Read it out loud

Paul Graham says, “Here’s a simple trick for getting more people to read what you write: write in spoken language.” He’s right, with a little tweaking. There are times and places for more formal language, but even those benefit from the advice I’m about to give you.

Read it out loud, several times over, and listen carefully.

  • Pay attention to where you paused: did you forget to write in your punctuation? (Almost no-one uses enough commas.)
  • Pay attention to where you felt pompous. Can you swap in some shorter, simpler, more common words?

DON’T: Allow me to exemplify a passage in need of my counsel above. One might have (as do an excessive number of authors) deliberately utilized verbose constructions and multisyllabic Latinate terminology, endeavouring to impress or intimidate the audience with one’s erudition. This manipulation is transparent to the critical reader.

DO: Let me give you an example to clean up. People often use fancy words or complex sentences to look smarter or better-educated. Critical readers will see right through that.

Special words should add finely shaded meaning, not obscure the intent of your sentences.

  • Pay attention to where you got lost in your sentences: I guarantee some of them were too long or convoluted. Try simplifying both the language and the structure. Can you flip the sentence around? Use active voice instead of passive? Break it into several shorter, tightly linked sentences?
  • Pay attention to where you lost track of time. Were your verb tenses mixed up, the way mine were until my very last read-through? Decide what is past, present, and future, and make the flow of time clear.

Your eyes may not know how to catch these errors, but your ears do. Let them help you.