Quick Tip: Tag and Restore Italics in Word


You all know that the key to a good ebook format is a squeaky clean source file, right? Word doesn’t produce particularly clean documents. For best results, you should strip out extraneous codes before you begin to format. Mark Coker of Smashwords calls it the “Nuclear Option.” You copy/paste your document into a text editor and that will remove all the unwanted coding. Then you copy/paste the clean text back into Word and you are ready to format.

Anyone who has tried this knows that doing so will not only remove unwanted coding, it’ll nuke your italics, too (and other special formatting and styles). Here is an easy way to tag all your special formatting and then restore it. (What I will show you applies to bolding, underlining, different sized fonts, etc., too.)

Here is a document in need of a good cleaning:

TagOpen the search box and make it look like this:

Tag 1If you open the “Format” box you’ll see a drop down menu that gives you a “Font” option. Open that.

Tag 3Notice the many, many options you can search for. Cool, huh?

I have come up with tags through trial and error. I use several different programs when I format ebooks, so I needed something unique for search purposes that didn’t make any of the programs say, “Oh no you don’t!” and crash the search box. I use all caps and hyphens to make sure they don’t get mixed up in the text. The most common tags I use are:

  • -STARTI- for italics
  • -STARTB- for bold
  • -STARTU- for underline
  • -END- to close the tag

Back to the document. Click Replace All.

Tag 2Now all your italics are wrapped in tags. This is a good time to go through and make sure your tags are in the right place and that you don’t have any blank space tagged.

Now copy/paste into a text editor:

Tag 4All your formatting is gone.

Now open a new file in Word and apply your main style sheet. Copy/paste your text into the new file. Open the search box and make it look this:

Tag 5Do a Replace All and… ta da!

Tag 6I generally wait until I’ve formatted all my headers and centering and any other styling necessary before I restore special formatting. Once done, all that’s left to do is to get rid of the tags.

Tag 7Replace All and done!

In the time it took you to read this blog post, you could have tagged and restored six files. It really is that easy.



27 thoughts on “Quick Tip: Tag and Restore Italics in Word

  1. I have bunches of files that I know are not clean because of the hidden junk – and I have been terrified of losing the italics. I put great amounts of time and care into using italics for specific purposes, and the thought of having to either re-do them or even to have to compare things to the original by hand has brought me to a complete halt.

    I assume you also have to remove the END parts before you’re actually done.

    Now, do you know what the procedure is for cleaning up Scrivener files the same way? I switched to Scrivener – and imported all my text, plus wrote lots and lots more – and I desperately want to clean up my Scrivener act and have one clean way to go forward for all text – and have the same problem: losing those italics (and a few underlines). This keeps me from processing the files quickly as a whole (which Scrivener makes so easy).

    I’m so afraid to let things out of my own hands – and have to deal with what I got back – that it keeps me even from letting someone else do it, but it is wearing me down to have to keep doing the formatting for italics.

    And don’t even get me started about what you have to do when using WordPress to post what looks perfectly fine in your original.

    Thanks for the enormous help.

    • Hi ABE, and yes, when you’re all done formatting, do Replace Alls to get rid of all the tags. Just make sure you type in the entire tag, i.e. -END-. Don’t forget the hyphens. I also find it useful (and should have said in the post) to cut down on chances of errors by turning on Match Case.

      In Scrivener, two useful tidbits. Go to Format>Options>Show Invisibles. That will allow you see such things as paragraph returns and spaces. Then to use the Find/Replace function to either tag or restore special formatting, go to Edit>Find>Find by Formatting.

  2. This has me totally discombobulated! how will I ever self-publish an E-book if I have to do all this? it will drive me nuts! as I am really and extremely technologically challenged, I just want to write!
    I can see I have a lot to learn!
    Your humble Grasshopper!
    Geraldine ;(

    • Your comment gave me a chuckle, Geraldine.

      But I’m going to add a serious note that I happen to believe very strongly. I believe every writer who wants to self-publish should take some of their brilliant writerly brain cells and move them over to the business side of the brain. One thing every self-publisher should do–at least once!–is get their hands dirty with production. Take a short story or an essay. Read up on how to format. Actually format it. Make a cover for it (use Paint or PowerPoint). Then publish it on Amazon and Smashwords. Why? Because it will give you an idea about what goes into production and packaging. Because you’ll find out that the actual publishing process isn’t difficult. Because you might find out you’re really good at it or enjoy it enough to learn to get really good at it. Most of all, if you decide to hire services, you will know what the formatter, editor, proofreader, cover designer, whoever is supposed to be doing and you can keep an eye on things and they won’t be able to feed you a lot of BS that you’ll accept out of ignorance.

      Indie Power!

