Rule #9

Read your paragraph out loud sometime in the last five minutes of each 27-minute writing moment.

A paragraph is a one-minute reading experience. The experience consists in having up to 200 hundreds words pass through the reader’s consciousness in an order determined by the writer. The “good” writer is simply the one who chooses those words well. And “well” here simply means that the words, in the order presented, are apt to convey the thought the writer intends. After the minute is up, the reader must know what the writer is trying to tell them, and should have been moved some way in the direction of believing it, understanding it, or, at least, considering the arguments for it.

This effect of the reading should take primacy. It should come before any judgment about the quality of the writing. Even a positive of judgment about the writer’s “engaging style” should come only after the meaning of the paragraph has been properly grasped. Academic writers are not trying to impress each other with their literary talents; they are trying to put ideas before each other’s careful consideration. The style of the writing, whether that be its masterful turns of phrase or its hapless fumbles with grammar, should not draw more attention to itself than the ideas that are being presented.

One very good way to test whether your paragraph meets this criterion is to read the paragraph out loud. It should not take more than two minutes (because reading out loud can be a bit slower than reading silently) and the words should come trippingly on the tongue, as the great bard said. (He did not mean that the tongue should trip over the words.) When reading out loud, you are likely to spot missing words and notice clumsy phrasings. It should be easy to read the paragraph, taking a quick breath at every period. It should be obvious where to pause and what words to emphasize. With time, reading your own paragraphs out loud should be one of life’s small pleasures, something you look forward to after writing for 22 minutes.

If the idea of reading your own prose out loud is abhorrent to you, think of what you are putting your reader through. Writers who will not read their works out loud, even to themselves, are like cooks who will not eat their own food. If you want your writing to improve you must experience how it sounds.

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