Brandon writes: Another way to read and proofread

Starting classes again will likely be marked by an increase in the amount of reading you need to accomplish each week. I am not a speed reader and beyond that I tend to become dozy and fall asleep after reading just a few pages, even at times when the reading is interesting and I am well rested. To keep abreast of assigned course reading I have discovered a technique that works well for me, and since it has other benefits for proofreading I share it here in hopes some part will be of assistance to you.

First I scan the assigned pages of the textbook using an Epson flat bed scanner. Then I use the optical character recognition (OCR) function in Adobe Acrobat Professional to create a “searchable image” which is the original scan laid over the recognized text. For the third and final step, I highlight the text in sections and use the “speech” function on my Mac laptop to have the text read aloud by Vicki, the remarkably smooth recorded computer voice.

Digitized text, as the eBook reader world is well aware of, has some cool features. The Mac speech tool allows you to control the speed of the voice playback, which gives you the option for faster or slower uptake of the text. Later when you want to find a passage in the reading, using Acrobat you can easily perform a word search and jump directly to it, or easily find every occurrence of a topic word throughout the text. Enlarge the text on screen to make it easier on the eyes and when its time to write your paper, cut and paste quotes without any typos.

If your teacher provides you with a PDF file then he has saved you the need to scan and you just go straight to the “OCR text recognition” function in the “document” dropdown menu at the top. If the instructor gives you a word document or a PDF with highlightable text then you can jump directly to the speech function. You can also set a quick key to launch the speech tool, such as Command+L for listen (although you may want to choose a different letter key if you use the Command+L function to rotate photos left in the preview application).

Text to speech also helps with writing and proofreading. I will, for example, highlight this blog post and have it read back to me to check the flow of the punctuation and make sure there are no correctly spelled inappropriate words hiding in my text (doing this I caught “past” instead of “paste” in a paragraph above). The speech function also works equally well for reading long sections from websites and any other text you can highlight with the cursor.

OCR and text-to-speech can be done on both Mac and Windows based systems equally well, the software and hardware I use is just one of the dozen or more ways to accomplish the same effect. I would recommend using something that gives you a searchable text with the original image in tact because it is far easier to work with than the converted, reformatted and often jumbled style of the early OCR softwares. If you do decide to buy anything, consider exercising your Harvard student discount offered by Harvard Technology Services online or at their showroom in room B11 on the lower level of the Science Center.

Best of luck with your new classes this spring semester and please feel free to share any of your school survival techniques in the comments below.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 26, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Upon revisiting my post after an hour or two I decided to change the title from “School survival techniques – OCR reading” to “Another way to read and proofread” because I do not feel it is vital to use this skill to do well in this program or anywhere that requires reading or proofreading. It is simply, as the new title states, another way to dice up information and make use of it. For me this technique has been a great tool that has helped me absorb more information from assigned reading, catch some of my errors in proofreading, and helped in the writing and researching process. I say, helped me catch “some” of my errors because it does not aide in catching the misuse of the word “there” vs “their,” which sound alike and are therefore not any better perceived by hearing the text read aloud. No technique can replace an old fashioned love for reading and writing and I suspect that for many students this scanning and digital reading technique will seem too time consuming to be useful, but if it helps some one student then it will have been worth the time I spent sharing the thoughts here. Good night, and good luck!

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