The Replace function in Office - Part 1

We look at the basics of replacing text, followed by more specifics such as replacing formatting and special characters such as paragraph marks.

By Michael Barden

In the last issues of Office for Mere Mortals (part 1 and part 2) we looked at how to search within a document in the various Office programs. There is a lot of hidden power accompanying the relatively simple process of finding text within a document.

In this and the next issue we’ll look at Replace features in Office.

For starters we’ll look at the basics of replacing text, followed by more specifics such as replacing formatting and special characters such as paragraph marks.


Accessing the Replace dialog in can be achieved in 2 uniform ways across the Microsoft Office suite.

The keyboard shortcut for ‘finding’ in Microsoft Word is the recognizable Ctrl-F, whereas the keyboard shortcut for ‘replacing’ is a somewhat less recognizable Ctrl-H.

Both of these keyboard shortcuts actually bring up the same dialog box, but with the appropriate tab selected on the dialog – either Find or Replace. Replace is also accessible under the ‘Edit’ menu, as is Find.

Once the Replace dialog box is open, the process of replacing a word or a phrase is just a slight extension to the process of finding a word or phrase.

Firstly, enter the text you want to replace into the ‘Find what’ text box. Next, enter the replacement text into the ‘Replace with’ text box.

There are two replacement options. The first option is to click the ‘Find Next’ button and Word will jump to the next instance of the text in the document. The found text should appear on the computer screen so that you can see both the selection and the Replace dialog, but sometimes you might have to move the dialog a bit. If you want to replace the found text, click on the ‘Replace’ button in order to manually replace the occurrence of the search term.

This option is useful if you want to make sure that the Find is locating what you intended or in situations where you don’t always want to replace the found text.

The second option is simply clicking the ‘Replace All’ button to automatically replace each occurrence of the search term within the document. This option is faster than the first, whereas the first is a much safer option than the second.

It’s best to save your documents before doing a Save All because you’re making a lot of changes at one time.

Tip: A common trick is to combine both methods. You manually choose Replace for the first few ‘hits’ and once you’re assured that the Find/Replace combo is working the way you intend, click Replace All to complete the rest.


For some time in Word you’ve not been locked into the open Find or Replace dialog, that is, you can edit the document with the dialog box open. That’s unusual because most Office dialog boxes are what the boffins call ‘modal’ and you have to close that dialog to do anything else in that application.

But with the Find / Replace dialog you can jump between the dialog and the document. This gives you the powerful option to find text, then manually change it before clicking on Find Next to jump to the next instance of the search term.

Or use the same feature with Replace, click on Replace if you want to do a normal replace or manually edit the text if the change is more complicated. I often do this when the sentence needs to be altered to fit the replaced term.


In a recent Office for Mere Mortals , we discussed the steps that are needed in “finding formatting”. Searching for instances of a particular font, font size or font style is simply a matter of opening up the find dialog box, clicking the ‘More’ button to display a number of extra options, and then choosing the appropriate selection from the ‘formatting’ drop-down list, which includes font, paragraph, tabs and style to name a few.

Naturally in this issue, we will look at “replacing formatting”, and there are two distinctive and equally useful methods to do this.

The first method is simply an extension of the process described above and also makes use of the ‘formatting’ drop-down list. For example, if you wish to replace all of the instances of a particular word in the document with a colored version of itself, the first step is to simply type the word you want to color into the ‘Find what’ text box.

The next step is to type the same word into the ‘Replace with’ box and click on the ‘formatting’ button to bring up a drop-down list. From this list, select ‘Font’ and from the resulting dialog box, select the desired replacement color for the replacement text. Then close the dialog, and click the ‘Find Next’, ‘Replace’ or ‘Replace All’ buttons depending on your needs.

You’re not limited to finding a particular word or phrase combined with formatting options – you can leave the ‘Find What’ blank and only choose formatting attributes. For example, leaving Find What blank and choosing the Underline formatting will find all text that is underlined. Use this to replace unwanted formatting – for example replacing all underlining with bold or italics instead.

Styles can be searched and replaced too. You can search for particular formatting and replace it with a style instead. This can help if you’re converting a document into a more structured doc with styles instead of ad-hoc formatting.


Another Replace option does not even involve the Replace dialog at all, and can be handled purely and simply with the find dialog (Ctrl-F). Firstly, type the search term into the ‘Find what’ text box and select the check-box entitled ‘Highlight all items found in’. From the resulting drop-down list, select the part of the document to be searched – Main Document is the default, but if you have added other elements to the document, such as headers or footers, they will be listed as well.

Clicking on the ‘Find All’ button will then highlight all corresponding matches in the search area, making it easy to see. Now ‘Close’ the find dialog box. Be careful at this point because clicking anywhere on the document will remove the highlighting from the text and you’ll have to do the Find again – sorry to all of our click-happy readers.

Once all the text that you want is highlighted you can then click buttons on the Formatting toolbar to make changes. For example, select a different font color, make all of the matches to the search term bold or italic, or even change the font or font-style. Since all of the search-terms are highlighted, the changes to the formatting will be reflected in EACH of these cases. When you are finished, simply deselect the highlighting by clicking anywhere on the document.

In the next issue we’ll look at replacing special characters and symbols plus some tricks specially for Frontpage.