I’m at that phase of manuscript revision where I start line editing. It’s actually my favorite part because it means I’ve gotten the plot (mostly) in order, and I can focus on making the words pretty. When I do line edits, I usually make a list of crutch words to keep a look out for, including weak and passive verbs.
This time around, I was looking for a new way to do that, as it’s kind of time consuming to constantly refer to my list. And there’s also the chance I’ll miss a bunch. So I found a way to get MS Word to highlight my wordlist all at once so that they’re easier to find as I edit. A few people expressed interest in how I made that happen, so here’s what I did.
I use a Mac, so all of these instructions and programs are for a Mac (though I’m sure you can find equivalent programs for Windows, and I know the macro will also work with the Windows version of Word).
First you need to generate the word list (if you only want to use a few words, you can skip to the part with the macro…I have a lengthy list of words to look out for, and this streamlines figuring out what they are). I use a program called Word Counter, which you can download here . Copy and paste your text into Word Counter, and then under “Window” click “Show Word Frequency Window.” That opens a list of every unique word in the document, along with how many times it’s used.
Once you have that, you’ll need to export it. At the bottom of that window is an Export option. It’ll ask you to choose your delimiter. I suggest “Comma.” It’ll save a CSV file, which you can open in Excel.
In Excel, you can sort the columns however you want. I deleted the column for “Word Length,” leaving just the words and their frequency. Then I sorted them by length, and filtered out all words shorter than four letters (which gets rid of words like “the,” “and” etc, which you naturally use a lot). I got rid of words with a frequency of less than 100. Then I went through and got rid of words longer than four letter but that I knew I used a lot (like “your” or “said”) so that I didn’t end up highlighting 90% of all the words.
Once you have the list the way you want it, you need to save it as a Comma Delimited File from Excel. The issue here is that Excel sucks at this. Even though it says it’s going to save it as a comma-delimited file, it doesn’t. So before you save it, you need to do two more things.
1. Get rid of the frequency column. You don’t need it anymore.
2. You need to put each word in quotation marks. Word also sucks at doing this. Select your column of words. Go to Format —-> Cells. Under “Category, select “Custom.” Next to that, in the box beneath “Type:” put in the following:
"'"@"'" just like that. Then press “OK.” It will only put then in single quotes rather than double like we need, but we’re going to do a find & replace later.
Now you can Save As a comma-delimited file. Now, you need to open the file you just created in a basic text editor. I suggest Text Wrangler. Like I said: Excel sucks at saving as a CSV, and actually uses carriage returns instead of commas. I don’t know if that’s just a Mac thing or what, but you’ll need to do a find and replace, replacing all carriage returns with commas. And then you’ll need to do a find and replace, replacing all single quotes with double quotes.
Your list of words should look like this: “just”,”like”,”anyway”,”maybe”,”right”
Still with me? Once you have your list, put it to the side. Now you’re going to create a macro in MS Word. In Word go to Tools —–> Macro —–> Macros. In the “Macro name:” field, put a name like “Lazy Writer Wordfinder.” Hit “Create.”
That’ll open a window with some code in it. Select all of that, delete it, and replace it with the following (full disclosure: I didn’t write this macro. I’m not that smart. I found it on a post from 2005 and modified it for my own use):
Dim vFindText As Variant
Dim vReplText As Variant
Dim i As Long
'highlight red words
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
vFindText = Array("just","like","anyway","maybe","right")
vReplText = "^&"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
For i = LBound(vFindText) To UBound(vFindText)
.Text = vFindText(i)
.Replacement.Text = vReplText
.Replacement.Highlight = True
Once you’ve pasted that in, you need to paste in your word list. In the code, where it says “vFindText = Array(“just”,”like”,”anyway”,”maybe”,”right”)” copy your word list and paste it between the parentheses where mine is now.
Then save the macro. At that point, you can run it now or run it later. If the document you want to run it on is open, just click the “Run Macro” button on the menu bar. If you want to run it later, open your document, go to Tools —-> Macro —-> Macros, select the macro you created from the list, and click “Run.” You can also edit it to change or modify the word list anytime.
If your list and/or document is long, it might take a while to go through the whole thing. As a warning, also run this on a copy of your manuscript in case something goes wrong. When it finishes, all the words in your list will be highlighted yellow in your document.
And, that’s all there is to it! Enjoy!