h1

Word: Find and replace multiple asterisks used as separator lines

February 15, 2019

On one of my editing forums, someone had a situation where the author had used many long strings of asterisks to separate various parts of the document. The length of these asterisk ‘lines’ weren’t the same—sometimes the author had used 3 asterisks, other times they’d used 4 or 8 or 35 or some other random number of asterisks. How to get rid of them all at once? Enter Word’s wildcard find and replace feature!

  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: (^013)(\*{2,50})(^013)
  5. In the Replace with field, type: \1\3
  6. Click Find Next to find the first instance, then Replace to replace the multiple asterisks with a paragraph mark.
  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.

Explanation for how this works:

  • (^013) looks for a paragraph mark (this indicates the end of the previous line of text). This string defines the first section of the Find.
  • (\*{2,50}) looks for two or more asterisks, up to 50 asterisks (yes, you can change the numbers inside the curly braces to suit your situation— if you think you might have some lines with 100 asterisks, then change the 50 to 100; if you don’t know what the upper limit is, then leave it empty [i.e. use \*{2,}). This string defines the second section of the Find. NOTE: An Asterisk is a special character in wildcard searches, so you need to ‘escape’ it by putting a backward slash in front of it.
  • (^013) looks for a paragraph mark immediately following a string of asterisks. This string defines the third and last section of the Find.
  • \1 replaces the first part of the wildcard string with itself. In other words, the paragraph mark found is replaced with itself, so no change apparently occurs.
  • \3 replaces the third part of the wildcard string with itself. In other words, the paragraph mark found is replaced with itself, so no change apparently occurs.

A note about ^013: In an ordinary find/replace, you would use ^p for a paragraph mark, but this doesn’t work in a wildcard find/replace—instead, you have to use ^013.

2 comments

  1. Thanks, Rhonda! A great way to use those powerful wildcards. So odd that a new paragraph is ^013 in wildcard search. I figured this out awhile back, but I can’t remember how. You’d think that Word would have the new paragraph code listed on its “Special” dropdown menu in wildcard search, but no, that would be too logical for Microsoft.


  2. Hi Patty

    My understanding is that ^013 (or ^13) is the ASCII code (decimal) for a carriage return. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_character

    –Rhonda



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: