Use Find and Replace to globally apply a Word style

Quickly changing formatting, globally, is an easy task, if you use Word styles and take advantage of Search and Replace options.

I run across lots of documents with inconsistent formatting. For instance, the document might use a special style for code but the author missed a few keywords. Or, the author applied the right style, inconsistently! Either way, someone has to fix it. A visual hit or miss might catch everything, but most likely, the author will still miss something. When this happens, I show the author how to use Word's Find & Replace feature to correctly apply styles. First, I'll show you how to change the style of a particular string. Then, I'll show you how to replace one style with another.

Applying the same style to each occurrence of a particular string

In the example document (shown below), the word PC appears twice. (We're keeping the example simple on purpose - I see no reason to make you scan through several paragraphs, but that's what you'll probably be facing when you apply this to your own work.) The author should've applied the style Intense Emphasis to each occurrence of the word PC, but as you can see, she missed one.

Now imagine a long document filled with the word PC; some are properly formatted and others aren't. The quickest way to correct the situation is to use Find & Replace as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab and then click Replace in the Editing group. In Word 2003, Replace is on the Edit menu. Or, press [Ctrl]+H.
  2. In the Find What control, enter PC.
  3. Click inside the Replace With control and then click More if necessary. (This step is important, if you don't give focus to this control, the technique won't work.)
  4. From the Format dropdown (at the bottom of the full dialog), choose Style.
  5. In the resulting Find Style dialog, select Intense Emphasis and click OK. Notice that Word displays the new style under the Replace With control. If you don't see this, start over and don't skip #3.
  6. At this point, you click Replace All or Find Next. In this case, we'll click Replace All. Then, click OK to confirm the action and Close to return to the document. Be careful when making this choice - it can have unexpected results. As you can see, Find & Replace applied Intense Emphasis to the improperly formatted occurrence of PC.

Globally update one style to another

Now let's suppose you decided that Intense Emphasis is just a bit too much emphasis. You think that the style Strong would look better. To globally replace one style with another using Find & Replace, do the following:

  1. Click the Home tab and then click Replace in the Editing group. In Word 2003, Replace is on the Edit menu. Or, press [Ctrl]+H.
  2. Click inside the Find What control and click More (if necessary).
  3. From the Format dropdown, select Style.
  4. In the Find Style dialog, select Intense Emphasis and click OK.
  5. Click inside the Replace With control.
  6. From the Format dropdown, select Style.
  7. Choose Strong and click OK.
  8. Click Replace All, OK, and then close.

This easy solution to a common and often frustrating problem is made possible by the use of styles - it's one of the reasons I encourage users to work with styles as much as possible!

About Susan Harkins

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.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox