Book Review: Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word

Geoff Hart

Lyon, J. 2015. Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. The Editorium. 104 p. incl. index

Wildcard Cookbook cover with borderYears ago, Word-guru Jack Lyon released a freebie ebook, Advanced Find and Replace for Word, which explained everything you needed to know to master Microsoft Word’s find and replace features. It’s still available from his website (http://www.editorium.com/freebies.htm), so you might wonder about the need for a new book on the subject. However, there are three good reasons to consider Jack’s new book, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word: the text has been thoroughly updated and debugged for versions up to Word 2013; the examples have been expanded with new material and advice with the benefits of hindsight; and sometimes it’s nice to hold a book in your hands. Moreover, Jack’s a mensch. Having given away his best search tips for free for many years and spent countless hours helping people learn them, he deserves some reward for his efforts.

So what’s in the book? Everything you need to know about wildcards and how to combine them. Before diving into the review, here’s a quick definition: In poker, a wildcard replaces any other card; you’ve probably heard the phrase “jokers wild,” the most common example. In Microsoft Word, wildcards take the place of letters or groups of characters, including symbols and Word’s own internal controls. For example, if you want to find the word “edit” and variations of the term, you could use wildcards to replace the command “find the letters e-d-i-t followed by one or more characters”; the wildcard search term would be edit*, and those one or more characters it finds might be “or” (i.e., editor), “ing” (i.e., editing), or the word “edit” followed by punctuation or even a line break or heading. Other programs, particularly UNIX and its descendants, refer to these patterns as regular expressions. Both wildcards and regular expressions let you describe search patterns in terms your word processor can understand. Cookbook is a complete course in defining such patterns—something I do scores of times daily as I edit manuscripts, thereby saving enormous amounts of time.

I reviewed the PDF version of the printed book. (An ePub version is in the works, but not yet available.) Though the text is based on Word for Windows, and illustrated with Windows screenshots, the wildcard examples will generally work equally well in Word for Macintosh, though the software images and interface details differ between the operating systems. Cookbook provides a handy 8-page reference to specific codes you can type to search for specific patterns and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and Unicode codes for even the most obscure symbols, with Mac equivalents where they differ from the Windows code. ANSI codes are what computers use to describe the letters and symbols you see on your keyboard; Unicode codes represent the tens of thousands of characters and symbols from most of the world’s languages, most of which you won’t find on the keyboard. For characters you can see in your Word document, Jack provides a simple macro that will display the code for any selected character—so you don’t even have to leave Word to research the code. If you prefer, there’s a link to a website that provides a visual reference to the Unicode codes.

Cookbook takes you firmly in hand right from the start, with a thorough description of the ins and outs of the Find and Replace dialog—including some parts you probably never noticed before, such as special characters and advanced formatting. Jack reminds us that many keyboard-based formatting shortcuts are also available in the Find and Replace dialog; for example, with the cursor in the “Find What” field, pressing Control-B tells Word to search for boldfaced instances of the search text, pressing Control-B a second time tells Word to search for non-boldfaced instances, and pressing Control-B a third time tells Word to search for any instance of the text. (Mac users would use the Command key instead of Control.) The only omission is a note that in Windows, you can use the keyboard to select any option in the dialog that contains an underlined letter in its name; simply hold down the Alt key and type the underlined letter. (Mac users lack this option, and must use the mouse.)

Having provided the basics, Cookbook leads you gradually through the many powerful combinations of wildcards that Word offers. Though the text is chatty and low-pressure to reduce the intimidation factor, nontechnical readers may prefer to pick one or two simple wildcards and start by learning to use them. It won’t be long before you’re confident enough to start playing with more advanced or complicated options. Because wildcards are somewhat abstract, it’s not always obvious how to use the codes. That’s where the heart of Cookbook begins beating: the last half of the book, “Wildcards in the real world,” provides nearly 50 pages of real-world examples to inspire you by demonstrating how editors use wildcards in their work. For example, Jack demonstrates how to apply HTML tags to text that’s already formatted using Word’s styles; a similar approach could be used to apply a publisher’s styles to a document to prepare it for page layout and printing. Other examples include eliminating duplicated items from lists, converting page ranges to a condensed style (e.g., changing 122–125 to 122-5), and the clever suggestion to build a “wildcard dictionary” to store search patterns you’ll probably reuse in the future. This section includes several pages of examples created by other editors to meet specific needs. There’s also good advice on debugging common wildcard problems, as well as some not-so-common ones.

Should you buy this book? Yes. It’s not expensive—the cost is tax deductible if you’re earning a living as an editor—and it’s guaranteed to save you so much time it will quickly pay for itself in financial terms and in reduced frustration. It would also make a great holiday gift for that special editor in your life—or for yourself! If you like what you see in the book, have a look at Lyon’s superb Editor’s Toolkit Plus (http://www.editorium.com/ETKPlus2014.htm), a suite of powerful search and replace tools that perform many of the functions described in Cookbook, plus several other goodies. Sadly, the software is Windows-only. Blame Microsoft for this; they’ve never provided a Mac version of Word that is seriously competitive with or fully compatible with Word for Windows.

geoff-Australia-croppedGeoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 25 years of experience as a writer, editor, information designer, and French translator. He has published more than 400 articles, most available via his website (www.geoff-hart.com), as well as the book Effective Onscreen Editing. A popular speaker at the STC annual conference and STC chapter meetings, Geoff has given presentations and workshops on topics ranging from writing and editing to information design, cross-cultural communication, and workplace survival skills. He currently works as a freelance French translator and scientific editor, specializing in authors for whom English is a second language.