Finding and eliminating inconsistencies in spacing, punctuation, abbreviation/acronym usage and so on can be one of the most frustrating and time-consuming parts of preparing a manuscript. In my experience, the find and replace tool in Microsoft Word can be very helpful in addressing these issues.
In this article, I’ve compiled a list of several common inconsistencies and their find/replace solutions, which I hope will help make this process a little easier. Each category includes an example, and some also include a screenshot of the process. I do suggest that you consult your target journal before starting, as well. Ensuring that the conventions you choose to apply are consistent with their guidelines means that you won’t have to repeat the formatting procedure later on!
Abbreviations and acronyms are typically defined the first time they are used within the abstract or main text and then used throughout the remainder of the manuscript. To ensure that abbreviations are used consistently, search for the full definition to ensure that it only comes up once in the main text, and then replace subsequent instances with the acronym, if necessary. It is also worth noting that some abbreviations, like PCR and ASTM, are so common in their fields that they likely do not need to be defined. Some journals also prefer to have a separate abbreviations list or ask that abbreviations be defined separately in each section. When in doubt, consult your target journal’s guidelines.
- Find: “World Health Organization”
- Replace: “WHO” (if necessary)
In bioscience papers especially, the terms up- and down-regulation/regulate/regulates and over-expression/expressed are often hyphenated inconsistently. Because these terms have multiple forms that should all be hyphenated in the same way, I recommend performing find and replace for just the first part of the word, which will catch all the related forms. For example:
- Find: “up-reg” or “over-exp”
- Replace: “upreg” or “overexp”
Note: these can be switched, depending on your spelling preference.
One common inconsistency in technical papers is the inclusion or omission of spaces between a number and degree symbol or percent sign. In these cases, either convention is considered acceptable, but only one should be used throughout the entire manuscript. To address these inconsistencies, try the following:
- Find: “ °C” or “ %”
- Replace: “°C” or “%” (or vice versa, depending on your preference)
Another common spacing error is the omission of a space between a number and a unit of measurement. This case is slightly trickier because it involves the use of wildcards (i.e., you will need to check the “Use wildcards” box in the find and replace tool). In the following example, using the wildcard term “[0 - 9]” allows you to search for and add a space after any digit directly followed by a given unit instead of having to perform the search separately for each digit. Similar strategies can be used to standardize the spacing around mathematical operators (e.g., <, >, =, ±). Be sure to run this find and replace twice – once with the space and digit on the left of the operator and once with the space and digit on the right.
You can also eliminate inadvertent extra spaces by searching for two spaces and replacing it with one:
- Find: “ “
- Replace: “ “
Note that you will not want to use ‘replace all’ here if you have used multiple spaces for formatting reasons (e.g., instead of a tab to indent a paragraph or to align the items in a table). This strategy is also not particularly helpful if you want to use two spaces between sentences rather than one! For this special case, you can set the spellcheck settings in Word to ensure that all sentences are separated by two spaces and catch extra spaces elsewhere. To do this, open Word > Preferences > Spelling and Grammar; then click the “Settings…” button and select the option for two spaces between sentences (vs. one). This preferences panel also has a setting to flag the use of the serial comma (always/never).
Run find and replace with the “Match Case” option selected to ensure the consistent capitalization of any term. If you are replacing a term that is sometimes in uppercase with a lowercase version, avoid using the “replace all” function, as this may introduce errors (for example, at the beginning of a sentence or in table entries).
Certain terms, such as species names, should always be italicized. You can use the find and replace function to apply the same formatting to every instance of a search term. This strategy can also be used to make sure every instance of a given term is in bold, for example. Be careful when using this strategy for genes and proteins that share the same name; these often have different conventions for italics and capital letters!
Unfortunately, the above strategy to apply formatting to every term can’t be used to format only part of a found term, as would be necessary to apply the correct superscript/subscript to a chemical formula or unit of area or volume. However, you can get around this issue by using “^c”, which tells Word to insert the contents of the clipboard as your replacement text. First, copy the correctly formatted term (e.g., “CO2” or “m3”) to the clipboard using Ctrl+C in Windows or Apple+C on a Mac. Then, run find and replace:
American and British English
The Microsoft Word UK English dictionary typically does not correct words like recognize or analyze, even though recognise and analyse are more common spellings in British English. You can use find and replace tool, in addition to changing the language settings, to catch these terms.
- Find: “iz” or “yz”
- Replace: “is” or “ys”
It is best not to use “replace all” in this case, since that will also change words like “size” to “sise” and make unwanted changes in the references.
As an editor, I often use the sidebar search tool (Ctrl+F in Word for Windows, shift+Apple+H in Word for Mac) when looking for these inconsistencies; the sidebar counts and lists all the instances of a search term and highlights the term in the text, making it easy to spot inconsistencies and identify the dominant convention. This tool can also be set to ignore case (or not), include wildcards, or search for the whole word form only. However, the regular find and replace tool must be used for the special formatting cases.
We hope these tips will help you save some time while ensuring that your final manuscript is polished and consistent. As always, we wish you the best of luck with publication! If you have any questions, please email us.