How to find overused words in your manuscript

Every writer has words she or he uses too often. I call them crutch words. Words like “well, smiled, laughed, however, tears, cried” etc., in addition to adverb usage.

These words aren’t easily spotted when you revise simply because you’re looking at other things like character and plot development.

So today I’m going to show you how to find those words whether you use MS Word or Scrivener.

Using Scrivener

In Scrivener you can check one document at a time or the entire manuscript.

To check one document click the document you want to check. Then select Project —> Text Statistics.

Scrivener Project Text Statistics
This command brings up a new window.

ScrvStatsIf this is your first time using this command you will probably have to click on the arrow next to “Word Frequency” and that opens that portion of the window.

As you can see, in this document of my current WIP, I have 2,443 and “the” occurs 153 times. “I” occurs 93 times. My story is in first person so this may be fine, but it’s still something to check. What concerns me most in this bit of stats is “and” occurs 65 times/45%. That’s more than I’m comfortable with.

To check the entire manuscript click on the first document, and then holding down the shift key, click on the last document of your manuscript. This selects the pertinent docs of your manuscript—do not include folders that contain your notes and research. Once your files are selected, go to Project —> Text Statistics.

ScrvStats2

Here you’ll see I have completed only 18,831 words of my WIP. Again “the” tops the list. Not uncommon. Ooh, there’s that nasty “and” at 57%. I need to work on that!

Using Microsoft Word

You can’t get the kind of stats in Word that you can with Scrivener.

The first thing we need to do is pull up our Find window. The easiest way to get there in Word is to use the keyboard shortcut: Ctrl key and F key.

MS Word Find windowNow, type in the word you want to find and hit return.

I’m going to type in “ly” to find adverbs. After I find the “ly” words, I want to select the “Reading Highlight” button. This highlights in yellow each “ly” word and gives me the occurrence. In this case 61.

Word2The difficulty with MS Word is that it finds every word with “ly” in it whether it’s an adverb or not. Note the yellow highlighted “ly” in “Clymer” above. You’ll have to scroll through your manuscript and look at each occurrence, but they’ll be easy to see because Word has highlighted each one.

This isn’t ideal, but it does help you accomplish the task.

I’ll do one more search on a specific word. Since I discovered in my WIP that I use “and” too much, I’ll do a search for that in another story I’ve written.

Word3This shows me I used “and” 348 times within a story of 9,067 words. My math isn’t the greatest, but I think that works out to 3.8%, a level I’m comfortable with.

In Word this task is much more hit and miss. Your only option is to pick words and search. Your critique partners or beta readers may also be able to point out words they see too often, but be sure to ask them to look for items like that.

Once you find these words you’ll want to replace them with stronger verbs, delete them, or find another appropriate word.

Now that you know how, do you plan to do a search like this when you revise your manuscript? Leave your comments below.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Debra, for sharing that useful information. 🙂

    • Suzanne, I’m glad you found it useful. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there are other technical aspects of MS Word or Scrivener you’d like to know about.

  2. Yep! Great tool! Thanks!

  3. sternmike52 says:

    We tend to speak and think in passive tense. My first scan (I use Word) is for “was”. Was this, was that–like we all think. In my current manuscript of 276 pages, “was” appeared initially 830 times. Less than half way through checking, I’m down to 600.

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