Thursday, July 3

Seek and Destroy: Using MS Word’s “Find and Replace” to Save Your Sanity

By Dario Ciriello

Part of the Indie Authors Series


You know the problem: you have a story or novel with a lot of fancy formatting in it, and when it comes to prepping it for print or digital publication, you find that scores, even hundreds, of items will need reformatting. A novel, perhaps, which you’d written for submission to agents and publishers following the old industry protocol of underlining words to indicate italics; or—as has happened to me more than once—a long ms. in which some of the quotes are curly and others straight. You reach for the bottle...

Fortunately, help is at hand. Using MS Word’s Find and Replace feature in conjunction with nonprinting character codes, you can quickly and easily carry out global fixes on just about any formatting problem you’re likely to face.


Understanding Nonprinting Characters (aka Special Characters)


Spaces, tabs, paragraph marks, and breaks—also known as nonprinting characters—are normally invisible in a document. To make them visible on the screen, simply click the Pilcrow (¶) button on Word’s Home screen paragraph group (location will vary according to your version of Word: to find it, enter “Show or hide formatting marks” in the Help menu search box).

When you do this, you’ll immediately see a number of nonprinting characters appear in your document. These will include:


fig. 1 - Basic nonprinting characters in MS Word
(source: http://www.thedoctools.com/index.php?show=wt_formatting_marks)

Each of these nonprinting characters has a simple code which you can use in combination with Find and Replace to perform magic. These codes are:


fig, 2 - Codes for special characters
(source: http://makeofficework.com/special_characters.htm)

You’ll also need the following codes:
  • Tab= ^t
  • Paragraph break= ^p

Finally, we should add page breaks (code= ^12), which look like this:


fig 2a - page break

Major Format Changes Using Codes with Search and Replace


The basic operation is the same in each case:
  • Open Find and Replace box (binocular symbol or Find/Replace buttons)
  • Enter Character in Find field (also may use Format or Special buttons)
  • Enter character in Replace field
  • Replace All

NOTE: Make a copy of your working doc file and save it under under a new name before beginning, just in case. Don’t take chances!

Let’s start with something simple. There are pagebreaks in your doc, and you want to get rid of them all. Open the Find/Replace box and enter the code for pagebreak, which is ^12, in the Find field; leave the Replace field blank. It looks like this:


fig 3 – Find page break, replace with nothing

Now click Replace All. Bang! they’re gone, all of them—it’s that simple. But, oh, you wanted to replace those page breaks with something to stop text getting scrunched up? Piece of cake. Just enter a paragraph return (^p) in the Replace field instead of nothing.

Quotes and Italics and Dashes, Oh My!


Depending on your Word settings and the font you’re using, you may find your doc has a lot of double hyphens for em-dashes. To convert these easily, simply enter two hyphens in the Find field and the code for em-dash (^+) in the Replace field. Hit Replace All, and it’s done.

Quotes are also no problem. Sometimes—especially if you switch computers—you’ll find that a document has a mix of both straight and curly (aka “smart”) quotes. Again, it’s a simple fix.
  • Go into Find/Replace
  • Click the More button
  • Check the Use Wildcards box
  • Put a quotation mark into the Find box, and then put one into the Replace box as well
  • Click Replace All

NOTE: Word will always REVERSE a closing quote immediately following an em-dash! You can root these out by typing ^+" (code for em-dash followed by quotation mark) in the Find box and then converting them manually like this: delete the reversed quotation mark, type any letter in its place (right after the em-dash), type in the closing quote, and delete the letter you entered. Sneaky, huh?)

TIP: Explore the “Special” menu at bottom of the “More” dropdown as well—it’ll insert codes for various characters for you.

fig 4 – the Special menu

One of the most frequent operations for me is converting hundreds of underlined words from someone’s novel to italics. The process is easy:
  • In Find and Replace, click the More button to bring up more options
  • Click in the Find box
  • Click on the Format button at bottom
  • Choose Font
  • In the Underline Style dropdown menu, choose the thin single line
  • Click OK
  • Under the Find field, you’ll see, “Format: Underline”
  • Click in the Replace box
  • Click on the Format button, and again choose Font
  • From the Underline Style dropdown, choose “None”
  • In the Font Style list, choose “Italic”
  • Click “OK”
  • Under the Replace field, you’ll now see, “Format: Font: Italic, No underline”
  • Click the Replace All button
  • All the underlined words should now be italicized, with no underline!

fig 5 – using the Format menu

NOTE: After using items from the Format menu, you’ll need to click in each field (Find and Replace) and hit the “No Formatting button at bottom to clear formatting instructions, or you’ll have trouble later.

Conclusion


Now that you’ve got the basics, you can easily work out stratagems to use the codes, the Format, and the Special fields in Word’s Find/Replace tool to address other issues. One good idea is to type up a practice doc with lots of problems and just experiment. Have fun!

