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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Using Screen Readers for Proofreading

In most tutoring sessions, either the tutor or the student will read the student's writing aloud because it helps to hear if any mistakes have been made. Our ears pick up on awkward phrases and sentences more quickly than our eyes do. Perhaps this is because the way we interact with information visually and audibly are different from one another. 

I encourage students who are at the revision stage to read their work aloud to try to identify grammar errors or clarity issues. Some students, however, find that reading aloud themselves does not identify potential problems successfully. For these students, the Grassroots with Readings textbook by Susan Fawcett (2012) suggests, "Students might wish to have the computer read aloud. ReadPlease is a free software download for the PC; TextEdit comes installed on MACs" (p. 64). In addition to these software programs, I found a blog, "Usability Geek," in which software testing engineer John Oldman gives an overview of "10 Free Screen Readers For Blind Or Visually Impaired Users" (2012). While the only screen reader I tested was ChromeVox, students can certainly test and see which screen reader works best for them. I found ChromeVox's voice to be a bit too robot-ish for my tastes, but others might find his voice entertaining because it's kind of silly.

Students with disabilities may be familiar with the Kurzweil screen reading software, which many schools (including Montgomery College) use on the computers in the Disability Support Services department. Regardless of the situation, using a screen reader is beneficial for both students with disabilities and students who are seeking additional assistance with their proofreading process. Basically, using a screen reader allows writing to be read aloud accurately. As Susan Fawcett puts it, "Reading silently makes it easier to skip over small errors or mentally fill in missing details, whereas listening closely is a great way to hear mistakes" (p. 64). Whether the "read-aloud" (as it is known in writing centers) is done in a human or a digital voice is the student's preference, but the results are sure to be fruitful.

Are you a student who uses a screen reader to help you with the writing process? If so, please share your experience with us by responding to this blog post!


Fawcett, S. (2012). Grassroots with Readings (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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