Word: Replace All doesn’t work on selected text only

January 13, 2014

I recently investigated a quirk in Word’s Find and Replace that I’ve noticed every so often and that’s annoyed me for a long time because it seems so illogical. In the process I found out it’s ‘by design’ and has been like it since at least Word 2000!

So what’s the quirk? Well, if you select some text and do Replace All on it, sometimes just the selected text has the Replace All action applied to, whereas other times the entire document has the Replace All action applied to it, which is NOT what I want when I’ve selected only part of the text. If I notice that Word has performed Replace All on the entire document quick enough, I can ‘undo’ and go back to how it was, and then do single Replace instances to just replace what I want to replace, but that’s clunky.

This behavior is a real annoyance — I have to notice quickly enough that Word has done the Replace All on the entire document. Once I’ve saved and closed the document, it’s too late — when I next open it all those replacements cannot be undone easily, and I scream and curse at Word.

While this may be ‘by design’, I actually believe it’s a bug. Why? Because when I’ve selected a part of the document and clicked Replace All *while that part is selected*, then I ONLY expect the Replace All to work on that selection, unless I’m asked otherwise.

The real quirk is that when you first open a document and run Replace All, it *will* work on the selected text only, UNLESS you click Replace or Find Next first. Once you’ve clicked Replace or Find Next (NOT Replace All), Word thinks you want to do the replacements one by one and so ignores your selection! Then if you click Replace All AFTER clicking Replace or Find Next just the once, the entire document is scanned and the Replace All action happens across the whole document.

What a pain! At least now I know why it behaves differently at different times — it’s all to do with whether I’ve clicked Replace or Find Next first or not.

So how do you get around it? If you really want to Replace All just in the selected text, save and close the document, then re-open it. Run the Replace All action on the selection and it will work — DO NOT click Replace first, otherwise clicking Replace All will replace across the whole document.

For someone like me who uses Find/Replace all the time and will run several Find/Replace routines across a document, one after the other or scattered across several hours, this behavior is a real nuisance. Sometimes I need to replace everything (Replace All), and sometimes just individual items (Replace), and then follow that up later in the editing process with another Replace All on selected text. I guess I’ll have to change my workflow to do all my Replace All actions before I do any other Replace or Find Next action.

I found a description of this behavior on the Microsoft Support website — for Word 2000! It’s still behaving like this in Word 2010, and it’s a real pain, in my opinion. The Knowledge Base article describing this behavior is here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/212218

[Link last checked January 2014]


  1. […] The official newsletter/blog of CyberText Consulting – technical communication specialists « Word: Replace All doesn’t work on selected text only […]

  2. Rhonda, You ROCK! Thanks for this tip – and so many other that have been truly useful. Love, Jeanne

  3. I have always just closed the Find dialog and opened it again after I have selected the text on which I want to do the Replace All.

  4. Thank you. Yes it’s very annoying :D

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