Replace Text with Filler – complete Step by Step

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Here’s the complete step-by-step  manual method of replacing text with filler or anonymous words in Microsoft Word

This is quite easy, the main thing is to be careful with the Find and Replace expressions.

It will work with any version of Word that has the ‘wildcards’ / Regex option which means Word 2003 or later for Windows (maybe earlier) plus Word 2016 and 2011 for Mac.

Here’s the full step-by-step:

Backup

Make a copy of the document you want to randomize.  Open the original, then File | Save As to save to a new name.

Make sure you’re working on the extra copy, not the original.  Don’t laugh, it happens to the best of us.

Replace dialog

Go to the Replace dialog box.  Press Ctrl + H  is the fastest way or press Ctrl + F to open the Navigation pane then choose Replace from the pull-down menu.

However you do it, you’ll end up here:

Initial Settings

Use Wildcards – must be ON.  This is vital.

Search – All   makes sure you search the whole document not just up/down from the current cursor location.

Make sure there’s nothing else in the Options under the Find what: except ‘Use Wildcards’.  The line under ‘Replace with’ should be empty.

Enter the find

Enter the first find expression.  Copy and paste into the Find What box.

([!a-zA-Z])[a-zA-Z]{2}([!a-zA-Z])

This searches for two letter words only.

There are NO spaces before, within or after the find expression.  Another important point because spaces will change what is searched for.

Enter the replace

The ‘Replace what:’ looks like this.

\1be\2

We’ve used ‘be’ but you can use any word of the same length.

It’s vital there’s no spaces between the \1 and \2  .  No spaces before or after.

Here’s the Find/Replace in large size:

Test

Always test before letting Word go through the whole document.  Happily, that’s easy because Word’s Replace is what us nerds call a non-modal dialog, meaning you can switch between the Replace dialog and the document just by clicking in each.

Move the Word cursor to the very start of the document.  This isn’t essential but it’s easier during testing.

Test the Replace by clicking the Find Next button to change the first found word.

This will move and select the first found word which will be shaded.

If that’s right, click Replace

Then check the replacement.

Once you’re happy that the replace is working correctly, click ‘Replace All’.  Double check the search scope is set to ‘All’.

Repeat for each length

You’ve done it once, now do it again for each word length up to whatever is needed.

  • Find what: Change the number in the curly brackets.
  • Replace: change the word

Use any words you like, here’s some to get you started that should be accepted by Word’s English language dictionaries.  I.e. no red squiggly lines.

  • a
  • be
  • sea
  • dead
  • ether
  • fights
  • generic
  • heavenly
  • indicator
  • janitorial
  • labyrinthian
  • manifestation
  • neighborliness
  • oceanographical
  • parliamentarian
  • quadruplications
  • reclassifications
  • spectrographically
  • transmogrifications
  • uncharacteristically

Numbers

Randomizing the digits is easier, just replace all digits with a single digit like  9 or 0.  This will leave all currency signs, thousand separators and decimals in place.

It only takes one Replace command.

Use Wildcards – must be ON.  This is vital.

Find:

Use this expression exactly:

[0-9]{1}

No spaces before, after or inside the expression.  It’s best to copy/paste the whole expression.

Replace:

Just the digit you want to use as filler, with no extra spaces.

9

Important Notes

  • UNDO Ctrl + Z will reverse the replace commands, one at a time.
  • The formatting may change a little because words take up different lengths. Letters vary in width so the letter ‘i’ take up less space than ‘w’.
  • There’s no distinction between upper and lower case. Some more complex Regex might be able to parse out the first letter of a word, figure out if it was Upper case and ensure the replacement had the same case.  But we’re trying to avoid that level of complexity.
  • It will detect ‘words’ or names with a mix of letter and digits/symbols.
  • Email addresses and domain names are randomized with the period/dots and @ symbol retained.
  • Graphics, charts, SmartArt etc are NOT changed. If they have confidential information, you’ll have to alter them manually.
  • Expect some red and blue squiggles to appear, that’s normal. Word will warn you about repeated words and ungrammatical phrases.
  • Smart people can still glean some information from the randomized document. For example, while digits have been replaced, the rough size of the original value is still visible (thousands, millions etc.)

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