Track Changes, the Enemy of Wildcards

Today’s tip comes from page 13 of the 2nd edition of Editing in Word:

Turn off Track Changes when using wildcards in a find and replace.

What Are Wildcards?

Wildcards are the elements that tell Word to do things like:

  • search for a range of numbers — example: [0-9],
  • or to treat search text as chunks of content — example \1 and \2.
book cover cropped to banner size

Find out more in the Wildcard section of the book, starting on page 49 of the 2nd edition.

The Track Changes Snafu

With Track Changes turned on, wildcard find and replace (F&R) will mess up the results in a variety of creative ways. The image below gives one common example.

With TC turned on, this F&R using wildcards gives us 19722–020 instead of 1972–2020.

The Solutions

Turn Track Changes off to make a change using wildcards. Leave a comment explaining that the change was made silently (without tracking) or mention that in your transmittal memo.

If the changes simply must be tracked, use the Compare Docs function after the F&R to provide the markup (you could even label those changes as having been made “by global F&R”).

Or, more laboriously: include only highlighting or font colour change in the replace field and then find that formatting to make the changes manually with tracking turned on. It’s a laborious way to make sure you don’t miss any instances that need changing.

book cover cropped to banner size

Learn more in the Macros section of the book, starting on page 75 of the 2nd edition. For Compare Docs guidance, look on page 16.



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