Count Your Many Phrases

We all have our pet phrases and they can inadvertently sneak their way into our manuscripts. Yesterday I came across a marvelous web site that can help you discover how often a particular phrase is repeated in your article or manuscript.

Using the Phrase Frequency Counter online, you can actually track what phrases are overused. It is also a great way to pick out those clichés that can creep into your writing.

Out of curiosity I tried the site out on the interview page on my web site. I discovered the phrase “retail potential” is used at least three times. This gave me the chance to review the piece and see if that needed adjusting.

Years ago I edited a manuscript that used the word “very” as an adjective (i.e. “the very idea” “the very book”) over and over again. After I redlined nearly all of them the author sent me a hilarious e-mail with the word “very” repeated 500 times. The author said he was getting it out of his system so I wouldn’t have to work so hard on his next book!

From what I could tell there is no limit to the size of the document you can paste into the search screen.

Let us know what phrase you overused in your work-in-progress.

HT: Shelf Awareness

29 Responses to Count Your Many Phrases

  1. Avatar
    Mark Hancock February 10, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Thanks, Steve. I’ve been wondering about a tool like this.

    Can’t wait to run it on my mss.


  2. Avatar
    Linnette February 10, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    I don’t necessarily have a favorite word for the entire manuscript. I tend to have favorite words on pages and chapters. Words like: great, laugh/laughing, smile/smiling, please, just, etc. I think the reason my verbs tend to repeat themselves so much is that in trying to show the moodiness I reintroduce the smile or the laugh over and over without finding a different word to use.


    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 10, 2011 at 8:30 am #

      Which is exactly why I like this tool. It can reveal the need to find those different words or rewrite in such a way to convey without repeating.

      • Avatar
        Linnette February 10, 2011 at 11:59 am #

        Thanks! I’ll have to check it out!

  3. Avatar
    Hilarey February 10, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    That is useful! Phrases you think are supposed to have an impact…showing up more than once. Funny.

  4. Avatar
    Jody Hedlund February 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Sounds like a great tool, but I’m just wondering if you can advise us on how safe it is. For example, I just turned in a completed manuscript to my editor at Bethany House. Would it be safe to run my book (releasing in Sept) through the phrase finder? Or could I potentially compromise privacy issues with my contracted manuscript? Is this kind of tool better for blog posts and less “important” works? Would love to know your thoughts before attempting to use it.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

      Excellent question Jody! I wrote David Bruce, the administrator of the site. He replied:

      Thanks a lot for featuring the tool. We don’t store any of the pasted text – the calculation is done within the code of the page and then instantly forgotten – no database involved for example. It is probably better as a tool for smaller documents, I’m not sure what would happen if someone pasted an entire book into it!
      I hope that answers your question.
      Best Wishes

      • Avatar
        Susie Finkbeiner February 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

        I entered a large amount of text into the tool. It worked instantly.

      • Avatar
        Jody Hedlund February 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

        Thanks, Steve! (And David)

  5. Avatar
    Susie Finkbeiner February 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Ha! “I don’t know” and “She/he looked at me” were FAR overused in my novel.

    This is a handy little tool! Thanks for featuring it!

  6. Avatar
    Linnette February 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Is it available to download on your computer? That would be a lot handier than having to paste it all on the web.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      It is not a piece of software that you can download. Will have to either bookmark the link, or just go to the “Research Tools” section of my web site. I have added the link there.

  7. Avatar
    Kaye Dacus February 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    It seems like prepositional phrases are my main culprits. In an almost 109,000-word manuscript, the phrases with the highest frequency (between 30 to 70 occurrences) were:
    –one of the
    –out of the
    –as soon as (going to watch for that one in galley edits!)
    –a couple of
    –be able to
    –the rest of

    And, repeating 30 times exactly:


    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 10, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      Pretty cool eh? Now if they would only tweak it to look for single word usage. Then we can look past the “a” and “the” and find how many times a character is actually named in a story.

      • Avatar
        Gayle Vanessa February 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

        Depending on how techy you feel, you can always use a word macro. The following “macro” when pasted into the Macro Window within the Developer Tab of Word, will hunt down the frequency of all words in the document.

        Be ware technical content below:

        1. In Word 2007 Go to the Develop Tab and depress Macro
        2. When the pops up, select create.
        3. Paste in the following:

        Sub WordFrequency()
        Const maxwords = 9000 ‘Maximum unique words allowed
        Dim SingleWord As String ‘Raw word pulled from doc
        Dim Words(maxwords) As String ‘Array to hold unique words
        Dim Freq(maxwords) As Integer ‘Frequency counter for unique words
        Dim WordNum As Integer ‘Number of unique words
        Dim ByFreq As Boolean ‘Flag for sorting order
        Dim ttlwds As Long ‘Total words in the document
        Dim Excludes As String ‘Words to be excluded
        Dim Found As Boolean ‘Temporary flag
        Dim j, k, l, Temp As Integer ‘Temporary variables
        Dim ans As String ‘How user wants to sort results
        Dim tword As String ‘

        ‘ Set up excluded words
        Excludes = “[the][a][of][is][to][for][by][be][and][are]”

        ‘ Find out how to sort
        ByFreq = True
        ans = InputBox(“Sort by WORD or by FREQ?”, “Sort order”, “WORD”)
        If ans = “” Then End
        If UCase(ans) = “WORD” Then
        ByFreq = False
        End If

        Selection.HomeKey Unit:=wdStory
        System.Cursor = wdCursorWait
        WordNum = 0
        ttlwds = ActiveDocument.Words.Count

