Can You Spot the 14 Voice-Over Mistakes Waiting to Happen?

Can you spot the 14 voice-over mistakes waiting to happen?

Your script is written and ready to go. It’s short, straightforward and simple.  It doesn’t contain anything about complicated medical procedures, highly technical computer jargon, or words that have been translated from a different language. You’ve hired a professional voice-over talent to record it, and have about one hour to deliver the finished recording to your boss. No problem, right?

Not so fast. There could be plenty of problems brewing in even the simplest-looking scripts if the copy is not carefully reviewed to ensure the voice-over actor knows exactly what you want. And we’re not just talking about directions on tone, emphasis and style. We’re talking about a host of issues within standard copy that could turn a quick VO project into a long and arduous ordeal.

To illustrate the point, I created a seemingly simple script of exactly four sentences – that’s actually not so simple at all. The script is packed with 14 potential mistakes just waiting to happen if the voice-over talent isn’t given a heads up on specific preferences the client desires.

Review This Sample VO Script – Do You See Any Problems Brewing?

Well, folks, we will be having our annual party to celebrate yet another successful completion of our animal/plant life data project! Invites will go out ASAP, and this year’s topic is the effects of caramel on animal/plant life. Neither appeared to mind the gooey substance. Researcher Sinead Linux looked at data from 1996 to 2016 and found a total of 592 different benefits caramel brings to plants/animals (i.e. it prompts growth).

Avoid These Potential VO Script-Writing Mistakes

Voiceover Script Mistakes Create Confusion for the Voice Talent

Mistake No. 1 – “We will”

While the copy uses “we will,” the copy also kicks off with a very casual opening. An experienced voice-over artist may be inclined to keep the casual vibe alive by changing “we will” to “we’ll” for a smoother, more conversational flow.

Avoid the issue: Use contractions if you want friendlier, more casual copy. Don’t use contractions if you want a more formal tone. Make sure your choice, however, is consistent with the rest of the copy’s tone.

Mistake No. 2 – “Animal/plant life”

Voice-over artists have numerous ways to interpret slashes, and chances are high they’re not going to pick the exact way you want it unless you prep them in advance. This particular slashed phrase could be read as:

  • Animal and plant life
  • Animal or plant life
  • Animal and or plant life
  • Animal (pause) plant life

Avoid the issue: Skip slashes in VO copy, spelling out what you want said instead.

Mistake No. 3 – “Data”

Do you want data pronounced “DAY-tuh” or “DA-tuh?” The VO actor has a 50/50 chance of getting it right. (Make that fifty fifty! See mistake number 2)

Avoid the issue: Words that have multiple pronunciation options should include the preferred pronunciation within the copy.

Help voice over talents with exact pronunciation

Mistake No. 4 – “Use of bold or ALL CAPS”

You put the invitation information in bold as a reminder to yourself to put it on your to-do list. But the voice-over artist read the information with massive emphasis. That’s not what you wanted!

Avoid the issue: Only bold copy or use ALL CAPS if you want voice-over talent to put a big emphasis on the bolded words or phrases.

Mistake No. 5 – “ASAP”

You wanted the VO actor to say “as soon as possible,” but he said “AY-SAP” instead.

Avoid the issue: Indicate within the copy how all acronyms should be pronounced.

Mistake No. 6- “Caramel”

Who says “car-mel,” making the word two syllables? Your VO artist, that’s who – even though you wanted the three syllable pronunciation of “car-a-mel.”

Avoid the issue: Indicate your preferred pronunciation of words that may have regional or alternate pronunciations across the country.

Mistake No. 7 – “Neither”

“NEE-ther” or “NIGH-ther?” Go back four steps to Mistake No. 3. Also, check out the Cambridge Dictionary and listen to British English and American English recordings of how words should be pronounced.

Clear enunciation directions for voiceover talent saves time and money

Mistake No. 8 and 9 – “Sinead Linux”

Names can be incredibly tricky to pronounce, especially those that are less common than the straightforward John Doe.

Avoid the issue: Include the pronunciation of any name that’s not as straightforward as John Doe. In this case, your copy could have read: “Sinead (Shin ADE) Linux (LEE necks).”

Mistake No. 10 – “1995 to 2016”

Nineteen-ninety-five is pretty straightforward. Unless, of course, you wanted it pronounced nineteen hundred ninety-five. Or nineteen hundred and ninety-five. The year 2016 also has a handful of variants:

  • Twenty-sixteen
  • Two-oh-sixteen
  • Two thousand sixteen
  • Two thousand and sixteen

Avoid the issue: Spell out in letters how you want numbers pronounced.  This is especially preferred with phone numbers in commercial copy. If you want 2414 to be pronounced twenty four fourteen, write it that way, or as 24-14.

