Every Word Counts

Many years ago while editing a nonfiction book, I noticed the author had a proclivity for using the word “very” quite often. To me the repetition jumped off the page.

After deleting 95% of its use, I returned the manuscript; the author was mortified that their work had such an obvious error in it. Hilariously, I later received an email with the word “very” repeated over and over, at least 500 times (very very very very very very, etc.). Then came the message, “Just trying to get that word out of my system before I write my next book.”

Recently I came across a cool online tool where you can see which of your words are repeated too often. Use this link to the WordCounter.net website and run your WIP (work in progress) within its walls.

I ran the Guidelines page on our website in this counter. In a 1,887-word document, I use the word “proposal” 28 times, the word “mail” 20 times, and the word “book” 19 times. Not abnormal considering the nature of the article.

Out of curiosity I ran the full text of a public domain edition of the book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis (59,454 words) and discovered that the word “God” is used 410 times, “things” 336 times, “man” 260 times, and “good” 217 times. On the site there is a little check box on the statistic box that allows it to review three words used together. This book uses the phrase “above all things” 20 times.

The reading level was evaluated to be at 11-12th grade.

In other words (no pun intended), the sample book is well written without odd words or phrases that were overused.

Which begs the question about your work in progress. What words have you overused in your manuscript?

Later I took one paragraph from the A’Kempis book at random and entered it into the system and clicked to have it check for plagiarism. It took me to grammarly.com which reported, “We’ve found 6 writing issues in your text and have also detected significant plagiarism.” To verify the issues, you have to sign up on that site and pay for their services. But apparently teachers use this to check students’ papers for plagiarism.

Read their Privacy Policy to make sure you are comfortable transmitting your work to a website based in Switzerland.

47 Responses to Every Word Counts

  1. Avatar
    Steve Laube February 15, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Thank you Heidi for noticing that! I obviously missed the link.
    But if it took your 10,000 word chapter without any trouble then it is more efficient than the one I blogged about today!

    By the way, I couldn’t help but notice you wrote…a 10,000 word chapter? That is equivalent to about 30 pages in a finished book. That is a very long chapter…whether it is fiction or non-fiction. You may want to rethink that and see if there is a natural break (or two) in order to help your readers.

    • Avatar
      Heidi Willis February 15, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks Steve! I’m glad I could help!

      The “chapter” is actually more like a “timeframe.” Since I’m still working on it, I broke the book down into days (the novel takes place over ten days) to help me find things and move around in the larger document. When I’m done revising, it will probably be three “real” chapters. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Steve Laube February 15, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I just can’t imagine the very idea of overusing such words…

  3. Avatar
    Steve Laube February 16, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    Looks like a nice piece of freeware. Nice for those who forgot to bookmark this site!

    Do you use this text editor regularly or just for exercises like word counts?

    • Avatar
      Gina Conroy February 17, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Just for word count. I’m not tech savvy enough to do anything else. The word count feature is simple to use if you know where to look. Just delete text then paste new text. Under tools there is a statistic button. You need to hit “more” to get each individual word counted. Hope it helps someone!

  4. Avatar
    Shelia Stovall May 13, 2019 at 5:08 am #

    Thanks for sharing this resource. I can’t wait to use this tool to check my latest manuscript. I use Grammarly and love it. It will be interesting to see what Grammarly missed.

  5. Avatar
    Elena Corey May 13, 2019 at 5:23 am #

    The word ‘just’ seems to crop up often–perhaps too often– in both written and oral verbiage of many Christians. We say things like “I just want to thank you, Lord . . .”
    Such overuse makes me just want to haul off and be very, very snarky.

    Elena Corey

  6. Avatar
    Maco Stewart May 13, 2019 at 6:19 am #

    It’s hard to remember now which words I had to go through and delete with ruthlessness, even though I’m sure some facepalmers remain. Very, just, they were among the culprits. One thing I had to go after was the extent to which my characters nodded. Viewed with some dispassion, all my characters appeared to be bobble-heads. Also shrugging. They all had old-world mama genes that were manifesting. And sighing. Same genetic etiology.

    Thanks, Steve.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 9:37 am #

      A pet word that is over used in many fiction manuscripts is “snicker.”

      agh!

