The Find function in Office - Part 1

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How to search for text within a document using the “Find” function in Word, Outlook, Frontpage and Excel.

In this issue we’ll look at how to search within a document in the various Office programs. It works in similar ways but not exactly the same in each program.

You might think it’s as simple as typing in a word and Office will find it but, as usual, there’s a lot more power hidden away.

Next issue we’ll look at the complement of searching and that’s replacing.

We’re talking about the Find function within Office programs to locate text in the open documents. Searching for text across all your documents is a whole different topic that we’ve covered in our popular how-to book the Desktop Search Handbook

First we’ll look at find in Word, because that has all the key features that are available across the Office programs. Then we’ll note some of the differences in Excel, Frontpage and Outlook.


Hit Ctrl+F to bring up the Find dialog box. Type in a word or phrase, click OK and Word will find that string of text. Pretty simple but there’s a lot more to it.

For starters, the basic find is simpler than any web search you’re used to. There are none of the logical options (AND is assumed but there’s no OR nor NEAR). Strings are handled differently too. In web searches you use double-quotes to define a set of words eg “white wash” with quotes will find those two words in order. In Office the double quotes are assumed and if you type them in they are included in the search (ie Office will look for the double quote characters). If you’ve used Office for years that will seem obvious, but people who’ve become used to web searches often believe all search systems work the same way.


The direction of the find also matters. Office will start the Find where you are located in the document. If you start a Find on page 5 of a document it’ll start there and move to the end of the document, then it will offer to continue to find at the beginning until it reaches page 5 again. Depending on the version of Office, you can alter the search direction to Up or Down. If there’s an All option it means the entire document will be searched but still from the current point in the document (‘All’ doesn’t force a find from the beginning).

The only way to force a search from the start of the document, is to be at the start before you start the search.


Sometimes you want to find a character that you can’t type into the Find box – the most common ones are the paragraph mark (the reverse P) and line break (the arrow pointing down and left). There’s also em-dash, en-dash and many others.

All these are entered by entering the carat symbol plus a character. For example the paragraph mark is ^p tab is ^t em-dash is ^+ and eb-dash is ^= . In case you’re wondering to find the carat mark itself enter ^^ .

There are various types of white-space in documents; the space, tab, non-breaking space etc. To find any of these in one search use ^w

With field codes displayed on the screen you can search within field codes too. The opening field code brace is found with ^19 and the closing brace ^21

The full list of codes is in your help file (it’s developed over the versions of Office) or you can enter some codes from the ‘Special’ pull down list in the Find dialog box. Watch for some options that only work when Finding and others only for Replacing.


If you check out the list of codes carefully (and depending on your version of Office) you’ll find some intriguing options.

  • Want to find any picture in a document use: ^1 (digit one)
  • Footnotes: ^f
  • Endnotes: ^e
  • Comments: ^a
  • Fields: ^d


Yes, you can search for particular formatting in a document – search for instances of a particular font, font size, font style, style or many other things.

For example if you think there might be some wrong formatting in a document you could search for font Comic Sans to see if it’s been used anywhere. You can look for any characters of a particular size (10pt, 12pt etc).

All these are chosen from the formatting pull down list in the Find dialog. On occasion you’ll see some clever options in those dialogs.

As well as searching for characters that are bold or italic there are also the opposites available ‘Not Bold’ and ‘Not Italic’.

You can combine formatting searches with any other type of search. For example, you might want to make sure that a product or company name is always in italics. To do that Find the product name and choose the formatting option ‘Not Italic’.


Frontpage, the web page editor has some additional search options depending on which version of Office you have.

Frontpage can search (and replace) across more than one web page or all the pages in a web site.

You can search just the displayed text in a document or choose ‘source code’ to check the underlying HTML.

Best of all, Frontpage 2003 offers regular expressions. This is a powerful and advanced search and replace tool used and beloved of geeks around the world.


You can search for text in Outlook folders but it is soooo slow. Anything but a small search of a small folder will make you wait and wait.

The Find facility in Outlook is accessed by the Ctrl+E keyboard shortcut (or the find button on the toolbar). This is important to note because all of the other Office programs seem to use Ctrl+F as the standard.

The Find facility opens up in a small horizontal toolbar just below the toolbar towards the top of the window. From the default settings, running a search for a word or key phrase will search all the text within your Inbox. Clicking on the ‘Search In’ button will bring down a drop-down list where you can refine which folders are searched in. The options include all mail, sent mail or received mail. The ‘Choose Folders…’ option brings up a dialog box where you can select specific folders within your mailbox should you wish to refine your search.

Watch the ‘Options’ button on the right-hand side of the toolbar. Clicking this will bring up a drop-down list of 3 choices. The first option is selected by default and ensures that all text within a message is searched. De-selecting this option will speed up your search dramatically, but will only have the program search through the message’s ‘Subject’ header, ‘From’ address and ‘To’ address. Basically, everything except the body of the text.

After conducting a search, the next option in the search options drop-down list becomes active. This allows you to ‘Save Search as Search Folder’ with a name you supply. ‘Search Folders’ are only available in Outlook 2003, and can be accessed in its own subsection under ‘All Mail Folders’. Creating a search folder will automatically place a marker to all messages that satisfy a certain pre-defined search criteria. This is useful for a commonly-used search term, as the list is updated dynamically.

The final option is the ‘Advanced Find’ tool, which as the name suggests allows for a much more customizable searching experience within Outlook.

Better options like Google Desktop or the Outlook specific Lookout that work across all versions of Outlook. Details in the Desktop Search Handbook.


Searching in Excel is a very intuitive process, and can be accessed by the familiar Ctrl-F or through the menu via Edit | Find.

By clicking the ‘Options’ button in the resulting dialog, you are able to access more advanced searching options that include searching in formulas or values. You can even search via the type of formatting that has been applied to a cell in the spreadsheet by clicking on the ‘Format’ button and selecting the desired search criteria from there.


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