Talk Back prose or prose poetry

Talk Back prose or prose poetry

SpeechnDictationIconWant to have a second read of something you have written?
Kind of a dispassionate editor type of read?
Here is a way to make your writing read more polished.

When I write, I have an inner dialog which I put to words on paper, well not so much paper as into a text editor or word processor nowadays. I notice that when someone else would read it out-loud it frequently does not carry the same cadence and emphasis that it did in my inner dialog.

I have noted these discontinuities and questionable meanings with others writings also. These are readily identified in others writing wether I read there work out-loud or silently. I often think, “What are they trying to say?” when reading new scientists writings, and especially with students submissions.

With student mentees drafts, I would expect some rough spots like these, but they happen overly often, and go unidentified by the author, lingering over many drafts (that is when I can get them to submit more than one draft :-). So, I recognize that it is hard to track down discontinuities and questionable meanings and fix them: especially with the very compressed turnaround time we work with for todays communications.

I have found that if I use a text to speech feature on my Apple OSX computer I can fix many of these in my own writing. I have long been using text to speech as a tool with face to face editing sessions with student mentees and they have very positive responses.

How to enable text to speech.

OSX computer — interpret OSX to mean a Mac

With an OSX computer it is easy to have the computer speak selected text. Just go to “System Preferences” and choose the “Dictation and Speech” icon, choose the “Text to Speech” button and check the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed box.” The default is Option+Esc key combination and that has worked fine for me — your mileage may vary — but you may choose another key combination. Just select some text, and Option+Esc key combination.


On the iPad it is only slightly more work to turn on this great feature.

Launch “Settings” (the icon of a gear) and choose “General” then choose “Accessibility” and toggle “Speak Selection” to on. I the “Speak Selection” dialog window the voice used and the “SPEAKING RATE” can be adjusted. I like the “Highlight Words” being set to on but you can turn it off. With “Speak Selection” set to on, when text is highlighted “Speak” is an option on the popup dialog. Happy Days. (This works for the iPhone as well.)

Windows 7

Open the “Ease of Access Center” window by pressing the Windows key + U, or by clicking the “Start” button, choose “Control Panel,” then choose “Ease of Access,” then choose “Ease of Access Center.” Under the “Quick access to common tools” header click ‘Start Narrator‘, or press Alt + N. (This will start Narrator for current use and to make Narrator start automatically when you log in, with the “Ease of Access Center” window open. Under the “Explore all settings” header, click on “Use the computer without a display,” or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press Enter.

Keyboard shortcuts in Windows 7 Narrator

To read text from a screen, use the following shortcuts when Narrator is running.

    • Insert + F3 – Read the current character.
    • Insert + F4 – Read the current word.
    • Insert + F5 – Read the current line.
    • Insert + F6 – Read the current paragraph.
    • Insert + F7 – Read the current page.
    • Insert + F8 – Read the current document.

There you go. Clear as mud. Lots of key combinations to remember.

Windows 8

In Windows 8 Microsoft has moved in the direction of complexity as there are different ways to get Narrator turned on depending upon the device.

  • On the sign-in screen, press the “Windows logo key+U” or click the “Ease of access” button in the lower-left corner, and then choose “Narrator.”
  • On a keyboard, press the “Windows logo key+Enter.”
  • On a touch-only device, hold down the “Windows logo button and press the “Volume Up” button.

I like this description the best (probably because I have used Windows since before there was Windows 🙂

Settings > Control Panel > Ease of Access > Speech Recognition


Most modern devices have text to speech capabilities so the device is not the issue. The iPad is best at being used to consume and digest information, with only modest “creating and authorship” capabilities. This lends it well suited to using it as a tool to assess the readability of ones one work.

Is technology building a better professor?

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