Master these Microsoft Word Find and Replace tricks

Learn how to use Word's Find and Replace feature to apply formatting and document properties.


Word's Find and Replace feature isn't just for changing existing text — it's also a powerful and flexible tool. But sometimes the best tricks aren't obvious. Unless someone shows you what's under the hood, you might overlook the possibilities.

For instance, you might not realize that Find and Replace can apply formatting or set document properties; I'll show you how to use this feature to do both. The downloadable demo files (.doc and .docx) include the Word document used in this article.

Apply formats

In most documents, you manually apply formatting that's not included with the styles you use. However, if you've worked with a long, complex document, you know that's tedious and that you might miss a few instances of the string. In these cases, let Find and Replace do the work for you.

1. To access Find & Replace, click Replace in the Editing group on the Home tab or press [Ctrl]+h.

2. In the resulting dialog, click inside the Find What field. If there's an existing string, press Delete.

3. Click More and then click No Formatting. This step isn't always necessary, but this feature remembers what you did the last time you used it (until you close Word). It's a good idea to clear previous formatting settings, just in case. If there's no formatting to clear, Word dims the button.

4. Enter the text you want to format in the Find What field. I'll enter Word for this example.

5. Click inside the Replace With field (don't skip this step or it won't work). Press Delete to remove an existing string (if any).

6. Repeat step 3 if necessary to clear any previously set formatting.

7. From the Format dropdown, choose Font (Figure A).

Figure A



8. In the resulting dialog, choose the formats you want to apply to the search string. I'll choose bold for this example. If you can find it, you can apply it (you're not limited to just one format).

9. Click OK when you've applied all the formats you want. Notice that Word displays the selected formats below the Replace With field (Figure B).

Figure B


10. Click Replace All or Find Next, depending on your needs. I'll click Replace All. Dismiss the informational prompt by clicking OK.

11. Click Close.

Figure C


Now imagine updating dozens or perhaps hundreds of instances of the same string, and you can see this feature's worth (Figure C). Or you can replace the string with a different string and apply formatting at the same time. You can specify that the feature find only those occurrences of a string that have a specific format by choosing those formats in the Find What field. In addition, you could find all occurrences of a style and change one or more formats within that style. (You'll be modifying only the text, not the actual style.) When choosing an option from the Format dropdown (step 7), choose Style instead of Font. Are you beginning to see the possibilities?

Skip text during spell check

You can also use Find and Replace to skip strings during routine spell checking. Now, you might wonder why you'd want to, but imagine working with scientific terms, botanical names, mathematical terms, code, or even just unusual names and having Word stop at each instance because the terms or names aren't in the dictionary. It's annoying!

You can edit the dictionary by adding these terms and names, which is a simple solution if you're running into the same terms and names in multiple documents. If the occurrence of an odd term or name is unique to your work, you might not want to add it to the dictionary. For instance, suppose you want to skip TEH in a single document — besides being a typographical error for "the," it's also an acronym for Toxicology and Environmental Health. If you add teh to the dictionary for one document, you'll miss actual typos in future documents. Okay, the example's a bit contrived, but I know from my mail that users actually run into these types of situations.

Find and Replace can help you reduce your spell check angst when seemingly misspelled words are intentional and should remain as is. Use Find and Replace to set (and later unset) the Do Not Check Spelling Or Grammar property for each instance of that particular string.

1. To access Find & Replace, click Replace in the Editing group on the Home tab or press [Ctrl]+h.

2. In the resulting dialog, click inside the Find What field and remove any previous string.

3. Click the More button if necessary and click No Formatting to clear any previous formatting.

4. Enter the text you want to format in the Find What field. I'll enter teh for this example.

5. While the Find What field is still active, choose Language from the Format dropdown.

6. In the resulting dialog, uncheck the Do Not Check Spelling Or Grammar option (Figure D). You're looking for occurrences of this string that do not have this property set. You might have to click this checkbox twice to set it properly.

Figure D


7. Click OK.

8. Click inside the Replace With field.

9. Delete any previous string and clear previous formatting if necessary.

10. From the Format dropdown, choose Language.

11. In the resulting dialog, check the Do Not Check Spelling Or Grammar option. You want Word to skip this word during spell check.

12. Click OK.

13. Click Replace All or Find Next, depending on your needs. I'll click Replace All. Click OK to dismiss the informational prompt.

14. Click Close.

When you run spell-check, Word won't stop at any instance of teh. Keep in mind that Word won't know the difference between the use of teh as an acronym and a typo. In truth, you probably won't run into this situation; I used an example that did, to stress the possibility.

For more ways to stretch this feature's capabilities, read 10 cool ways to get more from Word's Find and Replace feature.

What's your favorite Word tip?

Do you know of another Find and Replace trick that you'd like to share? If so, please post it or any other Word trick in the discussion.



Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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