Text-to-Speech – a new way to proofread

Here’s a tip for you writers out there. I’m trying a new technique for proofreading my latest Cliff Knowles Mystery: text-to-speech software. I opted for the free Panopreter Basic reader. Of course it produces a clunky computer voice, not a human-sounding one, but I expected that. If you use one of the paid versions, you have choices of voices and other features. This one delivers ads in the interface, but I ignore them. I don’t even know what’s being advertised since I never look at that window.

Since I write in Microsoft Word, my file has a docx extension. The reader requires another format, but it accepts several, including doc and txt. I use txt. Simply open up the application, click Input and Speak, and select your file from the menu. Your file’s text will appear in the main window.  Click the Speak button in the lower left and the voice (Microsoft Anna) begins to read. There are sliders to adjust volume and speed. Don’t set it too fast. It’s tempting to try to get through the proofreading chore as fast as possible, but you will miss things if you go faster than a leisurely pace. You are doing this to catch mistakes. I am amazed at how much easier it is to notice a mistake read aloud to me than it is to see it when reading. I’ve been catching a lot of errors this way.

The software is far from perfect. Getting used to the odd cadence of the voice is the hardest part. It will take some patience to use it. For example, if the word no appears at the end of a sentence, with a period after it, (like “She shook her head no.”) the software reads it as “number.” This makes for some funny dialogue. If a series of digits is four digits without a comma, like 2016, it reads it correctly as a date, and if it is preceded by a $ then it correctly recites the word “dollars” after the amount, but it pronounces Roman numerals weirdly and the word “is” always comes out as “eyes.” Since I write murder mysteries, the word homicide appears frequently. The software sometimes pronounces it right, but most of the time it comes out as “domicide” for some reason. There are many other anomalies. You can pause the reading to make a correction in your original file, but so far as I can tell, you can’t back up or fast forward to another location, at least not in the free version. If you shut it down, it will start at the beginning again. You can, however, save it as a .wav file and then you can navigate through that with any media player. I don’t bother with that. I just save my original in text files of ten to fifteen pages at a time and play them all the way through.

Still, you can’t beat the price, and it’s a lot faster than a paid proofreader, too. So expect my seventh Cliff Knowles Mystery, A Will to Die, soon. Unfortunately, it won’t be out by Christmas, but if you don’t get one of the items on your wish list for Christmas, you can treat yourself to this one in the new year.

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