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Find and Replace Tool

One of the most useful tools to utilize during the revision phase of your first draft is the Find and Replace tool. The instructions here are for Word for Windows, but a similar function should be available for other word processing programs.

Within Word, you turn it on by simply clicking on [Control] and [F] at the same time (the letter F not the function key).

When revising, it is a good idea to save the draft as a new version each time in case you make a major mistake and need to go back to the previous version. You do this by selecting [Save As] and entering the Your Title Rev 1 (2,3,4,5,6,7, etc). When you have completely finished all editing and revising, save it as Your Title Final File.

1. If you do a quick rough draft you may have lots of blanks with placeholders **fill in here** or other placeholders (XXX) (#) for names, places, dates, locations, etc. Searching for ** or your placeholder cues will quickly take you from one placeholder to the next.

2. Develop a list of repetitive words. It may change and/or grow with every book you write.

3. Develop a list of adjectives. We all have personal favorites. You can use the starter list in Story Building Blocks III and add to it as you go.

4. Develop a list of adverbs or search for *.ly. This might take a while. 

5. Develop a list of body language words and emotion words. Fill in your placeholders or make certain that your characters aren't yawning, grimacing, frowning, or sighing on every other page.

6. Search for passive language by looking for the word was. I guarantee this will take a long time. Make certain to enter a space before the word was followed by another space: [ was ], otherwise every word containing the letters was together (wash, swash, twas) will be highlighted.

7. Use [Find] and [Replace] to change the name of a place or character. Use [Find Next] rather than [Replace All]. Why? Here's an example.

Let's say you want to replace the word format with method. The program searches for all the places the combination of letters appears. It may change words you never intended: information becomes inmethodion.

If your character's name is May and you decide to change her name to Sally, you end up with, “I sally not want to,” instead of “I may not want to.” The word maybe becomes sallybe. You see the problem.

8. Don't mass delete.

A quick way of deleting a word is to use [Find], but never [Delete All] or you could end up with gibberish. Let's say you want to remove all the "could have"s.  Go to each one individually. You may have to reword the sentence so it still makes sense.

9. If you make a mistake, [Control] [Z] or [Undo] is your best friend. It can, however, take you back further than intended. Which leads us to ...

10. Save frequently with [Control] [S].

Saving after every change slows you down too much, so I don't advise it. You should save the file frequently enough, perhaps at the end of each page, to mitigate heartache if your computer goes haywire, turns off in the middle, or you unintentionally select [Undo] and an entire paragraph disappears. Weird things happen.


  1. Don't forget that Word has "find whole words" and "match case" functions, which will avoid those creative words within words. You can also look for all word forms, so if you're heavy into using "look", you can also find "looked" and "looking" in a single search pass. But you still have to be careful. Once I changed a character's name from James to Frank, and although I used the match case and whole words options, that didn't help me when the movie my character was watching became a Frank Bond flick.

    1. Bond, Frank Bond. Doesn't have quite the same ring does it? :)

    2. Not at all. Then again, if that's what Ian Fleming had called his character, it would sound "right."