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Friday, September 17, 2010


A very good academic writer I know once told me how he and his co-author were working through the manuscript of a book they were preparing to deliver to their publisher. They spent a day together, reading the book out loud to each other, slowly and carefully, stopping every chapter or so to discuss matters of style and, to some extent, content (though that wasn't really an issue at this stage).

I don't know how many of our readers here at SMT do this even for papers they have authored by themselves. (They should, of course.) But I think it is an absolutely crucial operation for co-authored papers. As a language editor, I have seen some very strange papers that were obviously the result of a writing process—or, rather, two or more much too separate writing processes—that never meet in the same rhetorical space. A good way to get this meeting to happen is to instantiate it physically, in speech.

If you are writing a paper or a book with someone who would find reading it out loud to you embarrassing, I would argue, or if you would find it embarrassing to do so yourself, you are working with the wrong person.

(Like I say, instantiating your text in a single, physical, rhetorical moment is a good idea also for papers you are writing by yourself. As part of the editing process, read your paper out loud to yourself. You'll be surprised at the improvements this will force you to make, and how easy those improvements are to make once you hear what your writing sounds like. If this idea bores or embarrasses you, I would argue here too, then you might not be the right person to be writing this paper.)

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