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 13, 2019 at 9:42 am #

        Steve, my writing mentor, Marvin Mudrick, maintained that real human beings never chuckle or chortle.

    • Avatar
      Joey Rudder May 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm #

      I’m also a member of the “bobble-head” character club, Marco! Constant nodding in my first manuscript with a lot of shrugging and sighing too. It’s like everyone was busy agreeing, being apathetic, or too tired to do anything but breathe. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 13, 2019 at 6:35 am #

    A short exercise in over-used words and phrases…

    I just want to tell you, friend,
    that to be honest, I am shocked!
    I was granular to the very end
    and my manuscript would have rocked.
    To be the best I’d make my luck
    and to pass up good for great
    I leveraged bang for the buck
    but thought outside the box, too late.
    My ducks were not all in a row,
    and they could not synergize,
    when out of left field came the blow
    that content was king…surprise!
    Give 110% to get on the same page
    to stay in your lane in this tin-clad age.

    For what it’s worth, writing sonnets has made me much more aware of the place individuals words have in the expression of an idea. If I’m ever able to go back to writing longer-form, I think my voice will have changed, as that of an adolescent choirboy

  8. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell May 13, 2019 at 7:20 am #

    Thank you for the link, Steve. It will come in “very” handy. LOL

    I’ve been told by one of my critiquers that my biggest weasel word is ‘get/got.’ I try desperately to avoid it, and still it comes out in my writing. When I go through my PWA editing program, sometimes it shows up, but not always. This program is the “very” thing I need. (Sorry, just had to).

  9. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca May 13, 2019 at 7:42 am #

    Thanks for the link to wordcounter.net, Steve. It’s a great tool to have.

  10. Avatar
    Thomas Allbaugh May 13, 2019 at 7:48 am #

    I noticed a long time ago that when writing a rough draft, I would use “of course” sometimes twice in a paragraph. It seemed to be a place holder, a way to keep the thought moving. Of course, early on I didn’t notice this. Only after my writing group pointed it out did I learn to edit for that particular verbal tic.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 9:36 am #

      Of course you did. !!

  11. Avatar
    JoAnne May 13, 2019 at 7:57 am #

    Hello Steve,
    I have a question if I may. How can I place Word Count within my bookmarks to have it handy as I’m writing using Microsoft Word?

    I went into Word Count, but within the tools, it didn’t give me a way to bookmark the page.

    Thanks,

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 9:33 am #

      JoAnne,
      This isn’t a Microsoft Word tool. It is a web site. You’ll have highlight, copy, and paste your Word material into your web browser when visiting the Word Count site. Just bookmarket it in your web browser.

      Or be old school and use a handwritten post-it note stuck to the side of your monitor. !!

  12. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. May 13, 2019 at 8:25 am #

    Steve, I am very fond of the word “recalcitrant” and seem to use it every time I write something that is more than 50 pages long. Or less. It is such a cool word!

    In recent speeches for my classes, I found a student who used “um” or “uh” 117 times in a six minute speech and another who used “like” 54 times in five minutes. Both were male.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 9:35 am #

      Um, that is like, um, normal these days. Very normal. I’m reticent to use recalcitrant in a sentence because, um, you know, like it’s hard to say.

  13. Avatar
    DIANA HARKNESS May 13, 2019 at 8:30 am #

    I tried that and found that my most overused words were “the”, “a” and “and”. I eliminated some of the “and”s the “the”s but found that reading the work aloud helped me find grammatical errors and overused words. I decided not to try to publish my novels because I have neither adequate time nor sufficient energy to perform book signings or other types of publicity.

  14. Avatar
    Kay Turner May 13, 2019 at 9:13 am #

    Steve,
    How blessed we are to unwrap your passion for writing and educating. You continue to gift us with priceless information and resources.

    With gratitude,
    Kay

    • Avatar
      Sherri House May 13, 2019 at 10:28 am #

      I share the same gratitude.
      Thank you Steve.

  15. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell May 13, 2019 at 9:24 am #

    This thing with repetition is why my third edition is taking more time that I thought. I figured I’d read my work from the perspective of a critical reader and imagined everything would be so beautiful that I’ll finish the story with few changes within the matter of a week or so. I’d be so enamored with my words that, to my wife’s horror, I’d leap, bound and twirl down my street singing songs of joy. But I turned out to be a brutal critic. I imagine if I wasn’t me, I’d be worse. Meaning if the brutal critic wasn’t me, the brutal critic would be a “very” brutal critic. My naivety humbled me, and in my humbling, I’m not leaping or twirling; I’m working, which is good.

