Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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: Replacing Spaces in Part Numbers with Dashes.

Replacing Spaces in Part Numbers with Dashes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 2, 2020)

Terry has a document that contains a lot of numeric data. Often, the document has part numbers with spaces in them, such as "422 891A." Terry needs a way to search through the document and find any "digit-space-digit" sequence and replace it with "digit-dash-digit." For instance, "422 891A" would be changed to "422-891A." Terry wonders if there is a way to do this with Find and Replace.

This type of find-and-replace operation can be done quite easily by using the wildcard searching built into Word. Here's the quick version:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to display the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click on the More button if it is available.
  3. Select the Use Wildcards check box.
  4. In the Find What box enter "([0-9]) ([0-9])", without the quote marks and with a single space in the middle.
  5. In the Replace With box enter "\1-\2", again without the quote marks.
  6. Click on the Replace All button.

That's it. When the Use Wildcards check box is selected (in step 3), Word allows you to use patterns in the search. In this case, each instance of [0-9] means "match any single digit in the range of 0 through 9." The parentheses around each instance is for grouping purposes that allows what is found within that group to be referenced in the Replace With box. So, essentially, the Find What pattern matches any single digit followed by a space followed by any single digit.

What is then entered in the Replace With box is a set of references to what was found. The \1 and \2 indicators mean "what was found in the first set of parentheses and what was found in the second set of parentheses." So, this means "replace the first digit with itself, followed by a dash, then replace the second digit with itself."

Of course, you may need to get even more specific in the pattern you search for, if it is possible that the digit-space-digit pattern may appear in other places in the document and you don't want them affected. In that case, perhaps your part-number pattern consists of three digits followed by a space and then three more digits and then a single alphabetic character, as shown in the example provided at the first of this tip. If that is the case, then you can search for the following in step 4:

([0-9]{3}) ([0-9]{3})([A-Z])

In this case, you'll immediately note the addition of two instances of {3}. These characters are an indicator that there needs to be three of whatever immediately precedes the indicator. Thus, there needs to be three digits, each of 0 through 9. Also, the [A-Z] characters matches a single capital letter in the range of A through Z.

Also note that there are three sets of parentheses in this Find What pattern. These then can be referenced in the Replace With box (step 5), as follows:

\1-\2\3

Since this search is more specific, there is very little chance that you will replace spaces with dashes where you didn't mean to do a replacement.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (10835) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Replacing Spaces in Part Numbers with Dashes.

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. ...

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