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
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
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.
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:
(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!)
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.
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