I recently edited a long document whose original author capitalized way too many words. I needed to fix it. To speed up the process, I needed a way to find capitalized words in Word–all of them, and automatically. Then I could make a decision whether the capitalization was appropriate.
Another time you would need to find capitalized words in Word would be when you’re creating an index. I’m sure there are others.
It’s easier than it sounds.
The super-secret way to find capitalized words in Word
In Word, do an advanced find. You can find it by navigating to Home, then Find, and hitting the drop-down arrow. If you’re like me, you may find it easier to just hit <CTRL-H>. To remember this powerful keyboard shortcut, think of “hunt” instead of “find.” Next, click the “More” button, check the box labeled Use wildcards, and enter this regular expression:
That’s a little scary looking, but you don’t have to understand it in order to use it. You don’t even have to type it; you can just copy it from this page and paste it into the dialog box if you want.
What the regular expression does is search for any capital letter followed by two or more lowercase letters. You can then cycle through one at a time using the Find Next button, or you can just highlight them. To highlight, click on the Find tab, then click Reading Highlight, then click Highlight All.
In the case of the document that made me want to learn how to do this, it saved me a lot of time to use the Highlight All option. The document had several problems, and I found it helpful to zero in on one problem at a time and fix it. Otherwise the sheer number of problems and pages was just too much.
In other cases, it may be quicker to just cycle through them one at a time using the Find Next button.
When to capitalize and when not
So the next time you need to find capitalized words in Word, this trick will help you. Computers are ideal for repetitive tasks, so this is an example of letting the computer do something it’s good at, so you can do work the computer can’t do. Humans are much better at deciding if a word is important enough to include in an index. Arguably, humans are still better at deciding whether a word is justifiably capitalized too. Remember, capitalization is for the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns. It’s not for emphasis or things that sound important.
The notable exception is in legal documents. Near the beginning of the document, a legal document may define certain words as proper nouns as shorthand for parties in the document, or for laws it frequently references. But even in legal documents, capitalization isn’t for emphasis. There’s a method to what’s capitalized and what isn’t.
What about words that aren’t capitalized but should be? Word’s spelling and grammar is actually fairly good at finding those. If you don’t see any squiggly lines, you probably don’t have a lot of words that lack capitalization and shouldn’t.
While we’re at it, here’s a related problem with a similar solution: Finding words that are in all caps. This helps yo quickly find acronyms, which is very helpful when writing for the government. Government documents generally require every acronym to be spelled out in first use, and defined in an appendix.
If you also use Open Office or Libre Office, the process for finding capitalized words in those programs is very similar.