Oh, a final word of warning: if you’re a Facebook user, you’re probably in the habit of using manual line breaks (SHIFT+ENTER) after paragraphs—it’ll show up as a hooked, left-facing arrow per fig 1 above. These things are devils, but you can exorcise them with their secret name:

^l

(Up arrow l, as in Larry, and replace with ^p (paragraph mark). If you find that you can't center, italicize, or otherwise reformat any individual line without affecting a whole block of text, the culprit will be a manual line break. Show them no mercy!)
Did these notes help you? Have you run into these or other, perhaps weirder formatting problems? Do tell!

Further Resources:
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/find-and-replace-text-or-other-items-HA001230392.aspx
http://word.mvps.org/FAQs/General/FindingSpecialCharacters.htm
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/290938
http://makeofficework.com/special_characters.htm

Dario Ciriello is the founder and editor of Panverse Publishing, a small press with a mission to break the rigid barriers of category and genre and put story first. His Panverse Anthology authors have been nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards, and the winner of the 2011 Sideways Award for Alternate History. On the novel front, his authors include T.L. Morganfield, Bonnie Randall, Doug Sharp, and Don D'Ammassa. His own work includes Sutherland's Rules, and the travel memoir Aegean Dream. Panverse is currently open for submissions.

Website | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound 

21 comments:

  1. That is a lifesaver. I never realized you could search for formatting problems that way. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank, Southpaw! Yeah, I was driven to experimenting by despair in the first place LOL As a one-man indie publisher, I have to deal with formatting novel-length work all the time. Without these tricks, I'd be dead!

      Best
      Dario

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  2. Great tips! I've tried changing quotes and smart quotes, but didn't know how it worked. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Deb :) Although one can set "Autocorrect as you type" options to generate new smart quotes as you go, this is the best (and only) fix for existing quote problems. In an ms. with maybe a thousand or more lines of dialogue, fixing them one by one is... horrible. LOL.

      Best,
      Dario

      Delete
  3. OMG, this is invaluable! Thanks so much for summing this up so clearly.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You're so welcome, Angelica. I'm so glad to be able to help, because otherwise it's reach for the vodka bottle in the desk drawer, haha! I couldn't cover every eventuality, but armed with this knowledge, you can go on to figure out "Seek and Destroy" fixes for many issues. Don't be afraid to experiment :)

    Best,
    Dario

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderful post! Thank you! I have all of these tips - on twice as many postits in 14 different places. As I've encountered and learned, have jotted the clues down - so great to have them all in one place with clear guidance.

    Yay!!

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    Replies
    1. LOL! I know what you mean, Maria--the postits can get totally out of hand (though they do have a certain decorative value :) Glad you found this post helpful!

      Best,
      Dario

      Delete
  6. You can do all this in Mac Pages, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that sidebar, Marilynn--I have zero experience of Macs, so that's very helpful info :D

      Best,
      Dario

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  7. Dario Ciriello great tips thank you! I can now go back to drinking/writing...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL Harry!! Yup, that's the attitude ;-)

      Best,
      Dario

      Delete
  8. These are awesome tips for helping the formatting process along. We often use Find and Replace for correcting words but it is good to know that this can be used to root out those pesky things that can make formatting such a brain-wrecker :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Angela, thank you so much--and nice to see you here :) I'm glad this might be helpful to you... and, yeah--"brainwrecker" is dead on. Trying to fix some of these silly things can just melt one's brain. LOL

      Best
      Dario

      Delete
  9. Heck, I never thought of doing this! I've only used find/replace for words. I didn't realize I could use it for formatting changes. Thanks so much for these tips. I use Apple Pages, but there are a lot of similarities between the two programs.

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    Replies
    1. Thank YOU, Julie! It took me a while to work it out myself... but I'm a compulsive menu-poker and problem-solver. It does seem that MS and Apple software (and Scrivener too?) seem to be increasingly aligned. Terrific that these tricks are transferable!

      Best,
      Dario

      Delete
  10. Thanks, Dario. Very helpful.

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  11. You're so welcome, ChiTrader--I'm glad to have the opportunity to share these tips!

    Best,
    Dario

    ReplyDelete
  12. And here I thought the “typing a quote following an em-dash yields an open quote instead of a close quote” was a Mac only problem! (My characters get interrupted a lot, LOL.) I find that in Scrivener, typing the quote mark, then backing up a space and adding the two dashes (converted then to an em-dash) does that trick.
    But for any readers using Open Office: OO uses regular expressions for seek and destroy, and just as an example, the ^p has no equivalent that I can find. Otherwise, the techniques are similar to Word. But I’d make a strong recommendation for readers to look at Scrivener; it has considerable utility and flexibility (for example, a menu command to replace straight quotes with smart quotes—and reverse, if that’s what you need!
    Thanks for the excellent run-down.

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  13. Tony, thanks so much for your kind words, and for the insights into Open Office and Scrivener. Just that one menu command you mention is great--I can't imagine why Word doesn't have these single-command options... you can set Autocorrect as You Type for smart quotes and to convert double hyphens to em-dashes, but I guess it never occurred to them that the ability to do a global with a single command would actually be more useful than 75% of the truly esoteric commands they have. LOL. And I know what you mean about characters being interrupted all the time, too! ;-)

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    Replies
    1. Clarification: Autocorrect as you type will only convert characters typed *after* enabling the menu option, not retroactively, which is what Search and Destroy does.

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