I have a nasty tendency to use the same words over and over again without realizing it. Once, when I was first starting to write and actually showed other people, a crit partner pointed out that I’d used the word ‘then’ 47 times in 5,000 words. Ouch! So now I carefully check that I don’t use that word very often. But each new manuscript I find a new word creeping in there. This manuscript I’ve got three weed words – ‘trailed’, ‘shoulder’ and the granddaddy of ’em all — ‘against‘ coming in — tada — 24 times in one chapter! – ‘He leaned against the wall, he pulled her against him, he drummed his fingers against his thigh … well, you get the drift. *bangs head on desk*
If you wonder if you’re repeating words or phrases there are several programs available for you to use to check your own writing.
Or you can use the Word Frequency Counter here.
You simply copy and paste your work into the text boxes and click submit. Notice that there’s also a link for checking phrases – very helpful if you reuse the same phrases “narrowed her eyes” or “shook her head.”
One word of warning – you can get hung up on the numbers. Don’t get caught up concentrating on the trees and forget to see the forest. (yeah, I know, Margie Lawson would have me marking that as a ‘cliche alert.’ But I did ‘sort of’ change it up.)
If you know the words you tend to overuse, you can also use Word’s Find or Find and Replace feature. Go to “Edit, Find” or if you like the keyboard shortcuts CTRL + F, and type in the word. Then click the ‘Highlight all items in Main Document’. When you do a ‘find’ it’ll come back with a count of the number of instances of that word that it found and will highlight them for you.
If you want a permanent reminder so you can go back and find them later, click on the Replace Feature.
Type in the word you wish to ‘find’ in the ‘find what’ box, then enter it again in the ‘Replace With’ box.
But you’re not done, so don’t hit replace yet!
Now, take a look at the picture of the replace box above. Do you have the bigger version of the dialogue box or a smaller one? If it’s smaller, find a button that says ‘More’ and click it, so it’ll look like mine.
If you’re looking for a word like ‘than’ or ‘press’ you may want to click on ‘Find Whole Words Only’, otherwise you may find words like ‘thanks’ or ‘express’ being highlighted accidentally.
Down at the bottom are two buttons – Format and Special. Click on the Format button. You’ll see a new pull down menu – font, paragraph, etc. Choose ‘Font’.
In the middle of the Font dialogue box, you’ll see ‘Underline style’ click on the little arrow on the right and pull it down to see what type of underline you want to highlight your word, to make it really stand out – especially if you underline to show italics, change the colour of the underline, that’s the option to the right. Or if you don’t want to underline, change the font colour (the option to the left). Whatever will make it stand out for you when you’re editing later. Once you’ve made your selections, click OK. And then you can ‘Replace’ or ‘Replace all’. And presto-chango, all those pesky repetitions will now show up and scream at you, reminding you to change them. Or not.
If something screws up, you can always hit the ‘UNDO’ button. Don’t forget to clear your Find/Replace options when you’re done. Simply hit the ‘No Formatting’ box and all those strange notes beneath the find or replace boxes will disappear.
Then the real challenge will begin … editing!