Search Word for invisible characters like tab and return

Word processing

Word processing

People do strange things in Word and if you work with documents created by others you will find odd things like lots of extra spaces at the end of lines and paragraphs, extra carriage returns where none is needed, multiple tabs, section breaks and more. How do you search Word for invisible characters?

Do you use tab at the start of a paragraph or use a first line indent? If you have a 100 page book that uses all tabs, it would be a long and tedious task to replace them all manually, but a single search and replace for invisible tabs can do the job in a second.

The secret is the ^ character. It is called a caret and is typed by pressing Shift+6 on most keyboards. In Microsoft Word, go to Replace on the Edit menu if you have an old version or go to the Home tab of the ribbon and click Replace in the Editing section on the right in modern versions. This displays the find and replace window.

Click in the Find box and enter ^ to tell Word that what comes next is a special character and is not to be taken literally. To search for tabs, enter ^t or to search for carriage returns, (paragraph endings) enter ^p. You can put whatever you want into the replace box.

Suppose you have a document that has extra spaces at the end of a paragraph. It can mess up the formatting of the text. In this case you would enter ^p in the find box and ^p in the replace box. You can’t see what I did there because spaces are invisible. Enter a space then ^p in Find and just ^p in Replace. This replaces all paragraph endings that have a space+Return with Return.

Suppose there are lines with two spaces and a return? Just repeat the search and replace until no items are found. A useful trick is to search for two spaces and replace them with one space first. Then replace all space+Return with Return.

Here are some more special uses of ^

^11 New line
^12 Page or section break (Replaces a section break with a page break)
^n Column break
^- Optional hyphen
^~ Nonbreaking hyphen
^^ Caret character
^+ Em dash
^= En dash
^m Manual page break
^s Nonbreaking space

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