Without a shadow-of-a-doubt, Microsoft Word’s Find and Replace feature is one of the most powerful features within Microsoft Word; it is also among the long list of those unused to anywhere near their full potential.
Now, it’s quite possible that you use it all the time, but how do you use it?
Maybe, if you’re writing something like a novel and you’re unsure of a character’s name, you might want to inset a placeholder, such as name_xyz; or, perhaps you want either want to replace that placeholder/change a particular character’s name…
…then it’s easy…
Using Microsoft Word’s Find and Replace Tool
To use Microsoft Word’s find and replace tool:
- You press Ctrl+H on the keyboard to open the Find and Replace dialog box…
- You enter name_xyz in the Find what: box
- You enter Russ Crowley in the Replace with: box (hey, I’ve never been a character in a book – yet).
As soon as you enter the text in the fields, the greyed-out buttons become visible. What do you do now?
One at a Time, All In One Go, or Just Check IT?
Do you click Replace, and go through your manuscript item by individual item; do you click Replace All, and consign name_xyz to the fiery hells that live in the realms beyond the office clip-board; or, do you remain unconvinced that it’s going to work, are worried you’ll lose your work, so want to do a text run first, and click on Find Next?
My advice here, if you’ve never used this function before, is to click on Find Next. That way you can see what the ‘Find’ box is going to select.
Microsoft Word is know for throwing curve-balls at you, so doing this is akin to doing a test run of the ‘Find’ string to see what Word will pick-up, and what it doesn’t
This is quite important as initially typing in your text into the Find what box is just one way of entering information into this field (Note: I say entering information here, and not just entering words: you can use these fields for lots more than just mere words; and that’s what makes it SO powerful).
If you are working normally through your document and know you want to change a word/run a Find and Replace on a word, then you can select the item with your mouse/keyboard and then press Ctrl+H, the selected word will already be there.
For example, if I have, ‘…placeholdern1 is a hero unlike the world has ever seen…” and I want to replace my placeholder with a name, I highlight it and press Ctrl+H:
Note: this only works on single words.
The problem with doing it this way, is though I highlighted the actual word placeholdern1, I also grabbed the space after it; however, in the Find what: field, it’s just selected the word. So, if you intentionally want to grab the space as well (and this is quite possible), make sure that there is also a space after the word in the Find what: field (just type a space if there isn’t one).
It isn’t a problem, but just bear in mind what will happen, and what Microsoft Word might do…
For example, if I messed this up and performed a Replace All using the word ‘Russ’ and a space, the examples would end up with
… Russ is a hero unlike the world has ever seen …
You can’t see it on the web page, but now I have 2 spaces after Russ.
But that’s easy to get rid of…
Remove Unwanted Spaces
To remove unwanted/extra spaces, just fire up Microsoft Word’s powerful find and replace tool again, but this time enter 2 spaces in the Find what: field (press the spacebar twice), and enter 1 space (press the spacebar once) in the Replace with: field.
Then press the Replace All button.
Word will tell you the results:
If I were you, I’d run it again:
- Click on Okay
- Click on Replace All (or you can press Alt + A)…
…and again, until you get ‘All done. We made 0 replacements’. You have now removed all examples of multiple spaces in your document, and replaced them with a single space.
With regards to spaces, your manuscript is perfect (gone are the days of 2 spaces after a full stop/period).
Now, how long would it take you to do that manually?
What are the chances your eye would miss one?
How cool is that?
But, it doesn’t end there…there’s so much more.
As part of 1-Click book Creation (and the general work I do with Word anyway) I’m a stickler for keeping unwanted styles out of my templates: if I want those styles, I’ll still keep them out, I’ll just recreate them myself—it’s that important.
Consequently, I advocate running everything through Notepad first.
This way, it strips out every piece of formatting in your document.
And it keeps your template clean.
- Helps ensure your manuscript is formatted using the acceptable styles
- Ensures consistency
- Is pleasing on the eye
- Helps keep the file size down
- Reduces the chance of corruption
- Looks professional
And a few more.
However, the problem with using Notepad is this:
- I copy and paste my text into Notepad:
- And then ‘Select All’ and copy and paste it back into Word. This is what happens:
I get all those horrible paragraph marks between sentences.
Now, I could go through and remove them manually, much in the same way as I could remove all the space in the document manually; but, in time-honoured tradition, we don’t want to do that…
…let Microsoft Word do the hard work.
Find & Replace Paragraph Marks
So, in the Find and Replace dialog:
- Click on More > > then click on Special:
Now we’re getting somewhere…
The one we want is right at the top…paragraph mark…
- Click on it to select it.
You’ll see it puts ^p in the Find what: field, this is the code for a paragraph mark, you can type this in if you want.
- In fact, do that right now, next to the existing ^p in the field – do not add a space as a space will mess up our find and replace.
- Now we have ^p^p in the top field, go to the Replace with: field and type in ^p. You should have:
What we’re doing here is finding 2 paragraph marks and replacing those 2 with just 1.
Click on Find Next to see how Word does this.
Of course, if you’d entered a space between the para codes, Word would look for
[para] [space] [para]
…and wouldn’t find any.
So, once you’re happy with what’s going on, press Replace All.
Do it again until you get ‘All done. We made 0 replacements’.
Note: sometimes Microsoft Word will get ‘stuck’ on a number remaining; if so, don’t worry about it.
When that happens I just press Ctrl+A (‘Replace All’ in this dialog window), a few times to makes sure it’s replaced all those that it will replace – and that’s good enough.
If it isn’t going to remove the remainder, then there’s a reason why (not that I know what it is), and I’m comfortable with that.
So that’s your document cleaned up.
If you’ve been following this thread of posts, you’ll know that I’m a firm believer and lover of Word styles—they’re critical in Word.
One of the problems for new users of Word is they don’t understand how styles work or their importance (click here to read that post), so do things manually or just incorrectly.
Tabs is one of those times.
Maybe it’s a design-fault (or something), but for me it’s another example of where Word hasn’t adapted/doesn’t help the book author, as if you add these to your document manually, then you have to get rid of them all for a Kindle book.
So, you spend all your time putting them in, and to put your book onto Kindle, you’ve got to take them all out – crazy huh?
But, if you’ve set your styles up correctly (here I go again, style-nazi! ;-), then there’s no need to do all of this.
Regardless, there’s a chance you need to do this, and in the same manner as the previous 2 examples, you can do this manually; or, you can let Word do the hard work and find the ones that our human eyes may miss.
To do this, just repeat the same steps as before, but instead of adding ^p (for paragraph mark), add ^t (for tab mark).
Then you’re good to go.
I’ll write more about Microsoft Word‘s find and replace in future posts, but this will get you started.
Always remember, save your work often; always save it before you do something new; and, always remember Crtl+Z is your next best friend!