OOo Off the Wall: Find and Replace
In long documents, a strong search-and-replace tool is essential for editing duties. Although many users confine themselves to simple text searches, OpenOffice.org's various searches are a match for any rival's. They also are remarkably consistent throughout Writer, Calc, Draw and Impress, the four main OOo applications.
The Find & Replace window is haphazardly arranged into basic options and advanced options that are available when the More Options button is selected. The search options fall into three main categories:
Location searches: searches for text strings that can be limited to specific areas or directions in the document.
Format searches: searches for design elements, sometimes with specific text strings but also without text strings.
Pattern searches: searches for patterns rather than exact text strings.
Although arranged with little logic as various check boxes and buttons, OpenOffice.org's search options provide a quick revision tool for both text and layout.
The basic operation of the Find & Replace tool in Writer is identical to similar tools found in other office applications. The text to search for is entered in the Search for field, and the replacement text--if there is any--goes in the Replace with field.
Searches are started by selecting either the Find or Find All button. If you select the Find button, the application starts at the current position of the cursor and stops successively at each instance of the text you are searching for. When it reaches the end of the document, you have the option to continue from the beginning of the text. Unfortunately, OpenOffice.org applications do not remember the starting point, so reaching the end of the document is the only marker you have for the progress of a search. This limitation makes it advisable to start a search at the beginning of every document.
By contrast, if you select the Find All button, each string that matches the search is highlighted. The text remains highlighted after you close the Find & Replace window.
When you select the Find button and a match is found, selecting the Replace button makes the substitution. Note that if the Replace with field is blank, selecting the Replace button leaves a blank where the match was.
Alternatively, once a search and replace is set up, you can select the Replace All button and have all of the substitutions made in a few seconds. This is a useful feature, but it can lead to disaster if your search is poorly planned. Usually, you are safer using the Find and the Replace buttons for one or two substitutions. Select the Replace All button once you are confident of the results.
Location searches are the most basic types of searches available in OpenOffice.org. As you might guess from the window layout, Whole words only is one of the most basic ways to refine a search. It ensures that results don't include, for example, "orange" when you want "range". Backwards reverses the usual search direction, which always is useful if you get ahead of yourself with multiple instances. Current selection only limits the search to the text selected with the mouse. All these location specifiers are available throughout OpenOffice.org.
Calc, the spreadsheet program, contains additional location specifiers. Entire cells is Calc's equivalent of Whole words only. It sets the search for cells that match what is entered in the Search for field rather than strings of characters. Calc searches also can be limited by Search in, which confines the search to formulas, values or notes. And, in addition to Backwards, Calc also includes Search direction, which sets whether the spreadsheet is scanned by rows or by columns. Usually, Calc searches are confined to the current sheet, but you can broaden a search by selecting Search in all sheets.
A history for the two fields in the Find & Replace window is available from its drop-down list. You can use the history to repeat a search quickly.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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