Editors Watch for Overused Words

I had edited half of a 20,000-word manuscript that had been written “from the heart,” and the author had done a good job of making his point.

However, I started noticing he used some words over and over. I was told this manuscript had been carefully reviewed, and to do a light “proofread,” instead of a detailed edit.

It would not have been good to let this author put his name to what I was reading, so I started correcting the overuse of three main words.

1) Just – he used it 33 times, but other than when he talked about something being “just” or “unjust,” most of the uses could easily be eliminated, or sometimes, the word “simply” could replace it.

2) Even – this must have been the author’s favorite word as he had used it 85 times; most were eliminated as not needed, leaving fewer than 20.

3) So – started 18 sentences, and most were completely unnecessary, but a few were kept, others became “however” or “although.”

Be aware that when you use the search/replace tool in Word, for example, words that include the searched word also are counted, like “event, eventually” when seeking EVEN. I now highlight each use of the overused words throughout the entire manuscript before I start editing so I don’t overlook them. It takes some time, but makes my job easier, and your book better.

What are your favorite words?

Most of us are not aware we overuse certain words until we do our own search/find/replace. For many people the word is THAT, thrown in when not needed. However, sometimes it’s left out, and I need to insert it to be sure the sentence is clear.

Other writers pad their writing with weak words like starting their sentences with THERE IS/ARE instead of starting stronger and putting the verb later in a sentence. Example: There are a lot of reasons to buy this car. Instead: Buyers have lots of reasons to select this car.

Others start sentences with IT rather than using the noun. Example: It is easy to make cookies. Try: Cookies are easy to make.

Using one strong word like INCOMPETENT is better than saying, “He’s not very smart.”

Also watch out so you don’t use “crutch words” just because you are comfortable with them—words like: personally, really, actually, literally, almost, truly, very. Ask yourself whether these words add anything to your sentence. Overuse of adverbs (especially in dialogue) means you have weak verbs and adjectives—and shows you are a “newbie” writer.

Each of these things will tighten up your writing, making it easier and more fun for the reader. Sloppy writing can and does annoy your reader. As an editor, that’s my job, but since most editors charge by the hour, if she has to correct these things, it costs you more money—so be proactive and check for these word issues when you write.