What can VO talent learn from a print-media proofreader? Part 1 of 2


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

An acquaintance of ours used to write advertising for a financial institution. His boss told him: “If people find typographical errors in our advertising, they might think we’re just as sloppy when handling their money.” Here at Edge Studio, we don’t handle investments, but we do value attention to detail. So we read and re-read what we publish on our website, and here in our blog and other places, to catch whatever mistakes we can. (If you see one that slipped through, let us know!)

But you, as voice talent, don’t have to worry about spelling and such, right? After all, “if it sounds right, it is right” isn’t just for technical issues. Well, no. You promote yourself in print, don’t you? And observing proofreading principles can even help your VO performance.

As talent, you DO need to be careful about detail in any printed matter you produce – whether it’s email, your website, a post card, your blog or a letter. Not only does a typo or awkward phrase suggest that you are not as meticulous as your prospective client would like, but it could also suggest that you don't know right from wrong when it comes to vocabulary. Casting people want voice actors who can adapt and understand whatever copy they’re given. The more well -rounded and versatile you seem – let’s say it: the better “educated” you appear – the better prospect you’ll be.

The thing is, when you're the author, it's hard to proofread your own stuff. You’re just too close to it. Your mind becomes blind to all sorts of errors. Even if you slow down and and look at the text very deliberately, you’re mind tends to race ahed and see what it expects to see. For example, did you notice all the typos in the previous sentence? If so, that’s because you didn’t write it. If you had, it’s possible you did not.

And did you notice that the previous sentence was potentially confusing? “Did not” what? Those two words are a long way from “did you notice,” which it refers to. In fact, the phrases “you didn’t write it” and “if you had” are closer. A clearer way for us to have written the preceding passage would be:

For example, did you notice the typo in the previous sentence? If so, that’s because you didn’t write the sentence. If you had written it, it’s possible you did not notice them.

Or even,

For example, did you notice the typo in the previous sentence? If so, that’s because you didn’t write the sentence. When you’ve written the text, typos are much harder to see than when you did not.

This is another sort of situation that the “fresh eyes” of an experienced proofreader should catch.

Similarly, pronouns’ intended antecedents should also be clear. Suppose we had written, “because you didn’t write it.” Would “it” refer to the word “sentence” or the word “typo”? Either interpretation would make sense, but the senses are slightly different. Usually, the pronoun’s antecedent (the word the pronoun stands for) should be the nearest preceding noun. For example, technically “He hit the mic with the cup and broke it” means he broke the cup. We sure hope that’s the case, but even a grammatically correct version can be unclear: “When his cup hit the mic, it broke.” Much clearer would be, “He broke the mic by hitting it with his cup” or “His cup broke as it hit the mic.”)

If you’re the scriptwriter, be aware that potentially confusing passages such as these are even more harmful in voice-over. The reader of printed matter can, at least, go back and sort things out. But if your listener gets confused, you may lose that person's attention for several seconds, possibly forever.

So, having taken the long way around, we arrive at this important advice:

When producing written material for your voice-over business, and when writing a script, proofread it carefully.

Running it through your spellchecker is just a start. Whether or not you have the software's "grammar" mode enabled, a spell checker will miss a lot. For example, the fact that we just omitted a hyphen in the word "spell checker." And the fact that these two sentences are fragments not properly constructed the way you learned in sixth grade. They read just fine don't they?

After using the spell checker, read the text aloud. Slowly and very deliberately. This is not voice-over practice; it's just the opposite. Rather than reading in phrases, you need to see each and every word as you say it.

And because even then mistakes will slip through, have someone else read it, too. Someone who has time to focus on it, without distraction, and who can consciously disassociate their mind from your content. If you’ve written the most adorable story about a kitten lost in the words, your proofreader should NOT get involved in the story. Their only concern should be: is it technically and grammatically correct? No matter if you choose someone off the street, or from your dinner table, or off the Internet, they should understand the importance and scope of their function.

This is a reason why even an editor (or our copywriter friend’s creative-director boss) is not always perfect at proofreading: As they read the copy, they are reading for content and rhetorical clarity; they are not focused on the singular task of proofreading. That’s why the copywriter’s work, in addition to being reviewed by his boss, was also checked by a full-time proofreader (it was a large ad agency) in an office down the hall.

So, bottom line, using a proofreader will improve your work that people will see. If you’re not able to hire one or dragoon a volunteer, allow extra time so that you can see your copy with some distance.

The principles involved in professional proofreading will also help with your work that people only hear. We’ll turn to that next week.

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

Subbing out aloud

You just made me aware of what I owe to long-ago experience in a magazine publishing office. 'Galley proofs' back from the printers were read aloud against the source copy. Ahead of typesetting, copy was of course 'subbed', shedding about 30 percent bulk and gaining clarity. But reading aloud revealed more: if we ran out of breath we knew the paragraph would exhaust the reader. Happens all the time yapping at the mic! I think many of us hesitate to query a client's copy, but if it's downright unclear then surely we should.

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