Finding the Previous Occurrence

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 29, 2016)

I use the Find feature of Word quite often. I suspect that I am not alone in that usage; it is undoubtedly one of the most-used features in the program. As I am searching through a document with the Find and Replace dialog box displayed, I often use Alt+F to find the next occurrence of whatever I am searching for. If I get "on a roll," I may press Alt+F one too many times, and bypass the occurrence that I really wanted.

At these times I have often thought it would be nice if Word included a Find Previous button in the Find and Replace dialog box, or provided a shortcut key that will jump back to the previous occurrence of my search text. Unfortunately, neither of these is available in Word. There are workarounds, however.

One approach is to use a series of keyboard strokes to achieve the desired result. When you realize that you need to go back to the previous occurrence, you could use the following five keystrokes, in succession:

Alt+M
Alt+Shift+: (colon)
U
Enter
Alt+F

Intuitive this is not! What these keystrokes do, of course, is to change the direction of the search so that Word searches toward the beginning of the document, instead of toward the end. With the direction changed, the Alt+F shortcut (last keystroke in the list) will jump to the next occurrence toward the beginning--exactly what you want.

There is an even handier solution available that doesn't even involve the Find and Replace dialog box; it involves the Object Browser. The Object Browser allows you to find different "things" in your document. You can use it to browse through tables, comments, fields, footnotes, and so on. (How you use the Object Browser is covered in other issues of WordTips.) What many people don't realize is that when you start to search for something, the Object Browser is automatically kicked into "find" mode. What does this mean? Follow these steps to see:

  1. Press Ctrl+F to open the Find tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  2. Figure 1. The Find tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  3. Use the dialog box, as you normally would, to specify what you want to find.
  4. Click on Find Next. Word displays the first occurrence of what you are searching for.
  5. Press Esc to dismiss the Find and Replace dialog box.
  6. Press Ctrl+Page Down. Word displays the next occurrence.
  7. Press Ctrl+Page Up. Word displays the previous occurrence.

The Ctrl+Page Down and Ctrl+Page Up are actually shortcut keys for 'Browse Next' and 'Browse Previous,' respectively. Since the Object Browser was put into "find" mode by initiating a search, they keys effectively allow you to jump all over the place in finding occurrences of your search text. You can even perform editing and other tasks between each use of Ctrl+Page Down and Ctrl+Page Up; Word remembers what the Object Browser was doing when you last used it, so your search continues apace.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1638) 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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