MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish
After we’ve finished writing, it’s time to revise and edit. Beta readers and developmental editors can help us with big-picture revising, like bringing out our story, plot, and characters as much as possible.
Next, we edit for improvement, as we focus on the words themselves, like showing vs. telling, repetitiveness, clarity, etc. Feedback from beta readers and developmental editors often helps with this step as well, as they might comment on confusing sections and the like.
Finally, we narrow our focus to the nitpicky stuff. Beta readers, at least most I know, don’t often comment on these items because it’s about the little things rather than the story or the characters.
Despite that, we want to clean up our story the best we can, as freelance copy editors often charge a “messy manuscript” premium. Yet it can be difficult to self-edit at this “polish” stage.
For one thing, this step can be tedious to the extreme. Even with MS Word’s “find and replace” functionality, many words can flag problems that we should check, and it takes time to search for each of them.
Honestly, I hate this stage of editing and would skip it if I could. But I have several stories that need polishing, so I looked into what I could do to make this stage, if not easier, at least more efficient.
Enter MS Word macros. *cringe*
What Are Macros in MS Word?
At their simplest, macros are recordings of keystrokes and mouse clicks to automate tasks and settings within MS Word. We can save ourselves hundreds of steps by playing a macro with a few clicks.
My friend Jordan McCollum, who’s guest posted here about MS Word Styles and Templates, uses macros with her editing, so her blog was the first place I started. Soon, I was searching for macros others had written that could be used by storytellers.
Macros can be intimidating at first. They live in an area of MS Word called Visual Basic that most of us have never ventured into and don’t have a clue about what any of it means. However, there are so many macros in existence already that we usually wouldn’t need to learn programming to make one do what we want.
That said, we have to be careful about where we find other macros. Macros are mini-programs and can do bad things to our computer if they contain malicious code. Also, if we have an older or slower computer, macros might crash MS Word or our whole computer. (On some machines, running a macro on a full novel might take an hour or more.)
How Can We Learn the Basics about Macros?
YA author Abby Annis has a great post about how to set up our MS Word application to handle macros. As she mentions, once we have macros set up, we can access our existing macros through the “Macros” button on the “Developer” tab, through an icon we set up on our MS Word toolbar, or through a set of keystrokes we assign.
That last option is often the quickest, especially if we use the macro often enough to remember which keys to press. Many of us already use keystrokes to copy and paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V) or undo a mistake (Ctrl+Z).
Abby’s post explains how to record our own macros, but what if we want to copy already-existing macros? Paul Beverley, a UK non-fiction editor, offers a free book of over 400 macros and basic instructions.
Most of the macros in his book are geared more toward editing technical and non-fiction documents, but pages 7-16 are a good introduction to building our macro collection beyond our own recordings. He explains how to allocate shortcuts and add, install, run, and update macros.
Basic Macros for Empowering Our MS Word Searches
Even if we stick to MS Word’s manual find-and-replace function for highlighting or changing the text color of potential problem areas, we might still like automating some actions. It is possible to manually search for highlighted or colored text, but it requires setting up formatting within the “find” dialog box.
An easier option might be to use a macro that automatically jumps to the next highlighted or colored text section. Or maybe we want a count for how often a selected word or phrase appears in our story.
Paul’s book offers these basic macros:
- FindHighlight: Finds the next section of highlighted text down from the current cursor position. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+F to this macro on my computer.
- FindColouredText: Finds the next section of colored (note Paul’s UK spelling in the macro name) text down from the current cursor position. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+Shift+F to this macro.
- CountPhrase: Pops up a dialog box with counts for how often a selected word or phrase occurs in the whole document. It also gives the number of capitalized, italic, bold, and whole word counts. I assigned a keystroke of Alt+Ctrl+? to this macro.
Macros for Each Step of Final Editing and Polishing
Okay, let’s say we’d like to try expanding our macro collection. Which ones might be helpful to us as we progress through our editing process?
- GrabbingCrutches: Jordan McCollum shares her macro, which pulls out the sentences that mention body parts (i.e., sentences where we often fall back on cliché gestures) and pastes them into a new document for analysis. With that document, we can look for repeated descriptions, decide which ones to punch up or expand, etc. Jordan shares her tips for how to tackle these clichés here and here.
- Highlight_ly: Karen Woodward shares her macro, which highlights “ly” in words, like all those dreaded adverbs. Note that we can edit the macro to highlight words in a more noticeable color, such as turquoise (change “wdYellow” to “wdTurquoise”).
- General Word Lists: The bottom macro example here (via a link from Karen) allows us to create any list we want for highlighting several words in one pass. Note that we can change “MatchAllWordForms” from “False” to “True” to catch “look” and “looked,” etc. With help from Angela Quarles and Janice Hardy for some of the word lists, I created several macros for myself:
- NamedEmotions: Naming emotions often indicates telling rather than showing, like “She was sad.” I have over 80 words in this list.
- TellingWords: Words that often flag for telling rather than showing, like “realize,” “knew,” “felt,” etc. I have over 35 words in this list.
- PossibleWordsToCut: Often extraneous words, like “that,” “very,” “just,” etc. I have over 30 words in this list.
- OverlyWordy: This highlights prepositions, as multiple prepositional phrases in a row often indicates sentences that can be tightened. I have over 40 words in this list.
- WeaselWords: Words that often indicate weak writing, like to-be verbs, “need,” “suddenly,” etc. I have over 50 words in this list.
- CheckUsage: Frequently misused words, like “farther” vs. “further,” etc. I have over 25 words in this list.
- WordsInCloseProximity: Gregory Mark Henry shared his macro for finding word echoes. Note that he provides this in a .zip file with other add-ons, but the macro can be saved without the rest of the programming.
- Additional Verification Passes: Several other macros in Paul Beverley’s book might be useful for stories:
- HyphenAlyse: Checks for consistent hyphenation
- SpellAlyse: Checks for proper spelling with a customizable word list
- ProperNounAlyse: Checks for consistent spelling of proper nouns
- SerialNotCommaHighlight: Highlights areas that might be missing a serial comma.
- FRedit: The “FR” refers to “find and replace.” This program, also from Paul Beverley, is a scripted find-and-replace macro that allows us to run a find and replace on virtually any number of things at once, all while highlighting or changing the formatting of the replace text if desired. It runs in tandem with an open document providing our find-and-replace instructions, giving us unlimited flexibility. I created a script for a “final polish,” fixing the formatting of smart (curly) quotes, em-dashes, stray spaces and tabs, etc.
Want My Macros?
Over the past few days, I installed every macro mentioned in this post and have customized many of them:
- Jordan’s GrabbingCrutches macro is populated with her full word list.
- The 6 macros mentioned under General Word Lists are each populated with a decent word list.
- I wrote a “polish” script to run with FRedit, as well as a sample text for practicing.
I can’t share the full file on my Worksheets page because many of these macros require extra explanation. (“Why is ‘oblivious’ highlighted? What’s wrong with that word?” etc. And no, there’s nothing wrong with using “oblivious,” but we do have to ensure we’re using the correct preposition after it.)
In other words, to do this right, I’d have to create one of my mini-ebooks, like I offer with my workshops, for all of the instructions, explanations, and editing tips. And that means I’d have to charge for the ebook and file combination to make it worth my time. (I’m guessing the mini-ebook would be 30-50 pages long, so it’s not something I could quickly whip together.)
Still interested? Let me know in the comments, and let me know what you think a fair price would be. Install once, and get the complete set of macros instantly accessible on your computer, along with a “Using Macros to Edit and Polish Our Story” ebook, providing installation instructions and walking through the editing process and each macro step-by-step.
I don’t know how many people edit their stories to this level, so I don’t know if this would be something others are interested in or not. But if you are, let me know so I can add this project to my list. Or if you’re interested in just a couple of the macros, let me know which ones, as some might be easier to share for free.
Otherwise, I’ve linked to all the public sources I used over the past few days to create many of the macros. Feel free to experiment with these macros on your own and share what you’d like to automate in your editing process. If I know of a way to accomplish it, I’ll let you know. *smile*
Do you use macros in MS Word? If not, why not? If yes, what have you used them for? Do any of these macros mentioned here sound interesting? Do you have any questions about macros? (Would you be interested in my full macro file and ebook? What would a fair price be for that?)
P.S. I wrote a follow-up post with more details on how to use macros, especially how to search for “telling” words.
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Cool! Yeah, I created a macro back when I first created that list I gave you, but I found it too ‘busy’ so was thinking of having it concentrate on one aspect at a time, so I like your list of focus points! Will have to revisit again when I get to the polish stage with my current WIP…
LOL! Yeah, if we had the macro look for every word on those lists at once, virtually everything would be highlighted. That’s not helpful. 😉
Whereas if we look for ways to improve sentences in certain ways, and maybe focus only on the lists we know are our weak points, one method at a time, we might not be as overwhelmed. I know I often get into a groove of fixing a certain type of problem if I focus on that problem and only that problem. But if we mix the problems together, we’d likely have a harder time getting into that solution groove. 🙂
Let me know when you want to take a look at what I did to your list. LOL! Thanks for the comment!
