Solving Hard Problems:
Software, Part III

More advanced search and replace techniques for MS-Word

After a couple of weeks off for seasonal holiday, let’s round out the year with another example of advanced formatting searches. What would you do if you needed to change every occurrence of movement or direction (separate from content or dialog) in a 300 page manual, stageplay, etc.?

In an earlier post, I covered an example of advanced search & replace in MS-Word. Here’s another: backslash & highlight can greatly leverage your document editing!

When writing a complex document, it really helps to map it out beforehand, sort of like Phileas Fogg, knowing there will be changes, even while you do not know what they will be.

In this case, thankfully, the document author had thought ahead to put all movement and direction within brackets. To search for a bracket in Word, you must use the “reverse virgule”, or “reverse solidus,” more commonly known as the backslash. We’ll treat this like a cooking show and present the near-finished product as we describe how to get there:

Word find dialog, backslash bracket character for "literal" to search for bracket itself


The Finding

In the Find dialog (we’re not replacing), note that we have “escaped” the open and close brackets with the backslash, to force the search function to treat them as “literals” rather than as wildcard operators. Now let’s look at the find dialog in detail:

Find dialog with backslash escaped brackets, highlight main document and use wildcards checked


& The Replacing

If you merely repeat the search criteria in the replace box, you’ll get the inane error stating “The replace with text contains a group number which is out of range” so dear reader, you must use the arcane and byzantine ^& to copy what is in the “find” bar into the “replace with” bar. With that you’ll find it ever so willing to do your search & replace bidding.

Use the caret-Ampersand in teh replace bar to get the feature to work


And thus, we close the year with a flourish!

So again, Passepartout, we have shown that even such perfidiously truculent products as Microsoft Office can be useful with a little creative diligence.

That’s all for this year! Enjoy all twelve days of Christmas and we’ll continue this series in 2012!

Carpe Diem,


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