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Find and replace special characters in Microsoft Word

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In addition to searching for and replacing text, Word allows you to search for special characters (tabs, indents, paragraph marks, and so on) and then replace them with other special characters. This can be useful if you want to make quick and easy changes that you normally need a little more time to do.

When does searching for and replacing special characters make sense?

To understand when finding and replacing special characters can be helpful, let's take a look at some examples.

  • Let's say there is a lengthy legal document that you need to work on. You have been asked to replace the word "section" with the section symbol. The section symbol is a pair of overlapping "S" characters and is often used in legal documents to refer to a numbered section in a document. Your document has more than 50 pages and contains many references to different sections. You can simply replace the word "section" with the section symbol by searching and replacing.
  • You have just completed the draft of your first novel and it contains a multitude of hyphenated words. You need to keep the separated words together by replacing the regular hyphen with a non-breaking hyphen. You start to replace the symbol manually, but stop after a few attempts. They know that there has to be an easier way. There are! Just use Find and Replace to do the job for you.
  • A colleague resigned, and you were given the task of editing a report that the colleague worked on before he left. The report is well written, but there are consistently inconsistent paragraph spacing. If you click Show / Hide, you find that in some cases two paragraph marks exist instead of one. One way to fix the paragraph spacing is to press the Delete key each time you see an extra paragraph mark. However, there is a quicker way: Search for each occurrence of two paragraph marks and replace it with a paragraph mark.

There are too many special characters to describe all. But let's look at some common examples. Finding and replacing these characters works.

Example 1
: Replace text with a special character.

Let's assume your document looks like this:

  Word document containing the word

. Note: If you do not want to If the special characters are not displayed in your document, you can activate them by clicking the Show / Hide button on the Ribbon. The icon looks like the paragraph icon.

You must replace each occurrence of the word "Section" with a section symbol. In the Word Ribbon, go to the Home tab and click Replace. Alternatively, you can also press Ctrl + H.

 Click the Replace button.

Enter the word "Section" In the "Search For" box, click the "More >>" button to expand the "Find and Replace" options.


Click in the "Replace With" field to insert the insertion point Click on the "Special" button there.

 Click in the box

Click "Section Mark" in the drop-down list.

 Selecting section characters from the menu

Note that the Replace With field now contains the text "^%" – this is Words code for the section icon. Click the "Replace All" button. In this example, 16 substitutions were made. Click the "OK" button and close the "Find and Replace" window.


All occurrences of the word "section" have now been replaced by the section character.

 Word document with section characters

Example 2: Replace a regular hyphen with a nonbreaking hyphen occurrence in which the hyphenated words are separated into different lines. Now replace all regular hyphens with non-breaking hyphens so this does not happen.

 Word document with hyphenating hyphens

On the "Home" tab, click "Replace" or just press Ctrl + H.

 Click the button " Replace "

In the Find What box, delete existing text or characters, and then type in a single hyphen. If necessary, click the More >> button to expand Find and Replace options.

 Type a single hyphen in the field

Click in the "Replace with" box to insert your hyphen. Delete existing text or characters and click on the "Special" button.

 Click in the field

Click "Hyphen" in the drop-down list.

 Select a nonbreaking hyphen from the menu.

Note that Words code for the nonbreaking hyphen – "^ ~" – has now been added to the Replace With field. Click the "Replace All" button. In this example 11 replacements were made. Click the "OK" button and close the "Find and Replace" window.

 Click Replace All

Word has replaced all hyphens with non-breaking hyphens. Note that the hyphenated words on the right margin are no longer separated.

 Word document containing only non-breaking hyphens

Example 3: Replacing two paragraph marks with a paragraph mark

In this example, we want to replace double paragraph marks with a single paragraph mark to eliminate the extra distance between paragraphs.

 Word document with extra paragraph marks between paragraphs

On the Home tab, click the Replace button. Alternatively, you can also press Ctrl + H.

 Click the Replace button

Click in the "Search for" box, and then delete existing text or characters. Click on the "More >>" button to open the additional options. Click the "Special" button and then the "Paragraph Mark" option in the drop-down list.

 Select a paragraph mark from the special menu.

Note that the Word code for a paragraph mark ("^ v") has been placed in the "Look for" box. Click on the "Special" button again and then again on "Paragraph Mark" in the drop-down list to place a second paragraph mark there. (Note that you can also simply type "^ v ^ v" in the field if you are already familiar with the codes.)

 Select the paragraph mark again from the special menu

The Look For box now has two paragraph marks. Click in the Replace With box, delete existing text or characters, and then click the Special button. Select "Paragraph Mark" from the drop-down menu.

 Click in the Replace With box and then use the special menu to insert a single paragraph mark.

Click the Replace All button for the last step. In this example, Word has made eight substitutions. Click the "OK" button and close the "Find and Replace" window.

 Click Replace All.

All occurrences of two paragraph marks have been replaced by one paragraph mark.

 Word document that has had extra paragraph marks removed

As you can see, saving characters in your documents by searching and replacing them can save you a lot of time. And we just scratched the surface here. In this menu, more special characters await your search.

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