Editing Tip: 10 Words to Search For in Your Manuscript

967211_magnifying_glassWhen I’m editing, and before I do a final read through and tweaking of my manuscript, I use Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ feature to search for the following ten words. These words can usually be deleted in order to tighten up the writing and focus on ‘showing vs telling’.

1. almost
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he almost looked like a ghost. An example where it may work could be: She almost slammed the door in his face. Or instead of that, it could be changed to: She resisted the urge to slam the door in his face.
2. very
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better: She squinted as the sun’s glare rebounded off the pavement and hit her eyes.
3. started
When this is used alongside ‘to’, as in ‘started to’, it’s probably not needed. Eg: She started to get dressed. Better: She got dressed. Even better: She zipped her jeans and put on a t-shirt.
4. began
This is similar to ‘started’. Eg: It began to rain. Better: Droplets of rain dampened her hair, or: He flicked on the windscreen wipers as rain blurred the road ahead.
5. stood up
Remove the word ‘up’. If someone stood, it’s obviously up.
6. sat down
Remove the word ‘down’. If someone is going from a standing position to a sitting position it is obviously ‘down’. Except if the person is lying down and then changes to a sitting position.
7. heard/hear
Removing ‘heard’ or ‘hear’ gives the reader a more vivid experience. Eg: She heard someone call her name. Better: A voice called her name. Eg: I could hear the rain pelting against the window. Better: rain pelted against the window.
8. saw/see
Same as with ‘heard’. Eg: She saw his face through the window. Better: His eyes glared at her through the window. Eg: I could see him coming towards me. Better: He came towards me.
9. felt
Telling a reader what a character felt is not as powerful as showing them. Eg: She felt relaxed and happy. Better: She leaned back in the chair and a smile eased onto her face.
10. just
Eg: If she could just find a way to get through to him, he might understand. Eg: “The shop is just around the corner.”


There are more suggestions of words to search for at this very useful site.
Have a search of your manuscript and see how many of these words you can find and change to improve your book.
Are there words that you often overuse in your writing?

P.S. – Interested in learning Juliet’s RAPID EDITING SYSTEM? Express your interest in her upcoming online course, “Editing Mojo”, starting in the first half of 2019! Email jtmauthor@gmail.com with the subject: Editing Mojo – notify me!


About Juliet Madison

Humorous & Heartwarming Fiction ~ Experience the magic of life and love...

Posted on May 15, 2013, in General, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. Love, love, love that site! By using the suggestions I cut out 7k on my manuscript! Thanks for posting this, Juliet!

  2. Great tips! Will come back to this when I’m next up to the edit stage 🙂

  3. As someone who worked a brief stint as a copy editor, I really appreciate this post! Good suggestions. I think the word “like”, so prevalent in spoken language, is also beginning to creep into written language as well. It could easily be the 11th word to watch out for. Thanks for sharing.

    Also, I have a new writing blog that I created after self-publishing my first novel for the Kindle. Please check it out and share your writing experiences with me!

  4. A useful reminder for many of us. I was most surprised the first time I searched for “felt” in my first ms. This could be an ongoing lesson. What do you think, Juliet? Up for it?

  5. Adding these to my list of words to weed out from my MS – there’s a lot of ‘feel/felt’ action…and not the good kind 😦

  6. Great tips! I confess, I also have to search and destroy “really” and “even”… They creep into early drafts, just like just does!

  7. Great post! I’ve got a list of ‘banned’ words in addition to these pearlers. My banned words are pet words I over use without realising it. They change from book to book but keep cropping up like mushrooms! Thanks for this.

  8. kerriepaterson

    I think I’m guilty of all of those in my first draft – plus a lot more 🙂

  9. Thanks for all the comments, glad you found the list helpful! It’s so much easier to do a search for them at the end rather than trying to remember them while writing, though sometimes an alarm goes off in my head when I write words like ‘started to’ or ‘felt’, so it must be getting gradually ingrained in there!
    I hope to share more editing and writing tips here and there, stay tuned 🙂

  10. Good points Juliet. Simple things that we forget in the throws of writing passion.


  11. I think we’re up to at least 12 now, but I’d like to add ‘just’ – it’s the flipside of ‘almost’ and equally as bad! Great list, Juliet!

  12. Great blog, Juliet. Part of my editing process is to look for overuse of words within close proximity and throughout the manuscript. I confess that when I was writing, my most used word was *just*. I *just* loved putting *just* in *just* about every sentence.

  13. Great list–thank you!

  14. Great list Juliet. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Reblogged this on Sarah Solmonson and commented:
    Especially handy when doing your final edits!

  16. Thanks. Good suggestions.

  17. Reblogged this on Sophie E Tallis and commented:
    Some great tips here!

  18. Brianna Soloski

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Glad the post was helpful, thanks for all the comments, likes, and shares 🙂

    Happy editing!

  20. I constantly have to go back and edit out Just! Now I’ll be extra aware of the others too.

  21. Great list, Juliet. The thing that annoyed me in a recent book I’ve read was the overuse of words ending with ‘ly’ Not just in sentences, but also speech tags (she said softly…harshly…etc)

  22. “Just” in writing or speech negates the truth, force and meaning of everything said before. Women, in general, are the most guilty of this. Don’t use this word, ever. Don’t ever use “just” in a sentence unless you are arguing a legal case.

  23. This was a goldmine for me with my works in progress. Thanks so much! 🙂 Barbara of the Balloons

  24. This is incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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