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25 Word Lists for Writers

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Beyond Paper Editing

Editors’ tips for writers

Thursday, 10 July 2014

by Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

I like lists—especially word lists. They help me to make sense of the world. Below is a round-up of useful word lists for writers. Use them to check for and address potential problems in your writing.

Needless Words

We all do it—use words that clutter up our writing. If you know what those words are, you can hunt them down and obliterate them.

10 Words to Cut From Your Writing at Entrepreneur

Needless Words at Tech Tools for Writers. This word list is nicely packaged in a macro that you run in Microsoft Word.* Talk about a timesaver.

*See this 30-second video for how to add a macro to Word.

Craft Words

There are parts of the writing craft that many writers struggle with at some point in their writing journey—telling too much instead of showing, for example. Some clever word wranglers have taken the time to create word lists that can help you to attend to common writer missteps:

TellingWords at Tech Tools for Writers—identifies words that may indicate instances of telling

-ly Words at Tech Tools for Writers—highlights adverbs often used in dialogue, which may indicate that you’re telling instead of showing. Often, he said and she said will suffice.

Historical Words

If you’re writing historical fiction, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with vocabulary from the time period in which you’re writing. These word lists will take you back in time.

100 Words that Define the First World War at the Oxford English Dictionary

Flapper Speak: Dictionary of Words from the 1920s and 1930s, by Margaret Chai Maloney

Glossary of 80s Terms at In the 80s

Genre Words

Some genres of writing have their own vocabularies. Learn the words genre readers will expect to read.

A Glossary of Science Fiction Jargon, by Eric S. Raymond

Sensual Words for Romance Writers, by Annette Blair

Gangster Glossary at Night of Mystery

Hard Boiled Slang Dictionary at Classic Crime Fiction

English Dialect Word Lists

For tips on writing with dialects, refer to How to Write Authentic Dialects, by Arlene Prunkl. These word lists will take you the rest of the way, eh!

A List of Quaint Southernisms at Alpha Dictionary

Glossary of English and British Words at Project Britain

Glossary of Canadian English at Wikipedia.org

Words from Other Languages

If you’re writing a book set in a another place, or if a character’s cultural background is of importance to the story, seasoning your story with the occasional foreign word or phrase is de rigeur.

French Phrases Used in English at the Phrase Finder German Loan Words in English at About.com

Russian Words Used in English at Daily Writing Tips

Spanish Words Become Our Own at About.com

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know at Daily Writing Tips

Confusable Words

It’s easy to confuse words that look or sound similar, or that mean something other than what you think they mean. These lists will help you to sort out some of the more common confusables.

Misused Words by Daily Writing Tips

Commonly Confused Words by Oxford Dictionaries

10 Words that Don’t Mean What You Think They Do at Daily Writing Tips

Misspelled Words

Your word processor’s spell check can catch most of your misspellings, but not all of them. Here are some words that sneak through spell check or trip up writers.

Common Misspellings

Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters

There are many more lists that I can add to this round-up. If you have a favourite word list, tell us about it in the comments below.

 

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2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

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From the good folks at  Beyond Paper Editing

Editors’ tips for writers
by C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words “needless words.” That’s good news. If these words are needless, we don’t need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.
Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy’s Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you’re well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you’re thinking… Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book?You can, but I’m not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I’ve listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro at Tech Tools for Writers.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener’s Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn’t highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener’s Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you’ve used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to the Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener’s Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

 

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