Find and Replace in Text Boxes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 27, 2017)

Margaret wrote about a problem she was having performing a find and replace for something in a text box. It seems that Margaret created a merged document, and then noticed that a reference number in a text box was incorrect. She tried to do a search and replace to change all instances of the reference number, but Word would not find and replace it.

In doing some testing, it appears that Word will find information in a text box and replace it just fine, provided that the text box is visible when you actual do the find and replace operation. For instance, if you place some text in a text box, and the same text in the main portion of the document, and then do a find and replace operation for a piece of text that is common to both the document and the text box, then Word will successfully replace all the instances—even those in the text box.

Why wouldn't Word find and replace the reference number in Margaret's situation? There are only a few possibilities. First, the reference number may not really be text. If the reference number was made with an embedded field, then the find and replace will not be reliable. For instance, if the reference number is created with the SEQ field, you can find what is displayed by the field, and you can replace it, but if the fields are updated (which happens when you print), then the "replaced" number reverts back to what the underlying field code tells it to be.

Second, if the reference number is linked in some way to another document (again, using a field), then Word cannot correctly replace the information. This is because the reference number is not in the current document, but in another document linked to the current document. To make the change, you would need to change the source document.

Finally, it could be that the reference number, if it was merged from another data source, contains some non-printable characters that make finding it impossible. For instance, let's say that the reference number you want to find is QR378, but that the text in the merge source includes a non-printing character of some sort between the "R" and the "3". If this is the case, then Word won't find the reference number when you search for QR378. The only way to correct this situation is to clean up the original data source and then run the merge again.

It should be noted that the discussion so far reflects the behavior of Word if you are replacing text using the Find and Replace dialog box. If you are actually doing the searching and replacing in a macro, it is interesting that Word won't find appropriate text matches in text boxes. You can, in fact, use the macro recorder to record a perfectly good Find and Replace operation—that does find and replace text in a text box—and when you later replay the macro, it won't find the information in the text box.

If you are doing searching and replacing in a macro, the following article by Doug Robbins on the Word MVP site explains what is going on:

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1331) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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