Holy guacamole Batman!!!! Macros?!? I just learned a new word today and a crapload about it.
Fascinating, Jami. I’m thrilled you mentioned this. I love learning new things, but it sounds so daunting. I’d be interested in your file, but have no clue what a fair price would be.
Thanks for your UBER wisdom!
LOL! Yes, so much about macros is just learning that so many things we didn’t know were possible are, in fact, possible. 🙂
And I don’t have a clue for a fair price either–that’s why I’m asking. LOL! It’s all stuff that people could spend a few days on to learn and do and program on their own, but isn’t that the way with most things? 🙂 We pay people to do things we don’t have time to do ourselves. Thanks for the comment!
Pure gold, Jami.
Just asked my crit partner, but thought this might be something others would like to bat around. Any use Scrivener? Is it truly easier to format for self-pub. Would these Macros work in it? (Likely, not.)
Jordan did me the grand favor of critting a chapter for me. Wonder if she macro’ed it?
No, these macros are for MS Word only. Like Jordan, I draft in Scrivener and import into Word for revising and editing. Word is friendlier for track changes and comments from beta readers and editors, and Word allows these macros. Once everything is cleaned up from a manuscript perspective, we could send it back into Scrivener for formatting if desired. 🙂
I hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Don’t worry, I never use macros on someone else’s work. When I first told my critique partners about this, they were worried I’d use
my powers for evilit on their work, so I generally just use it for my own.
Incidentally, I actually use a macro to format my books into clean HTML (Word seems to be incapable of truly clean HTML) and from there I code them into ebooks.
Ooo, now this macro I definitely want to hear more about! 🙂
I wanted to tweet this and was already signed into twitter but your blog wants me to allow another program to access my account for me. I backed out as I couldn’t determine why that’s necessary.
Any way thanks for another great blog. 🙂
Yes, these buttons use Shareaholic to make the connection. Most sharing buttons require some sort of account or connection. Probably for many of the main sharing button plugins, we already have accounts with them and forgot about it, so we don’t even realize we do. 🙂
We can always copy the URL from the address bar and paste it into Twitter or TweetDeck, etc. directly. That’s how I usually do it. 🙂 The buttons are there just for convenience of those who don’t want to take that extra step.
Thanks for stopping by and for the comment!
I keep meaning to write macros to handle the formatting details I always fix on client work. I already use macros quite a bit to clean up HTML and CSS I work with. 🙂
Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to make Scrivener scriptable, otherwise I’d already have some macros for that program.
Ooo, if you do end up with Word macros, I’d love to hear what you included. 🙂
Yes, I’ve yet to hear about macros for Scrivener. If it’s possible, no one’s figured it out that I know of. :-/ Thanks for the comment!
At least on Mac, it’s not really possible at this time. (Short version: The Apple macro language is kinda depreciated, so it isn’t worth the effort for the makers of Scrivener to make the program scriptable. I’ve asked.)
Ah, that’s too bad. Until recently, Scrivener was focused on Mac, so it makes sense why they haven’t developed in that area. Thanks for letting me know!
Well, VBA (the Microsoft Office scripting language) is also tied specifically to MS Office, not Windows itself, so if Scrivener or another word processor were to be made scriptable…what language would be used?
Even as things stand, last time I played with VBA on different platforms, some commands actually differed between Mac and Windows, so any MS Office macro designed on one platform might need conversion to be able to work on the other.
Great point! Yes, the clicks and keystrokes differ from Windows to Mac, so macros can be very picky about different versions. I use the Windows version of Word ’07, and all the macros I installed have been tested to make sure they work. Even so, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some weirdness. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Great idea to use macros, Jami! Don’t know why I didn’t think about this before since I’m a long time Word user. I would pay up to $20 for an ebook about using macros.
I always appreciate your informative posts.
Like you, I’m a long-time Word user, but I’d never used macros because I wasn’t aware of all they could do. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Love macros for polishing. I’ve only built a few to highlight telling words, ones I should consider eliminating, and just a few others. I’m definitely going to spend time on all the information you’ve collected here. I’d also be very interested in buying your book on the subject. Fabulous, Jami! You know I love you, right? 😀
LOL! Aww, thanks. 🙂 I love sharing what I’ve learned, so I hope others let me know if they come across other useful-for-writers macros too. Thanks for the comment!
