the early stages of getting it humanistic, but it will become mainstream as AI matures. I’ve watched the AI editing/proofreading technology vastly improve over the past five years – it’ll be the same with speech / text advancements. Between Grammarly Plus and the new MS Word program, my outsourced proofreading needs are limited. Content ideas and articulation… that’s another game which I doubt AI is anywhere near touching.

    • Thanks, Garry. Interesting stuff. I agree with you that we will see tremendous improvements in TTS, STT, and AI. And I agree that the creative, original thoughts and inventiveness of the human brain will be beyond AI for a long, long time.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Have a great weekend.

  14. I use the Word option as one of my last passes on the manuscript before it goes to galleys. I read as I listen and that’s great for catching rhythm problems and for words I so often leave out!

    Once I read my manuscript aloud as a friend and I drove two hundred miles–there’s nothing quite like reading your manuscript aloud to someone else. The clunky dialogue stands out like a sore thumb!

    • Thanks for your input, Patricia. And sorry for my late response.

      Your process sounds similar to mine, but I especially like your idea of also reading the manuscript aloud to someone else. I wonder who picks up more of the dialogue problem, the reader or the listener? Now that would take a real friend to listen and to be honest.

      Have a great weekend.

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