    I used Crtl-F in Microsoft Word and typed ” he ” to see how often it occurred in my first chapter and was shocked. I typed ” his “, and felt shame. Many sentences were structured the same. Don’t get me wrong, I know pronouns are necessary, more so than adverbs at least, but sometimes a sentence can be improved especially when repetition occurs. Though repetition has it’s place, it must be used correctly. After taking some time to improve these sentences, I re-read the first couple of chapters for the “last” time (knock on wood) and felt better about it.

    So this tool will serve me well. I’m certain there’s plenty of needless repetition left to weed out. It may take more time to complete than I anticipated, but in the end, it’s not only for the better. It’s making me a better writer.

  16. Avatar
    Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 9:31 am #

    very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very nice comments so far!

  17. Avatar
    Catherine May 13, 2019 at 9:47 am #

    Interesting—Elena’s example (second post) brings up the issue of a single word having more than one meaning (i.e. “just” as an adverb, an adjective or a noun). Since “just” can refer to morality, it is a word that is likely often used in Christian literature. I imagine the software is not sophisticated enough to distinguish based on meaning, but that, too, could impact word count.

  18. Avatar
    Joey Rudder May 13, 2019 at 10:01 am #

    I tend to overuse “nodded.” I nodded. She nodded. They all nodded. When I read my last manuscript out loud, it was so obvious it became comical and irritating! I imagined all of these suspended heads nodding at each other. I revised them and gave them more to do than just hanging out nodding at each other all day long 🙂 Trying to keep them just as busy in my WIP.

    Excited to check out that website to see what other words I overuse.

    Thanks so much, Steve!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 11:20 am #

      Joey,

      See Marco’s comment above for the appropriate “bobble-head.”

      Sounds like you have a bunch of them in one scene!

      I try my best to nod sagely.

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan May 13, 2019 at 11:31 am #

        hahahaha… I’m shaking my head in your silliness. Then shrug. And I shrugged again. Oh. ‘Shrugged shoulders.’ What else can one shrug, I truly and verily want to know?

      • Avatar
        Joey Rudder May 13, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

        Thanks, Steve. Somehow I missed his comment earlier. Yes, I’m with Marco…those “bobble-heads” were everywhere, and I did have a bunch in one scene. So funny!

        Nodding sagely in agreement with you as you nod sagely. 🙂

  19. Avatar
    Shulamit May 13, 2019 at 10:41 am #

    My own pet peeve is “sort of” and “kind of” placed directly before “really” or “very” heard in speech. I would not have expected it to be common in writing, and yet the search, “kind of very” (with quotation marks to search only for the full phrase) produced over 58 million results!

    I hear this in interviews: “…kind of very important…”

    The confidence to say, “This is important,” without engaging a qualifier–or a string of contradictory qualifiers–is necessary for writers to produce strong sentences.

    “Faith is important,” is stronger than “Faith is very important.” And “Faith really kind of is very important,” is painful.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 11:18 am #

      I woulda could shouda stopped using sorta or kinda.
      it is sorta important that I do.

      • Avatar
        Shulamit May 13, 2019 at 12:13 pm #

        Oh, ouch.

        😀

        I always enjoy your blog posts and am honored when you respond to my comments, Steve.

  20. Avatar
    Natalie Hidalgo May 13, 2019 at 11:02 am #

    I ran a nice chunk of my novel, about 16,500 words and the word “like” was used most. 85 times. I’m not sure if 85 “like”s out of 16,500 words is considered too many. One, see, all and over were used 50-55 times. What is considered too many of any particular word?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 13, 2019 at 11:16 am #

      Natalie,

      Do as Diana did above. Read it out loud…better yet, have someone else read it to you. That person will put emphasis on different beats in a sentence simply because they will. It will tell you whether a particular word jumps out as being overused.

      To paraphrase Smokey the Bear “Only you can prevent over used words.”

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan May 13, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

        Steve

        This is a great way to find issues within the document. I use an eReader as it speaks speaks speaks every single word that the human eye overlooks.

