May I have a ‘word’ (or two)?

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

I have a very long Word document which contains a large number of parenthetical phrases and I need to italicize all those phrases. I don’t relish the idea of accomplishing that one phrase at a time. Isn’t there a way I can automate the process?

— V. S.


Dear V. S.,

Indeed you can — by taking advantage of the advanced find and replace features built into Word.

But before I get to advanced finding and replacing, maybe I should remind everyone about basic finding and replacing. You can find text within your document by pressing Ctrl+F on the keyboard (hold down the Ctrl key and tap the F key). In the Find What box, type the text you’re looking for and then press Enter.

Similarly, you can replace text in your document with other text. For instance, suppose you wanted to replace all occurrences of “John Doe” with “Jane Smith.” Start by pressing Ctrl+H. In the Find What box, type “John Doe” (without the quotation marks). In the Replace With box, type “Jane Smith” (without the quotation marks). Click Replace All, and abracadabra, any and all references to “John Doe” will now have been replaced with “Jane Smith”!

The particular problem at hand requires some fancier footwork. You don’t want to find and replace a specific phrase in parentheses, but rather any phrase in parentheses. Furthermore, you don’t want to replace the found text with other text. Instead, you want to change the formatting of that text.

Fair enough. We’ll start with the challenge of finding any phrase bound by parentheses.

First, press Ctrl+H to call up the Find and Replace window. We’ll need to expand this window to display all of the advanced features, so if you see a button at the bottom of the window that contains the word “More,” click it now.

In order to find any text, we need to turn on wildcards, so put a checkmark in the Use Wildcards box. For our purposes, the * (asterisk) is a wildcard character recognized by Word that can represent any number of characters. Unfortunately, the open and close parentheses characters are also wildcards, so we must precede each with a backslash in order to tell Word we’re looking for the actual parenthesis character. Therefore, typing “(*)” (without the quotation marks, of course) in the Find What box will be translated by Word into find any phrase surrounded by parentheses.

Now click inside the Replace With box. We don’t want to replace the found phrase with a different phrase, so type the special characters ^& (Shift+6 followed by Shift+7) in the Replace With box. Next, at the bottom of the window, click Format, Font, select Italic, and click OK.

Now you’re ready to go. Click Replace if you want to replace one parenthetical expression at a time, or click Replace All and go for broke.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. Services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit, or send e-mail to [email protected] 

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