“Find and replace” tips for writers and editors

We all know it’s hard to make the time to sit down and write, especially with our chronically busy schedules. Then comes the rewriting and editing phases, which are also very time consuming. So for this reason, I wanted to share some easy shortcuts to save you time when cleaning up your manuscript, to help you get it closer to being publishing ready.

I've been editing quite a few fiction novels lately, and the “find and replace” codes that I am using have been an incredible time saver. They help to quickly fix pervasive problems throughout the manuscript. For example, what do you do if you suddenly realize that the document you are working on has a hard return after each paragraph? Or what if you dust off an old manuscript and see that there is a double space after each period (which is no longer the norm)?

Keyboard keys and codes

Don’t worry. There are all kinds off codes you can use to fix these problems and save you time and frustration when working on a manuscript. Here are some of the more common ones. 

Remove double spaces between the period at the end of the sentence and the first word of the next sentence.

Find: .[enter two spaces]
Replace: .[enter single space]

Change straight quotes to curly quotes by entering a regular quote mark in both the find and replace fields. Here’s some advice from Practical Typography about straight quotes versus curly quotes.

Find: ‘
Replace: ‘

Remove hard returns at the end of paragraphs.

Find: ^p^
Replace: ^p

Move a period from outside to inside a double quote mark. Do the same thing for a comma.

Find: ”.
Replace: .”

Remove all double spaces.

Find: [enter space space]
Replace: [enter space]

Remove a space before and after an em dash.

Find: [space]^+
Replace:  ^+

Find: ^+[space]
Replace: ^+

(Similarly, the en dash is code ^=)

Remove space before and after ellipsis.

Find: [space]…
Replace: …

Find: …[space]
Replace: …


Here are some more Office tips on using wildcard characters to find and replace text.

Also, don’t forget to turn off “track changes” when you make a universal change, so that your document won’t be consumed with formatting notes in the right-hand margin. 

Happy editing!


Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance editor and author of Stuck, a novel she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.

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