The powerful Find and Replace function is one of the reasons editors still prefer using Word for editing documents. Despite the endless program crashes, and all the fails listed here, the power of wildcards and special characters (regular expressions) in Word just isn’t matched by Google Docs, Pages, or any of the myriad alternative programs our clients try to get us to use.
Yet anyone who earns a living using Word can tell you it lets them down in spectacular ways. Knowing some of the ways a Find and Replace effort will malfunction not only lets you be aware that Word may not have your back, but lets you avoid these problems too:
- Tracked Changes in a document can completely disorient Find and Replace (F&R) efforts. That means if you’ve changed capitalization, a dash or a space, Word says “I don’t see anything matching your search terms.” Even if the Find contents looks completely identical to what you see in “Final” view.
- Word can’t handle curly quotes in a search with wildcards turned on. It just, no. (See image.)
- Settings selected in Advanced Find (& Replace, too) stick, so the next search performed with the “simple Find” will carry those settings too. But you can’t reset the parameters without opening the Advanced interface again.
- Wildcards for number sequences makes a complete mess of the change if Track Changes is turned on. If dashes are involved in a range (and you’re, say, changing hyphens to dashes), it will even put all numbers on one side of the dash. So, if the wildcard is worth it, you might have to turn off TC to run it. Then you can either Compare Docs to track the changes or make note of them in the transmittal memo. (See image.)
- Maybe you’ve just forgotten to reset options like “whole words only” or “ignore case.” Also see #3.
- If you copy text from the document into the Find field, it may contain hidden Track Changes marks. That means Word will only find items that also contain those tracked changes. Retype the search string manually. See #1.
Got a gnarly Word problem? Submit your problem and we’ll try to answer it in the Q&A thread.
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