Omit Needless Words with a Macro

by C.K. MacLeod 353183634_ef631ed00a_m

One of the easiest ways to improve your writing is to "omit needless words" —words that once removed, make your writing clear (Strunk & White).

The fastest way to find these words in your writing is to run the Needless Words macro* in Microsoft Word. This macro will highlight every needless word, so you can decide if each word is necessary. Not sure what a macro is? See this post for details.

NeedlessWords macro in action
NeedlessWords macro in action

Below is the script for the macro. You'll need to add this script to Word's Visual Basic Application (VBA). See these videos for adding a macro and running a macro in Microsoft Word.

Inspired by Jami Gold's macros for writers post, I've added Janice Hardy's Words to Avoid list (minus the word "that") to my version of the macro. The macro is customizable and you can add any list of words you like.

Copy the macro from Sub to End Sub and paste it into Word's VBA.

Sub NeedlessWords()
' Highlights unnecessary words
' Written by Roger Mortis, revised by subcortical, adapted by Jami Gold and tweaked by C.K. MacLeod; word list by Janice Hardy
Dim range As range
Dim i As Long
Dim TargetList
TargetList = Array("then", "almost", "about", "begin", "start", "decided", "planned", "very", "sat", "truly", "rather", "fairly", "really", "somewhat", "up", "down", "over", "together", "behind", "out", "in order", "around", "only", "just", "even")

For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)

Set range = ActiveDocument.range
With range.Find
.Text = TargetList(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdTurquoise
End With
End Sub

What other word lists could you add to this macro? Insert word lists between the parentheses in the macro script.

So, what do you do with the highlighted words this macro finds? See Carla Douglas' post at the Beyond Paper Editing blog for suggestions.

*Karen Woodward calls this macro the AddWords macro because you can add any list of words that you want the macro to find. The first version of this macro was written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, appropriated for writing by Karen Woodward, tweaked by Jami Gold, and further tweaked by me, making it a true community effort.

Image by Matt Scott

How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener

2775952906_5ba8ce091f_mby C. K. MacLeod


There's been much to-do about Scrivener lately. And for good reason. Scrivener appears to be able to solve some problems that traditional word processing software hasn't been able to adequately address.

One of Scrivener's strengths, its Binder feature, allows writers to manage and keep track of sections of a book-length work rather easily.

ScrivenerBinderWhat many writers don't know is that Microsoft Word 2010 has a similar feature: the Navigation Pane.

Word's Nav Pane isn't ready-to-use when you first open Word, but a few simple tweaks can get it working for you:

Quick Steps

  1. Open Word. Sketch out your book outline by listing chapter titles, scenes, plot points, or story beats.
  2. Using Word's Style menu, apply a heading style to each item in your outline.

Word 2010 Styles menu3. Open the Navigation Pane in Word by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + F and clicking on the left tab in the Nav Pane. This is Word's answer to Scrivener's Binder.

WordNavigationpane4. Click on entries in the Nav Pane to navigate the document, and when you're feeling wild and crazy, move them around. Moving entries in the Nav Pane results in moving sections around in your running document.

In sum, by setting up the Nav Pane, you've essentially set up Word to behave like Scrivener’s Binder.

There are ways to tweak Word so that it serves you better. Learning how to use the Navigation Pane will make book-length works easier to manage.

For further discussion on setting up Word's Nav Pane, read more at the Beyond Paper blog.