Proofreading text or numbers you've entered from an original, whether by typing or by way of an OCR program, usually works best with two people—one to read the original out loud while the other checks it against the copy. With Office 2003, however, you can dispense with the second person and let Office read the copy instead. You can even have Office read your e-mail to you, if you know how.
Assuming you've installed the Office speech options, the text-to-speech feature is easiest to find in Excel. Choose Tools | Speech | Show Text To Speech Toolbar, and Excel will open a toolbar with five buttons. If you choose the Speak On Enter button at the far right, Excel will read back everything you've typed in a given cell each time you hit Enter. This is particularly useful when you're entering a long list of numbers and don't want to keep moving your attention between the original and the screen. But be sure to click the button again when you're done to turn the feature off.
Alternatively, you can choose the By Rows or By Columns button to tell Excel whether to read the data across or down. Then select the cells you want read, and choose the Speak Cells button on the far left of the toolbar. You can also choose Speak Cells without selecting cells first, but it's generally a better idea to select them, since Excel's guess about which cells to read may not match what you actually want read. To interrupt Excel reading the cells, choose the Stop Speaking button.
In Word, the feature works a little differently. To open the appropriate toolbar, choose Tools | Speech. You may see a message welcoming you to Office speech recognition and telling you that you have to adjust your microphone and train Office. For now, choose Cancel to bypass the training and open the Language toolbar.
If you see a message box in the toolbar tagged "Dictation," "Voice Command," or "Listening," or if Word starts entering text in the document in response to ambient noise, it means you've activated the speech-recognition feature at some point. Click the Microphone button to toggle the feature off. You can turn it back on when you want it by choosing the button again.
By default, the Language toolbar will not show a choice for speaking text. But if you click on the down arrow at the extreme right of the toolbar, you'll see options for Speak Text and Pause Speaking. Choose each of these in turn to add them to the toolbar. You can then use them much the same way as the equivalent buttons in Excel.
Choose Speak Text to tell Word to start reading the text. The button will change to a Stop Speaking button. Click it if you want to stop completely or stop and then start again from the beginning. Or you can click the Pause Speaking button instead, which will change to a Resume Speaking button. Click it again, and Word will pick up at the same spot where you paused. As with Excel, you can select the text you want read before giving the Speak Text command. Otherwise, Word will start at the current cursor position.
You can use the text-to-speech feature in Outlook also, but only if you use Word as your e-mail editor. To see if Outlook is set to use Word, select Tools | Options, then the Mail Format tab. Look for, or add, a check in the box labeled Use Microsoft Office Word 2003 To Edit E-mail Messages.
When you create a message in Outlook with this option checked, you're actually using Word. If you want to hear the message read back to you while you're editing, use the same commands as if you had loaded Word directly. You can also tell Outlook (or Word) to read a message that's already been sent or received, but there's a trick to that.
If you call up the Language toolbar when reading a message that's been sent or received, you'll find the Speak Text button grayed out. Give the command to forward the message, however, and Outlook will open it for editing in Word, complete with an active Speak Text button. When you're done listening to the message, simply close the window with the forwarded version without saving it.
Finally, you may want to change the voice or the reading speed. To do so, go to the Language toolbar, choose Tools | Options, the Advanced Speech button, and then the Text To Speech tab. In the Voice Selection section, the drop-down list will let you change the voice. Pick one of the choices offered, and use the Preview Voice button to listen to it; after hearing a few, you can decide which you like best. Similarly, in the Voice Speed section, you can adjust the speed along the scale from slow to fast, and use the Preview Voice button to hear the effect. Choose Apply to accept the new settings, then click OK to close the dialog box.