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Word: Find and replace multiple spaces after punctuation

December 21, 2016

You receive a document that has multiple spaces after standard punctuation — periods, commas, semicolons, colons, question marks, and exclamation marks. Sometimes the author used two spaces, sometimes three, sometimes five!

How to fix it?

Well, you can run several find/replace routines but as the number of spaces is unknown and as there are many types of punctuation, that could take quite a lot of time. Instead, you can use a wildcard find/replace routine to find them all at once, keep the punctuation, and replace the unknown number of spaces with a single space. Here’s how (for your own peace of mind, test this on a COPY of your document first):

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click the More button to show more find/replace options.
  3. Select the Use wildcards checkbox.
  4. In the Find what field, type: ([,.;:\?\!])( {2,9})
    NOTE: There’s a single space before the {2 — make sure you include that. To be safe, copy the ‘code’ in this step, and paste it into your Find what field.
  5. In the Replace with field, type: \1 followed immediately by a single space.
  6. Click Find Next to find the first instance, then Replace to replace the multiple spaces with a single space.
  7. Repeat step 6 as many times as you need to be confident that it’s finding the right things. Once you’re confident, click Replace All to run through the whole document and fix all instances.

Use wildcards to find and replace multiple spaces after defined punctation

Explanation for how this works:

  • ([,.;:\?\!]) looks for any of the listed punctuation characters. Question and exclamation marks are special cases and need to be ‘escaped’ with a \. Because you’re using wildcards, you need to surround the text you want to find in parentheses. This string defines the first section of the Find.
  • ( {2-9}) looks for a space followed by two or more spaces, up to 9 spaces (you can put whatever numbers you like inside the curly braces — if you think you might have some instances of punctuation followed by 15 spaces, then change these numbers to {2-20}, for example. Again, this section is surrounded by parentheses to define it as a separate section.
  • \1 replaces the first part of the wildcard string with itself. In other words, the punctuation character found is replaced with itself, so no change apparently occurs.
  • The space after \1 replaces the multiple spaces found in the second part of the wildcard string with a single space.

One comment

  1. super! thank you!

    Thanks! Matt. (Matthew M. Hinkle) http://www.linkedin.com/in/dochinkle

    On Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 3:44 AM, CyberText Newsletter wrote:

    > Rhonda posted: “You receive a document that has multiple spaces after > standard punctuation — periods, commas, semicolons, colons, question > marks, and exclamation marks. Sometimes the author used two spaces, > sometimes three, sometimes five! How to fix it? Well, you” >



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