Just Find and Replace! Just No.


Find and Replace box

Have you ever discussed a change to a document and been given the advice to “just do a find and replace”?

As with most jobs, people who don’t write think that writing is easier than it really is. “Just do a find and replace” is one of the most common, and short-sighted, comments I hear from non-writers.

Note: I’m not talking about using the Find and Replace tool to go through the instances one-by-one. I’m talking about clicking “replace all” and calling it a day.

Global Find and Replace Breaks Stuff

An example

A company has previously referred to certain app screens as panels, but has decided to start referring to them as “dialog boxes.”

Rather than go through them one by one, they “just do a find and replace.”

Great. All those app screens are now called dialog boxes.

But guess what.

Every instance of the phrase “term panel” (a piece of equipment in telecommunications) was changed to “term dialog box.”

Every mention of the panel of speakers at the big conference was changed to a dialog box of speakers.

Bonus example

There’s a company called Good Company. The marketing VP says that the proper way to write the name is: GOODcompany.

But the product manager can’t remember that, and keeps asking you to edit long documents that ignore the capitalization.

You still with me?

Correct = GOODcompany

Incorrect = goodcompany

“Just do a find and replace.”

After the Find and Replace:

  • Find us on the Web at: http://GOODcompany.com (customers think they need to capitalize part of the URL)
  • We refer to a filename in a snippet of script that’s case-sensitive. Oops, that script no longer works.
  • There are elements in the software that haven’t been updated to the new capitalization yet, but I’ve suddenly told people to click the “GOODcompany button,” when there’s really only a “goodcompany” button.


Find and replace can screw you up. It’s almost never as simple as other people think it is, regardless of how sure they are that you’re just being difficult.

Find and Replace is sometimes ok

There are some times when I think we can probably (maybe) get away with it:

  • When a phone number has changed.
  • When a person’s name has changed (as long as the email address has changed as well).
  • When we want to update “copyright 2011” to “copyright 2012”.

Otherwise, we just need to patiently explain that making global changes involves either time or risk of error. The boss can decide which choice is best.

Have you found good reasons to use global find and replace? Have you found that others think you can use it more than you can?


4 Responses to “Just Find and Replace! Just No.”