Five Words to Search for (and Change) in Your Manuscript

Sophie Playle

Would you like to improve your manuscript in less than half an hour without having to hire an editor?

No, I’m not shooting myself in the foot. Self-editing can’t replace the benefits of a professional edit, but it can still help you shape-up your writing.

Here’s what I want you to do:

Using the search function of your word processor, find the following words and delete/rewrite them as necessary.

(Don’t do a global search-and-delete, though! You need to judge every instance in relation to the tone and meaning behind your words before you change them.)


Most of the time, these words don’t add enough information to warrant their existence. It’s also a sign that the word you’re modifying isn’t strong enough. Instead of saying ‘It was really cold’ say ‘It was freezing’. Instead of saying ‘I was very sad’ say ‘I was devastated’.


This word dilutes power and makes your images weaker. Instead of saying ‘The shadows seemed to slide towards her’ say ‘The shadows slid towards her’. Confession: this is something I used to do in my writing so, so much – until another editor pointed it out to me!


Using the word ‘suddenly’ both slows down the action and warns your reader – ironic, since the word means ‘quickly and without warning’. It’s usually more effective to simply say what happens.


This word is often redundant because if one event is described after another, it’s clear that ‘this happened and then that’ without highlighting the fact. The only time you should use ‘then’ is when it’s unclear whether the actions are happening in sequence or at the same time, or when you are creating a deliberate rhythm or pattern in your sentences.

This kind of quick editing can be helpful, but check out my free guide (you don’t even have to enter your email) on Self-Editing Your Novel for a more in-depth approach to improving your manuscript.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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