I know what macros are from my old admin assistant days, but I never thought of using it for editing. Reading through this was a little overwhelming to be honest (haha–I totally appreciate the detail though) but I bookmarked the post and may come back to it to try out one or two you linked.
LOL! I understand. I feel like I went through an intensive macro education this past weekend. 🙂 Let me know if you have questions later. Thanks for the comment!
Thanks for the shout out, Jami! I’ve been rounding up a list of macros to share as well. You’ve got a couple of them here, and I’ve found others that I use, too.
I use some to highlight empty words, too. I’ve made some custom ones to navigate through comments, and assign a keyboard shortcut to Save As…, etc.
Oh cool! I can’t wait to hear what else you’ve uncovered. 🙂
Let me know if you do a post about your new discoveries. Thanks for the comment and for introducing me to macros! 🙂
[…] via MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish. […]
I’ve used macros at my day job but for writing? Never in a million years did I even consider using it to make the editing process easier! What a great tool! Thank you for thinking of us and sharing the pot of gold you found at the end of the rainbow!
I’m happy to share! Isn’t it funny how we get so used to seeing something in one context and don’t think about it for other situations? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
[…] story. Molly Greene gives us a manuscript proof checklist to help you save money; Jami Gold shares how to use MS Word macros to edit and polish; Mohr Editing discusses what publishing industry changes mean for editors; and learn why Brick Lane […]
Oh, yes, I want this! I had no idea.
Yep, I had no idea what all they could do until I started playing with them too. 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for the comment!
[…] week, we discussed how MS Word macros can help us edit our stories. Macros create shortcuts for keyboard and mouse clicking. They can clean up our formatting. And […]
I use to use macros all the time, and haven’t thought about them in a while until i got your email. I would be interested in your file. I’m sure whatever price you set will be fair 🙂
Thanks for the feedback! I’m not sure if I’ll put together a bigger file or not, but I shared most of the instructions in today’s post for the step-by-step of how to do many of these macros yourself. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
[…] MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish […]
Hi Jami! Seriously digging all your resources and you have totally tickled my Nerd Bone with these macros for editing! I’m stalling now and hope to get through the tutorials. I would definitely invest in a solid macro ebook for editing – that’s a no-brainer! Thanks for being so incredibly damned awesome! 🙂
LOL! Thanks! Yes, I’m actually editing with one of the macros today (Jordan’s Gesture Crutches macro). Wish me luck. 😉 Thanks for the comment!
Thanks for the extra tip 🙂 I definitely have some gesture crutches. My characters seem to swallow hard and have their breath hitch in their chests! Just installed that macro with my known crutches – I also like the post on the crutch fixes too! http://jordanmccollum.com/2012/07/fixing-top-10-gesture-crutches/
Yep, and the Emotion Thesaurus is great for finding alternate gestures too. 🙂 Good luck!
[…] had two articles on using Macros to help in your editing and polishing phase of your manuscript: MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish and Fix Showing vs. Telling with Macros & Word […]
[…] by Jami Gold’s macros for writers post, I’ve added Janice Hardy’s Words to Avoid list (minus the word […]
To me, “Macros” is a completely new term. Apart from using “Ctrl + c” for copying and “Ctrl + v” for pasting, I have never used Macros, but the concept is so appealing to me, because it can save me a lot of time. Actually, I never imagined that MS Office has a programmable component that can help me avoid doing repetitive tasks that are sometimes be intolerable. Thanks Jami!
I didn’t know about macros until recently, so I understand. 🙂 I hope this helps! Thanks for the comment!
[…] Clues to look for with a “Find” or macro function: […]
Quite late to the party, but thanks! Helpful comments on here, since I have some polishing to do before Christmas.
I’d pay $8-10 for the kind of macro resource you describe, I definitely think it would be worth having. 🙂
Thanks for the answer! 🙂 I might have to add that to my list of things to do. LOL! Thanks for stopping by!
[…] During revisions, we’d want to flesh out our themes, add depth, pump up our scenes, strengthen the character arc and plot arc, and make sure goals, conflicts, and motivations are clear. Once we’ve finished revisions, we’d move on to the editing stage and eliminate information dumps, fix show vs. tell issues, clarify settings and descriptions, and balance and strengthen character emotions. Finally, we’d polish our story. […]
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[…] Jami Gold has a great post about Macros, and she also lists a bunch that you can upload. […]