More Word Find / Search tricks

Office for Mere Mortals helps people around the world get more from Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Delivered once a week. free.


Following on from our introduction ‘Find in Word’ here’s some Word Find tricks that you might find useful.

Select and Find

If you select some text in a document then use the Ctrl + F shortcut, Word will find other instances of the selection in the current document.

Find blank lines

Finding and removing blank lines is a common task, especially after importing files from another format.

Firstly you need to figure out what type of blank lines they are.  There are lines created by paragraph marks or by Line Feed (called Manual Line Break in Word).

Turn on ‘Show All’ to see the underlying formatting of the document.

Now look at a document to see what’s creating new lines

The two line breaks looks like this:

Imported text will often create a blank line by having two manual line breaks in a row, as in the example above.

To make twin paragraph mark or line breaks into a single line search for two manual line breaks using the ^| code.

To find twin paragraph marks using ^p twice:

Use replace to change twin line breaks to a paragraph mark or nothing (to remove unwanted line breaks).

Finding Unicode and other Insert | Symbol characters.

Microsoft did have a fast way to find Unicode or special characters.  ^unnnn would find a Unicode character according to its Hex value, for example ^u03B8 would find the Greek Theta symbol.

That feature seems to have been removed from Word 2007 onwards.  The ^u code doesn’t give an error but we can’t get any search to work.  You’d have to wonder why such a feature was removed.

The workaround is to select the character in a document (using the Alt + X trick if necessary) then paste it into the Find field for a search.

Wildcards

The ‘Use Wildcards’ option gives you more options for varied searches.  Choose ‘Use Wildcards’ from the Advanced Find menu then look at the Special button again … it’s changed to show the wildcard options.

Some of the options may be familiar:

?   any character in that position.   b?g will find big, bag, bug, beg and bog, in anything with a single character between a b and g.

*  any set of characters in that place.   r*n finds  ran, roon, rattan etc.

[ ] will find the characters listed inside the brackets.  b[ae]g  finds bag or beg but not bug.

A hyphen indicates a range of characters in alphabetical order.  [b-d]at finds bat and cat but not fat.

{} looks for the preceding character a certain number of times.

s{2} will find   session but not descent.

Add a comma after the number to find that number of occurrences or more.  s{2,} will find  ss, sss, ssss and so on.

8{2,5} will find the character 8 if it occurs between 2 and 5 times in a row eg, 7889 or 78889 but not 789 or 788888889.

There are other wildcard options.

Where are Regular Expressions?

The Wildcards option has been in Word for a long time but it’s really not enough in the 21st Century.   There’s a much more powerful system called Regular Expressions (RegEx) that should be available in Microsoft Office.

Sure, Regex is a lot more complicated, but there’s also a lot more help and advice (even web pages to test Regex) available than for the limited Office ‘wildcards’.

The real frustration is that MS Office already has Regular Expressions.  They’ve been available in VBA for many years but Microsoft has chosen not to make the same power available in the Find / Replace dialog boxes. Grrrr, very annoying.

Got a favorite Find trick?

Tell us your favorite tricks for finding within Office documents and we’ll share them with other Office users.


Want More?

Office Watch has the latest news and tips about Microsoft Office. Independent since 1996. Delivered once a week.