How to Find Anything in Parentheses Using Word’s Search
I recently ran into a strange problem. I was asked to present an academic paper at a conference, and while writing fell automatically into the habit of referencing all my quotes and other citations with traditional parenthetical citations. When I went to produce the shorter copy that I would read from at the conference, I wanted to remove all those parenthetical citations — they were just clutter and I Knew I’d stumble over them while I read.
Here’s the thing: normally, I could just use the “wildcard” to search for anything inside of parentheses, like this: (*). The problem is, when you enable wildcards in Word’s search, you also enable a bunch of operators, and parentheses are among them — Word uses parentheses to group together different parts fo the search query, the same way you use them in math, e.g. 12*4+3 vs. 12*(4+3). So a search for (*) simply returned everything.
Here’s how I solved the problem:
- With wildcards disabled, I did a “find and replace”, replacing all left-parentheses “(” with an ampersand “&”.
- Then I replaced all the right-parentheses “)” with a dollar sign “$”.
- With the parentheses all turned into something unique (if I’d used dollar signs or ampersands in the paper, I’d have replaced the parentheses with carets or percent signs or any other punctuation or symbol I hadn’t used) I could enable “Use Wildcards” and search for the phrase “&*$” (without quotes).
- Because there might well be other statements in parentheses, I used “Find next” and “Replace” rather than “Replace all” to go through the paper and delete only the citations.
- Finally, I restored the parentheses by running the above find-and-replace operations backwards, turning dollar signs and ampersands back into their respective parentheses.
And that’s it. It wasn’t particularly intuitive, unless you’re deeply familiar with how wildcards work in Word, but once I grasped that the parentheses were the problem, it was a simple matter to replace them and blast them out of my paper.
And the presentation went well, though of course I found plenty of other things to stumble over, like words and my tongue…