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Word: Wildcard replace with a backslash

November 22, 2017

This morning, well before I was properly awake, I solved a problem someone had posed on a Facebook group I’m in. They had an issue getting Word’s wildcard find and replace to do what they wanted and had asked members of the group to help. I’m writing this up for my own future reference as there’s some information in here about the peculiarities of the backslash character that I may need to use again in the future. [Random fact: The backslash character is known by several names, including the reverse virgule and the reverse solidus.]

The person was trying to find an easy way to find all instances of 3x and replace with 3\x\. Actually, she was trying to do more than that — if she’d only been looking for that, then a normal find/replace should work. For the rest of the string, however, she really needed to use wildcards. Where she was getting stuck was defining the Find correctly, and then the Replace.

Here’s my solution (using wildcards):

  • Find: (3)(x) 
  • Replace: \1^92\2^92

How this works:

  • First, look for 3 followed immediately by x. I separated them in the Find string with parentheses so that I could treat them as separate elements in the Replace string.
  • Next, for the replace, type \1 to replace the first element (the 3) with itself, then type ^92 to add a backslash character (you can’t type a \ as that won’t work), then \2 to replace the second element of the Find with itself (i.e. the x), then another ^92 for a final backslash character.

Two things to note:

  • The backslash is an escape character in a Find, so if you need to find one, you need to surround it with square brackets and ‘escape’ it — i.e. [\\] in a Find.
  • The backslash is a special character in Replace too as it designates the element you want to replace with itself. Instead, you have to use ^92 in place of a \.

 

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