Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Ordering Search and Replace.

Ordering Search and Replace

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 12, 2015)

Pattern matching provides you with some very powerful capabilities for searching and replacing text. Word allows you to use parentheses within your search specification to increase the power of your statements even more. The parentheses allow you to specify groupings for your searches or to specify the order in which the search specification should be evaluated.

The grouping issue is the most common and powerful use of the parentheses. As an example, let's say that you had a document that consisted of a part number followed by a tab followed by a description. The part number begins with PN- followed by a three-character code that has A through E as the first character followed by a value between 00 and 99. For instance, a part number could be PN-B34 or PN-A12. The description could be any length, but is always followed by a paragraph mark.

If you wanted to change your document so that you had the part description followed by the part number within parentheses, you could do so with pattern matching. For your search specification (Find What) you would use (PN\-[A-E][0-9]{2})(^t)(*)(^13). This may look odd, but it matches the way your document now is put together. Notice the use of the parentheses to denote the three separate parts: the part number, the tabs, and the description.

For the replacement specification (Replace With), you would use \3 (\1)^13. This means "take the third grouping from the search specification (the description), follow it by a space, a left parenthesis, the first grouping from the search specification (the part number), and finish off with a paragraph mark.

As another example, let's assume that you have a document with quite a few dates that use the format 06/11/56, and that you want to make sure that all the dates use four-digit years (1956 as opposed to 56). You can do so by searching for ([0-3][0-9]/[01][0-9]/)([0-2][0-9]) and replacing it with \119\2. In the example, the \1 is 06/11/ in the string that is found, and this is transferred to the replacement string as it is. This is then followed by 19 (so it is now 06/11/19) and then the last two digits of what was found, so the result is 06/11/1956.

Remember that to take advantage of the pattern matching capabilities of Word, you just need to make sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected on either the Find or Replace tabs of the Find and Replace dialog box.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1663) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Ordering Search and Replace.

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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