        I listen to the eReader while looking at my Word document so I can fix the problem immediately. Finding doubles kills me as do the echoes.

      • Avatar
        Natalie Hidalgo May 13, 2019 at 1:23 pm #

        That is true, but when a large portion is a dialogue between teenagers, some words are used more than others. I do use Grammarly which helps, especially when I am overusing the passive voice. Most people talk in a passive voice, so it is a challenge to think of other ways to say the same thing. I will have a friend read it out loud. I didn’t think about how we put emphasis on different words or at different rhythms. Thanks

        • Avatar
          claire o'sullivan May 13, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

          I give more license to dialogue since peeps don’t speak English, ya know? 🙂

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan May 13, 2019 at 11:28 am #

      Hi Natalie-

      I run articles, WordPress posts, everything I write through ProWriter Aid. I cut out 3000 words (but some sentences became choppy). For the genre, the word count went over the usual limit.

      ‘Like’ can also be ‘as if’ or the phrase rewritten or left out. Glue words–along with echoes are excess words, too. This is my list just of glue words, not even the echoes/repeats.

      a
      again
      any
      are
      as
      because
      been
      could
      do
      have
      his
      her
      I
      Me
      My
      is
      know
      many
      mother
      of
      one
      only
      people
      put
      said
      should
      some
      the
      their
      there
      these
      they
      through
      to
      too
      two
      use
      very
      was
      were
      what
      where

  21. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan May 13, 2019 at 11:15 am #

    Great post and comments, really, truly and very much so…

    My pet peeves are echoes and repeated phrases which some wise agent pointed out to me, as well as a grammar nazi who was on it like a fly on poo.

    One phrase, ‘raked his/her hand through his/her hair.’ Very, very, very overused. ‘Shrugged.’ ‘Arched brow,’ and my grammar nazi commented on this to the point she said she’d razor off everyone’s brows, including mine…

    ‘Alright,’ or All right.’ Mercy me, everyone in some manuscripts use this for every character. Fer cryin’ out loud. I have a friend with some odd habits and speech and he uses all right very, very, very, very, very often. So, when I read these, all I hear is his weird voice. Another? Okay. ?!?!?!? Or I SAID THIS!!!!!!!

    I’ve moved into ProWriting Aid which is brutal. Unfortunately, it is so brutal some of my sentences have become very, very, very, very, very short and choppy. Distracting even to me.

    Not all helping verbs or adjectives are ‘illegal,’ only the echoes and too many. With a protag owning a doughnut shop, have you any idea how many doughnut anything can show up? ProWriting Aid points those out.

    Beside PWA, I made a list of overused words. Unneeded stuffing of phrases, and squish it down, put it next to my Word doc and go through each one via the ‘find’ drop down on Word. Just about to give the WordCounter a whirl.

    I suggest PWA, so many sections to it, it can be slow-going, but very, very, very, very good. Well worth the $65 bucks!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Avatar
      Bryan Mitchell May 14, 2019 at 6:29 am #

      I just tried ProWriting Aid. The free version. Opens a whole new can of worms.

      • Avatar
        Maco Stewart May 14, 2019 at 8:46 am #

        It does (open up for your view the existing can o’ worms). What I had to remind myself is that PWA is a robot–it cannot have the last say over your work. As you use it, you will internalize much of what it has to teach. When your language begins to become stilted because of all the “fixes,” it’s time to exercise your author role and choose what to accept as a suggestion and what to let live as part of the music of your story. PWA has, in my experience, a tin ear.

        • Avatar
          claire o'sullivan May 14, 2019 at 12:34 pm #

          Exactly. I have turned down a lot of fixes that I call suggestions. Stilted language can destroy a manuscript. PWA is robotic, indeed though I find a lot of great suggestions along the way. It’s picking and choosing what needs to be followed or not.

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan May 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm #

        That it does!

        • Avatar
          Bryan Mitchell May 14, 2019 at 1:04 pm #

          I’ve ignored a few fixes (suggestions) but the tool is proving to be useful. It’s picked up a few mistakes I missed already. As you mentioned, I’ll have the final say. Once I read my manuscript again I’ll smooth out any wrinkles remaining. Thanks guys!

  22. Avatar
    Marcia Laycock May 14, 2019 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks, Steve, great resource. 🙂

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