Useful Wildcard Searches in Word

If you’ve ventured into Word’s “Advanced Find” feature, you may have seen the option to search for wildcards. These are special characters and codes that enable you to search for certain kinds of characters or combinations of characters, rather than for a specific character or string. For example, [A-Z] will search for any capital letter.

Here’s where to start (I’m using Word 2010; other versions are similar but may not be exactly the same):

On the Home tab, click “Find” (or use Ctrl-f) then “Advanced Find” (if using Ctrl-f, click the arrow to the right of the search bar to get to Advanced Find).

In Advanced Find, check “Use wildcards.”

Paste in one of the expressions below or create your own. It’s easy to find lists of Word wildcards online. Here’s one trick that it took me a while to learn, though: if you want to search for a wildcard in combination with a regular character–say, a particular letter–or with a Word formatting symbol, you’ll need to use an ASCII code for the non-wildcard.

  • To find repeated words in the document (yes, Word’s Spell Check will flag these, but sometimes it’s easier to run a search for them and evaluate them all at once):
    (<[A-Za-z]{1,}>) \1[!A-Za-z]
  • To find paragraphs that end without final punctuation (assuming you used a paragraph mark at the end, not a manual line break): [A-Za-z]^13
  • To find a closing curly quote without punctuation: [A-Za-z]^0148
  • To find a space at the beginning of a line (a common typo): ^13 space (type a space after the code “^13”) (You can also do this without wildcards.)

If you’ve given this a try for the first time after reading this post, please leave a comment and let me know how it went. Are there any other searches you’d like to perform that I can help with?