Mistake No. 11 – “592”

Like 2016, the number 592 has at least two possible variations. Five hundred ninety-two vs. five hundred and ninety-two.

Avoid the issue: Same fix as mistake No. 10. Spell out in letters how you want numbers pronounced.  And if there is a decimal point used with your number (i.e. module 12.1 or civil code 345.91) – let your reader know if you need them to say “dot,” or “point,” or something else.

Mistake No. 12 – “Plants/animals”

This one can make for a triple whammy. Not only does it contain the bothersome slash, but it reverses the order of plants and animals from how the words have appeared previously in the text. It also changes the previously used “plant life” to plain ole “plants.”

Good VO actors may notice these inconsistencies and switch it back, putting animals first and changing plants to “plant life.” Or they may not, thinking you may have wanted the words reversed and changed for some reason.

Avoid the issue: You already know to avoid slashes. Do the same with inconsistencies with a thorough proofread of your text.  Don’t assume the VO talent reading your copy will understand what you mean, just because of it’s familiar usage to you.

smart script writing avoids voiceover talent errors

Mistake No. 13 – “i.e.”

How should the VO talent pronounce this? Choices include:

  • Phonetically, as in “eye-eee”
  • In Latin, as in “id est” (pretty unusual, but you never know)
  • The English translation of the Latin, which is “that is to say”
  • The English translation of the Latin e.g., which is “for example” – which is also really what you meant

The Latin abbreviations i.e. and e.g. have two different meanings yet are commonly confused for one another. The former provides more information while the latter provides an example.

Avoid the issue: Clear out the confusion altogether by spelling out what you want said in the copy, omitting abbreviations whenever possible.

Mistake No. 14 – “Use of parentheses”

Parentheses are nearly as annoying as slashes. Do you want the information contained within them read aloud? Or are they just there for additional information?

Avoid the issue: Only use parenthesis in VO copy to indicate a direction, pronunciation or other information that’s not intended to be said aloud.

As you can clearly see, even a short script can turn into a lengthy project with tons of edits, revisions and do-overs. Avoid the headache by reading all your scripts aloud, with the mindset of a VO artist who is seeing it for the very first time. Clear up anything that raises a question, and you’re likely to clear up the potential for mistakes.

Avoid Costly and Tedious Voice-Over Do-Overs

Another way to avoid costly and tedious do-overs is to hire a voice-over pro who knows just the right questions to ask before the recording even begins. With more than 20 years in the industry, I am happy to answer questions or provide a quote for your upcoming project.

For more posts on similar topics, please check out:

“When You Need More Than Just a Voice-Over Actor”

“Voice-Over Narration: Do it Yourself or Pay for a Pro?”

“8 Tips for Directing Voice Over Talent – What You Can Do BEFORE the Session”

4 comments on “Can You Spot the 14 Voice-Over Mistakes Waiting to Happen?

  1. Paul Strikwerda on

    Excellent advice for voice-over scriptwriters! So many of them forget that a script needs to be spoken, instead of read, AND that we cannot read minds. I dedicate several paragraphs of my Terms & Agreement to these potential problems, and how to avoid them. Some clients care, and take it to heart. So many of them do not, and continue to produce stuffy scripts that require clarification.

    • Debbie Grattan on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Paul. I realize that often scripts I receive are quite long, and it’s not as easy as it may seem for a client to read it through, out loud, to discover mistakes. But even on short scripts, I’ll find places where some nebulous clue is given. I had one this past week with an accent mark on the word “the,” and wasn’t sure, since it was from a company in the Netherlands, if that was something I was expected to stress in the sentence, a grammatical error, or some foreign word! Keeps us on our toes.

  2. Tom Cupp on

    I agree, Paul. I shared this on FB and added, \”To this, I would add #15: Don\’t assume that a script is good because it sounds good in your head. The responsibility for a well-understood message rests with the writer, not the reader/listener. It\’s not that the receiver of the message \”doesn\’t get it;\” it\’s that the message wasn\’t clear to anyone but the writer when it was written.\” I\’ve been on the script writing side of the mic. When I first began, everything sounded good. Shortly afterward, I began voicing the scripts that I wrote and quickly discovered that I was writing crap. Definitely an \”aha!\” moment.

    • Debbie Grattan on

      Hi Tom – Thanks for sharing this on Facebook. How funny that you discovered your own shortcomings as a writer after having to read your copy aloud. It happens more often than you realize in the VO world.


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