Proofreading principles for voice talent to use at the mic - Part 2 of 2

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

Last week we talked about the importance of proofreading whatever you produce in the way of self-promotion ... your website, pitch letters, thank-you notes, emails, etc. We also remarked that voice talent are lucky in that we don’t have to proofread text that is only heard, not seen. But let’s not rejoice too much in that. Although a voice-over script doesn’t necessarily need to be spelled correctly, it needs to be understood correctly.

You can even benefit from observing proofreading principles as you perform.

The following tips will not only make you a better proofreader, they’ll make you a better voice actor.

1. Focus. When you’re proofing print, turn off the radio, don’t answer the phone, make it just you and the text. Likewise, when you receive a script, give it your full attention. If you’re at a live audition, draw away to a secluded spot where you can practice it without distraction. If you’re in your own studio, allow time for script review and analysis before recording.

2. Read it aloud. When proofreading printed text, this slows you down, forcing your mind to see individual words, rather than approaching the text as phrases. In voicing a script, generally your perspective should be just the opposite – you should view the script as phrases because seeing it as a series of thoughts and emotions helps you give a more fluid and natural reading. But when you’re practicing, reading it aloud is still important. How can you rehearse – how can you create muscle memory – if you “rehearse” by muttering, or if you can’t hear yourself at all?

3. Force yourself to see just words – read it backward! With print, this makes sense, although it should not be the only way you proof something. We’re not going to say it’s quite so fruitful in voice-over, but it is worth a thought. Focusing on each individual word can help you focus on enunciation. It might also help you see the script from a different angle (which is helpful because most talent will read a particular script in pretty much the same way). It may also help you catch possible typos. What’s more, it trains you to read ahead – which makes reading backward much easier! And (although this is a bit of a stretch) it might be an interesting exercise to reverse the words but keep the emotions.

4. Look for homonyms (homophones and homographs). Homophones are words that sound alike or similar but are spelled differently. For example, "compliment" and "complement," or "discrete" and "discreet," or "calendar" and "calender." In print, the difference in spelling is, of course, important. But it’s also important to understanding a script. And it’s essential to catch subtle differences in pronunciation, such as between “Calvary” and “cavalry” or “libel” and “liable” or “comity” and “comedy.”

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but sound different. For example, in our review of entries in Edge Studio’s Weekly Script Recording Contest, we often say something like “People read it too slowly.” Is the word “read” meant as present tense or past tense? To avoid this confusion, we sometimes write “people went too slowly” or “were reading.” Of course, in voicing a script, this isn’t a problem, as long as you know which tense is meant.

But conversely, this category includes something the print proofreader needn’t worry about – words that sound like other words when combined in a phrase. For example, “That stuff he knows is impressive” can be mistaken for “That stuffy nose is impressive.” Enunciation and phrasing can make all the difference.

5. Watch out for other pitfalls. In print, these include misplaced apostrophes and erroneous contractions. In voicing, these include tongue twisters. You usually can’t revise the script, so you’ll need to practice them enough that voicing an awkward phrase becomes second-nature, sounding like the rest of the sentence. Be able to say it without pausing or changing your manner, unless for some other reason.

6. Observe punctuation. This is a standard part of a print proofreader’s responsibility. Sometimes they have to remove grammatically incorrect commas that the writer inserted only because people might pause at those points when speaking. On the other hand, sometimes an ungrammatical comma should be inserted, to make clear where a phrase or thought ends or begins (although it’s usually preferable to rewrite the clause altogether). As voice talent, you, too, need to observe punctuation, and use your judgment to decide whether the copywriter (a) meant you to pause there, or (b) included the comma only to be grammatically correct. (Examples of the latter are “the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, is the state's second-largest" and “Harry Connick, Jr., has many talents”).

7. Be very careful with numbers. A professional proofreader will not only check to make sure that, for example, a phone number has the correct number of digits, he or she will call the number to be sure it’s correct and functioning. Same for other technical information, such as web addresses and dimensions. Do all the figures and specifications make sense? Has someone, in failing to hit their shift key, given you a conveyer belt that’s 36' (feet) wide instead of 36"?

8. Have somebody else read it. We talked about this last week, how a professional proofreader can see the text with fresh eyes. Someone not associated with the content can also spot passages that don't make sense; they may not understand some constructions or word choices that make perfect sense to you and your editor because someone without the same background knowledge doesn’t make all the same assumptions.

9. Print it out and/or re-format it. The professional proofreader is already looking with fresh eyes, so they won’t do this (unless the text if too small to read accurately). You, on the other hand, may have worked with the text for days, growing blind to some errors. Create a fresh view for yourself. Printing it out will give your brain maximum shake-up. But even on-screen, if you resize the type, zoom in, and/or change the font, it can help. While you’re at it, choose a font that’s very different and good for this purpose. For example, many people normally use a sans-serif font (e.g., Arial, Helvetica, Calibri). A serif font (e.g. Times Roman) will enable you to discern a numeral one from a lower-case “L.” Other characters to watch out for include zero vs. uppercase “O,” comma vs. period, and curly quotes vs. straight ones.

And you’ll benefit by observing the spirit of these last two tips in yet another way – a very important way:

As we mentioned above, many talent will read a particular script pretty much alike. But the artists who more often win auditions and impress casting people are those who find a fresh (yet still legitimate) way to approach the words, making the script sound honest and themselves sound real. So, although we don’t suggest you ask your director or spouse to give you a “reading,” we do strongly recommend that you follow up on auditions you didn’t land – seek out the produced audio if you can, and see what you might learn from it. Also, participate in group classes, noting your classmates’ approaches.

In other words, listen to how somebody else reads it. Study how various people find various ways to interpret the same words as you.

Ultimately, the proof is in what makes you correct ... yet special.

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