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Tip Tuesday #120

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's tip was sent in by Dale S. Rogers. Dale writes young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as articles, poetry, and adult fiction. You can find her at her blog here where she's been sharing some fun life anecdotes. Please give her a visit after you read her first tip submission below!

My Tuesday Tip involves using a word search to find the best words and sentence structure for prose. We all have pet words and phrases--those pesky little things that show up too often in our manuscripts. I never real- ized how much I overuse certain words until I utilized Ctrl F. I press and hold Ctrl, then I hit F. When the finder pops up, I type in the suspect word or phrase, click "find next," and watch the page numbers to gauge how close together the terms are as I continue the process.

Although time consuming, this tool has helped me to not only eliminate problem words, but to improve sentence structure, since I've also discovered other weaknesses in my writing while doing this in-depth search. When I find a substitute word for the one I've targeted, or decide the word can just be left out, I feel I'm improving my writing in more than one way. It's better to go through a document a little at at time, sincethis method can be tiring.

In addition to said, asked, and little, which we know to watch out for, some words I find so often in my work are: there, that, some, after, before, when, looked, glanced, thought, wondered, later, nodded, smiled, finished, finally, reached, and of the. I leave the ones that really belong, but other- wise, I try to find a better way to express what's going on, especially if the duplicate words are too close together. I just wish I'd started this practice years ago!

-Dale S. Rogers


  1. It is so important to be on the lookout for overused words and phrases. However, knowing your own cruches can be difficult. That's where Wordle ( or another word cloud tool comes in. Just paste in your document, press enter, and you get a visual representation of what words you are using. If "were" or "really", etc. pop, you know you're doing something wrong. (Of course, then you have to back and search for the unwanted word in the story, but this added step really helps you see how you're using the language and balancing your words.

  2. Oooh I never knew about ctrl f! I shall try this on my ms! thanks Dale for a fab tip! I suspect I do over use words and phrases - "fab" being one of them! LOL! Take care

  3. This is a great tip. I have a list of redundant words I always check that I got from Janice Hardy's blog. Just eliminating some of them really helped me cut my word count.

    I agree with you that you should do this frequently or it gets tedious. Thanks for the tip.

  4. My editor pointed out how often I used the word quickly. I did an F$ search and it appeared 120 times. So I eliminated all but four usages and lost nothing from the meaning of the context.

  5. It's so important to find crutch words and weed them out!

  6. That's why I love a writing program called Papyrus (as far as I know it's also available in English nowadays). It already underlines identical words that are too close together, and you can specify how close you consider close. There are a couple of other nifty features too.

    I'm NOT an affiliate but a fan. If you're so inclined, check it out here:

  7. Strunk and White would tend to agree.

  8. Oh, good one! I've never used it that way (I use find and replace for the whole document at the end of revisions)--so thanks!

  9. That is addictive. I keep playing with it. My crutch of choice is "back," with more than one novel. Hmmm. Didn't realize I used it that much. I'm always on the look out for "just" and "even" but they were barely on the list. I'll also have to do a search for look and turn, my verbs of choice.

    1. You're right about "just." I use it way too much.

  10. I always go through and highlight "is." Hello passive!

  11. I love this tip. I certainly like to use the Ctrl F to find those words that I was suppose to spell a certain way but ended up spelling it slightly different (wrong way!). Or let's say you have to do a character name change, Ctrl F is so helpful in speeding up the change process.

    1. Hi, Angela,

      I've used Ctrl F for making name changes also, but
      I recently discovered Ctrl H, which will allow you
      to change ALL at once! What a time saver! You can even use it to change the title you have listed at the top of each page.

  12. I like this tip a lot. I'd used CTRL F before but not that way. An I will definitely check out
    Thanks for the tip!

  13. Thanks for the tip, Dale. I'm going to CTRL F the heck out of my ms tomorrow.

  14. Control F is a fabulous tool. Couldn't edit without it!

  15. Good tip - and doing it in small batches is probably good advice! I'll probably do it as I write from now on - finish a chapter then find all the "that"s or something!

  16. I totally do this! I always have to search for the word "just."

    Another great way to use it (especially in writing YA) is looking for all the "moms" and "dads" and making sure you have the right ones capitalized.

  17. I do this as well! Don't know what I'd do without my "find" feature . . . and yes, it is time-consuming, but yes, very much worth it!

    Over here from the wonderful Writer Unboxed on FB.