        ‘ Control the repeat
        For Each aword In ActiveDocument.Words
        SingleWord = Trim(LCase(aword))
        ‘Out of range?
        If SingleWord “z” Then
        SingleWord = “”
        End If
        ‘On exclude list?
        If InStr(Excludes, “[” & SingleWord & “]”) Then
        SingleWord = “”
        End If
        If Len(SingleWord) > 0 Then
        Found = False
        For j = 1 To WordNum
        If Words(j) = SingleWord Then
        Freq(j) = Freq(j) + 1
        Found = True
        Exit For
        End If
        Next j
        If Not Found Then
        WordNum = WordNum + 1
        Words(WordNum) = SingleWord
        Freq(WordNum) = 1
        End If
        If WordNum > maxwords – 1 Then
        j = MsgBox(“Too many words.”, vbOKOnly)
        Exit For
        End If
        End If
        ttlwds = ttlwds – 1
        StatusBar = “Remaining: ” & ttlwds & “, Unique: ” & WordNum
        Next aword

        ‘ Now sort it into word order
        For j = 1 To WordNum – 1
        k = j
        For l = j + 1 To WordNum
        If (Not ByFreq And Words(l) Freq(k)) Then k = l
        Next l
        If k j Then
        tword = Words(j)
        Words(j) = Words(k)
        Words(k) = tword
        Temp = Freq(j)
        Freq(j) = Freq(k)
        Freq(k) = Temp
        End If
        StatusBar = “Sorting: ” & WordNum – j
        Next j

        ‘ Now write out the results
        tmpName = ActiveDocument.AttachedTemplate.FullName
        Documents.Add Template:=tmpName, NewTemplate:=False
        With Selection
        For j = 1 To WordNum
        .TypeText Text:=Trim(Str(Freq(j))) _
        & vbTab & Words(j) & vbCrLf
        Next j
        End With
        System.Cursor = wdCursorNormal
        j = MsgBox(“There were ” & Trim(Str(WordNum)) & _
        ” different words “, vbOKOnly, “Finished”)
        End Sub

        This will automatically create the macro WordFrequency. You will be able to run it on any word document.

        To run it, simply open the document that you want to review, open the developer tab and select the macro named: WordFrequency from the pull down menu.

        Sorry for all the head implosions caused by this message.


  8. Avatar
    Gordon Marcy February 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Well, it was a blog post, not actually a work of art in progress, but I used “of change” four times. The post was about the “rate of change,” in technology, so not too surprising. Helpful tool though.

    Meanwhile, the second most fun thing I did online today, was leaving this reply. Which was actually just a cheap way to say “hey” to my friend Steve. It’s been a long time. Great to see the excellent contribution you are making to the literary world. Give my regards to Lisa.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      Hey Gordon! Definitely a blast from the past. Good ol’ KRDS. It was a powerhouse CCM radio station in the 80s in Phoenix. When I managed a large Christian bookstore there I would buy ad blitzes on KRDS running every 1/2 to hour prior to our big sales. They had an amazing draw. We once featured an in-store appearance with Petra who was THE Christian rock band at the time. Had over 300 people crammed into the store and those guys stayed until everyone got their CDs or albums signed (yes Virginia, I wrote the word “albums”).

  9. Avatar
    Susan Kaye Quinn February 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Awesome tool! Thanks so much for sharing! 😉

  10. Avatar
    Jill Kemerer February 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Just caught this post from one Jody Hedlund’s retweets and am I glad I did! What a great tool. I can’t wait to plug in one of my chapters. I overuse a new word and phrase with every book. For instance, I noticed three uses of “triumphant” in four chapters. Please!

  11. Avatar
    Lisa Grace February 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    The new site looks great! Thanks for sharing such a useful tool. I will pass along your blog post and link with my “buds” on the CW forum.

  12. Avatar
    Carrie Turansky February 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Thanks, Steve. I need that! I will give it a try.

  13. Avatar
    Kathryn Lang February 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    GREAT tool – I was surprised that on the documents I have tried so far I have not encountered a word or phrase that gets repeated too often. I think that’s a good thing – and I’m going to give credit to all that SEO writing I have been doing that makes me more aware of words and phrases!

  14. Avatar
    Jessie Gunderson February 11, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    That was fun. Thanks for the link. I tried it with the 1st chapter of my WIP and had these repeated phrases:

    6-to the
    6-clark (my hero’s name)
    3-the ring
    3-the coffee
    3-old woman
    and several repeated twice

    All to be expected, Clark accidentally kicks a coffee into the face of an old woman. But I think I can get a little more creative with how I’m presenting that. I like this tool. Now I need an easy way to save the results.

    I will also need to identify how many times is too many in–say–1750 wds like my 1st chapter.

  15. Avatar
    Janalyn Voigt February 11, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Thanks for this. I posted the first scene of my historical romance WIP (about 800 words) and searched for two-word phrases. I repeat “in the” 7 times and “as the” 5 times. I must like “the.” 🙂

  16. Avatar
    M.E. Anders February 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm #


    You sent a jolt of conviction through my wordy brain, as well. I realized that there are too many phrases I tend to repeat throughout my writing, as well. I have my telling pet phrases, as well. LOL

  17. Avatar
    Katie Ganshert February 12, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    Wow. I just used it and apparently, I have 10 all-of-a-sudden’s in my WIP. Yikes! Thanks for the great tool, Steve.

  18. Avatar
    Steve Laube February 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Looks like this tool has been a big hit! Look for a new blog on Tuesday that allows you to analyze word usage… Unless you want to dare and use Gayle’s Word Macro (see above).

    For me, about the only computer language I speak gets my computer to reply with the blue screen of death.


  1. Repeat Repeat Phrases Phrases - April 25, 2017

    […] stumbled (via Jody Hedlund and the Steve Laube Agency) across a cool tool that will help me weed out those repeat phrases, the ones I like to weed out if […]

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