Writing With the Ear

February 11, 2022 by Eileen Wirth

Write with your ears instead of your eyes.

These eight words are a key to successful writing. Really. 

When you read copy aloud, your ear will catch excess words, awkward phrasing, and jargon that your eye misses. After you’ve read your copy aloud until it flows, you’ll be amazed how short and simple your final version seems. Bravo!  

People who overhear you talking to yourself may think you’ve lost it, but the results are worth a few baleful stares. Think of languages as forms of music and notice how differently they sound and flow. 

Spoken English is a language of starts and stops, strategic pauses, and emphasis on key words. Its rhythm and beats can be compared to jazz, while romance languages like French and Spanish sound like violins playing with no pauses to emphasize individual words or phrases.   

Effective English writing requires mastering rhythms that must be heard and felt, not just viewed.

One of the reasons so many people who speak well write poorly is that they are afraid to employ the rhythms of spoken English in their prose. They write long, boring sentences like they did in junior high English because they’ve been taught this is what it takes to sound intelligent and important. Ugh! Never mind if anyone reads their stuff. 

At times a formal style is mandatory. Lawyers must write in legalese and professors in academic gibberish. Every field has its own trade jargon which you must use to be taken seriously. 

But if your goal is to entice readers to digest your work, use small words that you can easily speak and short sentences that don’t require you to come up for air at midpoint. 

Just keep reading your copy aloud until your ear has caught everything you eye has missed. Then celebrate your sparkling prose!

In this column, Dr. Eileen Wirth shares everything she has learned about being a creative professional. Got a question or topic on creativity you would like Dr. Wirth to address for The Greenhouse Journal? Shoot her an email at EILEENWIRTH@creighton.edu.

Eileen Wirth

Dr. Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and is an author specializing in Omaha history. She was a reporter at the World-Herald and a PR Writer for Union Pacific before joining Creighton in 1991. Eileen’s books include The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Historic Omaha Houses of Worship and From Society Page to Front Page. She is on the board of History Nebraska and a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Women’s Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame. She also has been active in numerous groups particularly the Omaha Public Library.

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