Find and Destroy: My Secret Trick to Eliminating Word Overuse

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Today I want to share with you my favorite editing tip for eliminating word overuse!

I wrote about the topic of word overuse previously in my post on spot treatment: removing word repetition, and I’m not the only person to write a post on this issue, but what I haven’t talked about yet is how I edit for word overuse.

When I edit, I like to physically take notes with a pen and paper. Old school! So when I start a new editing project, I open to a blank page. As I edit, I take notes by hand about the things I notice. Whether that’s questions about the plot or thoughts in the characters, all the way down to grammatical issues.

The final thing I do is write down words that stick out to me. As I read, I write down words I read a lot or feel like I’m reading a lot. In fiction, this could be words like “whispered” or “mumbled” surrounding dialogue. In non-fiction it could be a certain phrase or adjective to describe a setting or person.

When I’m all done, l use my secret weapon: the Find/Replace key. This is found by using your Control F key (or Command F on a Mac). A box will pop up, and you will be able to type in a word and search to see how many times it appears in the manuscript.

In the example below, I searched for the word “Brother” and found it appears 14 times.

find and replace

This is an excellent trick I use to see exactly how many times a certain word or phrase is used throughout an entire work. Sometimes it’s much less than I thought. Maybe it seemed like characters were whispering all the time, but the word “whisper” only appears in the book 4 times. Well, then it’s probably not an issue. But let’s say the word “whisper” turns up a search of 20 or 30. This is going to be something I mention to the author as an issue of overuse. I’ve even had cases where a Find/Replace search turned up 60 or 70+, which is definitely a problem (keeping the length of the entire work in mind).

At this point, another trick you can do is turn all the words a certain color of highlight, like green, for example. This way, as you scroll through the pages on your computer, you can actually see where you’ve used certain words. The results might shock you. Maybe you’ve used the same word five times on one page! (Realize again here that I’m not talking about a word like “the” or “at.” I’m speaking mostly about verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.)

I find that this is helpful not only for me as I work on edits for an author but also for the author to have a specific list of the words I found overused as well as the actual number of times that word appeared in the book. It’s hard to argue with cold hard facts of word repetition.

So try this trick of mine and see if it helps!

Do you have a secret editing trick you’ve found helpful that you’d like to share?

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3 thoughts on “Find and Destroy: My Secret Trick to Eliminating Word Overuse

  1. Wow! Great post! I love the idea of finding the overused words and changing their color. That would really help in scanning the document to actually see how the repetition appears. I will definitely be using this!

  2. I use this tool all the time!! If I find I am using the same word a few too many times I like to use the thesaurus shortcut by hitting shift and f7. It’s just a simple way for me to research if there are any other words I can use to make my point without using the same word again and again. Great post! 🙂

  3. Pingback: That’s one word we don’t need | A Writer's Notepad

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