How to Find and Replace Special Characters in Microsoft Word

750083 How to Find and Replace Special Characters in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word allows you to find and replace regular text easily, but special characters like tabs, paragraph marks, and optional hyphens require using the Special characters option. This guide will teach you how to access special characters in Word to find and replace them across documents.

Accessing the Find and Replace Dialog Box

The first step to finding and replacing text or special characters is accessing the Find and Replace dialog box:

  • Open the Find and Replace dialog box by going to the Home tab and clicking Replace or using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+H. This will open the dialog box.
  • Click the More >> button near the lower right to expand the box and show additional options.

![Expanded Find and Replace dialog box]

Inserting Special Character Codes to Find

Once the full dialog box is open, you can insert special character codes to find specific special characters across the document:

  • Click the Special button to open a dropdown menu of special characters like tabs, paragraph marks, optional hyphens, etc.
  • Select a special character code from the dropdown to insert its code into the Find What box.

For example, selecting Tab Character inserts ^t, while selecting Paragraph Mark enters ^p.

![Special characters dropdown menu]

This inserts the special character’s code rather than the actual character. This code is what allows Word to search for specific special characters.

Replacing Special Characters

Once you’ve entered a special character code into Find What, you can replace it with another special character using these steps:

  • Delete any text already in the Replace With box
  • Click the Special button and select the special character you want to replace the found text with from the dropdown
  • This enters the replacement special character code into Replace With

For example, find ^p paragraph marks and replace with ^t tab characters.

  • Finally, click Replace All to replace all instances of the found special character text with the new one.

This will scan the entire document and replace the found coded special characters with the new ones entered.

When Finding and Replacing Special Characters Is Useful

There are a few key use cases where taking the time to find and replace special Word characters is worth it:

1. Global Changes to Formatting

  • Special character codes often directly relate to formatting like tabs, spaces, paragraph breaks, etc.
  • Replacing them globally is an easy way to clean up formatting issues or quickly apply new formatting rules.

For example, finding and removing multiple spaces that cause wide gaps in text alignment.

2. Cleaning Up Messy Documents

  • Downloaded or legacy documents often contain inconsistent or messy special characters.
  • You can use Find and Replace with special codes to standardize the special characters used.

For example, documents with multiple types of hyphens or dashes.

3. Quick Changes to Document Structure

  • Special characters like section breaks and column breaks define document structure.
  • Swapping them out globally can facilitate fast restructuring of documents.

For example, changing a document with columns to a continuous flow layout by removing column breaks.

4. Replacing Unwanted Formatting Marks

  • Temporary formatting marks like hidden text or annotation marks can be replaced with spaces to remove their formatting while keeping the text.

For example, making hidden text visible again for editing.

Tips for Finding and Replacing Special Characters

Keep these tips in mind when working with special characters in the Find and Replace dialog box:

  • Use the Special dropdown menu to insert codes rather than trying to copy/paste the actual special characters themselves.
  • Always do a find to confirm the codes match what you want to change before doing a global replace.
  • Backup documents before global find/replace actions in case you need to reverse unintended formatting changes.
  • If you only want to replace a few instances manually, click Find Next instead of Replace All.

Taking the time to deeply understand how to work with special characters in Word can help you work faster and smarter. Finding and replacing special characters globally may sound complicated initially, but is actually straightforward once you know how to access and work with their special codes.


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