Word: Remove excess characters

June 28, 2008

Whether you like it or not, Microsoft Word has the biggest share of the word processing software market. If you can get it to perform, you can save a lot of time and frustration.

Let’s start with text you copy from email messages. Often, you’ll get paragraph marks, line breaks, excess spaces, or ‘snip’ characters such as > scattered throughout the text, including in the middle of sentences. Some people ignore them; others spend ages removing them manually—a painful process.

So how do you get rid of them? You make Word’s Find/Replace earn its keep!

Before you start, turn on the show/hide formatting toolbar button by clicking Pilcrow button. You’ll now see all the paragraph breaks (¶), line breaks (↵), tabs (→) plus other formatting characters.

You’re going to make three passes of your document using Find/Replace. We’ll use excess paragraph marks in the example. The first pass will remove all double paragraph marks and replace them with some garbage characters that you’ll use as placeholders for where you want the real paragraph marks. On the second pass, you’ll find all the single paragraph marks and replace them with a space. Finally, you’ll find all the placeholders and replace them with the paragraph marks you do want.

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace window.
  2. In Find what, type ^p^p, then press the TAB key. (You get ^ by pressing Shift+6; you MUST use a lower case p.)
  3. In Replace with, type QQQ. (QQQ is the placeholder. Why QQQ? Because these letters are unlikely to be part of the text.)
  4. Click Replace All.
  5. In Find what, type ^p, press TAB, then in Replace with press the spacebar once.
  6. Click Replace All.
  7. In Find what, type QQQ, press TAB, then in Replace with type ^p.
  8. Click Replace All.

All the excess paragraph marks should now be gone and you should have a much cleaner document.


  • If the text has line breaks, then substitute ^p with ^l (that’s lower case L for Larry).
  • To get rid of the > marks, type > in Find what, and then make sure there is nothing in Replace with before clicking Replace All.

Of course, if you have lots of documents with these excess formatting codes in them, then this trick quickly becomes tedious. You can harness the power of Word by creating a macro for this procedure and assigning it to a keyboard command. Then you’ll only have to press a key or two and all these changes are made automatically!

See also:

[This article was first published in the December 2001 CyberText Newsletter; steps last checked January 2008, and again in August 2008 for compatibility with Word 2007; links last checked January 2012]


  1. To automate this process, I’ve put together a quick step-by-step process so it only takes a second to remove the extra paragraph marks (often inserted from an Acrobat to Word copy/paste).
    Let me know what you think.

  2. Thanks Bruce. This macro is great for those who have to remove excess paragraph marks often.

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