Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Ordering Search and Replace.

Ordering Search and Replace

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 12, 2014)

3

Pattern matching provides you with some very powerful capabilities for searching and replacing text. Word allows you to use parentheses within your search specification to increase the power of your statements even more. The parentheses allow you to specify groupings for your searches or to specify the order in which the search specification should be evaluated.

The grouping issue is the most common and powerful use of the parentheses. As an example, let's say that you had a document that consisted of a part number followed by a tab followed by a description. The part number begins with PN- followed by a three-character code that has A through E as the first character followed by a value between 00 and 99. For instance, a part number could be PN-B34 or PN-A12. The description could be any length, but is always followed by a paragraph mark.

If you wanted to change your document so that you had the part description followed by the part number within parentheses, you could do so with pattern matching. For your search specification (Find What) you would use (PN\-[A-E][0-9]{2})(^t)(*)(^13). This may look odd, but it matches the way your document now is put together. Notice the use of the parentheses to denote the three separate parts: the part number, the tabs, and the description.

For the replacement specification (Replace With), you would use \3 (\1)^13. This means "take the third grouping from the search specification (the description), follow it by a space, a left parenthesis, the first grouping from the search specification (the part number), and finish off with a paragraph mark.

As another example, let's assume that you have a document with quite a few dates that use the format 06/11/56 (June 11, 1956) and that you want to make sure that all the dates use four-digit years (1956 as opposed to 56). You can do so by searching for ([0-3][0-9]/[01][0-9]/)([0-2][0-9]) and replacing it with \119\2. In the example, the \1 is 06/11/ in the string that is found, and this is transferred to the replacement string as it is. This is then followed by 19 (so it is now 06/11/19) and then the last two digits of what was found, so the result is 06/11/1956.

Remember that to take advantage of the pattern matching capabilities of Word, you just need to make sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected on either the Find or Replace tabs of the Find and Replace dialog box.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (9595) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Ordering Search and Replace.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Controlling Footnote Placement

Footnotes are normally placed at the bottom of the page on which the footnote is referenced. However, Word provides some ...

Discover More

Speeding Up Document Display

Are your documents displaying too slowly? You can configure Word so that it is as quick as possible on displaying by using ...

Discover More

Quickly Copying Styles

You can easily use regular editing techniques to copy styles from one document to another. Here's how to make quick work of ...

Discover More

Learning Made Easy! Quickly teach yourself how to format, publish, and share your content using Word 2013. With Step by Step, you set the pace, building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them! Check out Microsoft Word 2013 Step by Step today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Adding an Ellipsis to the Beginning of Some Paragraphs

The Find and Replace feature of Word is very powerful. You can even use it to add a unique character to the beginning of ...

Discover More

Searching for Characters

When using pattern matching in a search, you can specify individual characters or ranges of characters you want matched in ...

Discover More

Replacing Two Tabs with a Space in Limited Situations

The Find and Replace feature of Word is very powerful, allowing you to finely target exactly what you want to search. This ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 8Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 5 + 0?

2014-07-14 13:11:45

Malcolm

In the fourth paragraph, "a right parenthesis[,]" should be inserted before the last item of the list.

These comments underscore how tricky the wildcard search-and-replace function is. It's extremely powerful, extremely useful, but (for me) it always requires careful testing.


2014-07-14 07:59:03

Larry

In the 5th paragraph, shouldn't the search string be
([01][0-9]/[0-3][0-9]/)([0-2][0-9]), not
([0-3][0-9]/[01][0-9]/)([0-2][0-9])?


2014-07-14 06:59:01

Balazs Visy

A remark: ([0-3][0-9]/[01][0-9]/)([0-2][0-9]) will not match to 06/11/56 as it only allows 0..2 at the ten-year position. Assume ([0-3][0-9]/[01][0-9]/)([0-9][0-9]) would be the more general search term.
A valuable post - never knew about the replacing capabilities!


This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.