      • Extremely wise words oh master! reminds me of my earlier career of which I found out and worked every single department before seeking to become a manager,and I was one of the first women to do so! nowadays it’s standard protocol unless you’re fast tracked through a graduate programme of course!
        Thank you. 😉 You now have an avid follower!
        I shall learn slow but well!
        Grasshopper Geraldine 🙂

  3. You once left a comment on a post I wrote about formatting, and I was so happy to learn this trick! This is even better, a step by step tutorial. Thanks so much for all your good help.

  4. Great tutorial and I wish I’d found it some years ago when I still used Word. I don’t want this comment to read like an infomercial so I won’t say what I’m using now, but I will say I could never go back to Word again!

    • Do share, ac. I’m always checking out new programs and new ways to do things because of leads from commentors. Who knows, maybe someday someone will stumble onto the perfect program that does EVERYTHING!

      I will say one thing in Word’s favor–but only one, since some days it is the bane of my existence–it has a kickass Search function. (like today, I was searching for red text, so easy) I’m trying to learn regex, but even with cheat sheets it makes my eyeballs roll back in my head. So when I get too frustrated, I sneak over to Word just to make my life a little easier.

      • I haven’t come across regex before but now I’m not sure I want to! lol

        The application I use is called StoryBox. For a long time it was the PC equivalent of Scrivener on the MAC. Basically StoryBox is a word processor, database and project manager all in one. And it isn’t hard to use at all. It allows me to create chapters and scenes that can then be moved around on the storyboard feature. Great for restructuring a novel, especially for a pantster like me. The best feature though is StoryBox’s ability to export the finished file into plain text, rich text, epub or mobi formats. In conjunction with another application called Calibre, I can export my novel, convert it to Kindle compatible format and then proof read it on my Kindle. Uploading to Amazon is much easier too.

        Apologies for blabbing on but StoryBox really has made writing easier for me. And no, I don’t have shares in the company or anything. 😀

  5. Regex=regular expressions. It’s what programmers use to search code. I still haven’t figured out what is “regular” about it.

    StoryBox does sound like Scrivener. I love Scrivener. I do caution you about using Calibre to convert ebooks for retail markets, though. It’s a terrific program with a better reading display than just about any other I’ve found. It does NOT make good commercial ebooks. It takes all the junk code from the word processor, then adds a bunch of Calibre junk on top of it. The ebooks are prone to breakage. For best results, download the Kindle Previewer. Generate a mobi file from StoryBox, then upload it in the Previewer. If there’s something wrong with it, the Previewer will kick the file then tell you why and you’ll be able to fix it.


  6. Showing up late from The Passive Voice. I wish I’d heard of this method before I published my first book. The Meatgrinder (horrible name, and it almost deserves it) at Smashwords kept doing bizarre things to my formatting, and I had to come up with my own trick to preserve formatting through what they call the Nuclear Option.

    The method I eventually came up with was much like yours, except I tagged each individual italicized character by marking it with another character not otherwise used in the book. I used the vertical bar, so an italicized word would look like |t|h|i|s. Marking each character meant I didn’t have to fiddle about with ‘END’ tags. On the other hand, it meant that I could only apply one kind of special formatting to a given bit of text – no bold italics, for instance. That doesn’t greatly matter for fiction, but it would be a hairy nuisance for some other types of writing.

    I like your way better. Thanks for explaining it!

  7. Brilliant. This saved me a ton of time. I was changing 2500+ instances of one footnote style to another footnote style and the italics were dropping, but I used this method to preserve the italics. Will come in very handy in the future as well I’m sure. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  8. Jaye,
    Please understand that I am grateful for all the work you put in on this. But would it be possible to go back and include every step in a “second edition?” And, I assume you’re using Word2003. Those of us with 2010 have different boxes and commands. Like a couple of posters wrote, I’m afraid of losing those darned italics. It took me over four hours to go through the saved 70,000 word copy and transcribe the hundred or so italics to what I thought was WP-ready copy. But at least I now have a copy of the copy (with italics), so I can “fool around” with it.

  9. Hi Jaye
    A little late to the party but…I’ve followed these instructions exactly; all is fine until I try to replace the italics. Find and Replace tagged 243 instances of italics, but found 0 in the new Word file I’d created when I tried to return the italics to the document. I am using Word for Mac 2011 and I used Textedit as my text editor…do you think either of these things made a difference?

    • Hi Elizabeth, when you bring your text back to Word there will be NO italics, but the text you want italicized should be wrapped in your tags. That’s where the “wildcard” comes in. Toggle that on, make sure there is “no formatting” in the Find box, then type in * (whatever tags you happened to use. Leave the Replace box empty, but select italics. Do a replace all and you’ll restore italics. Then you delete your tags.

      The asterisk between your tags is a search term–it tells Word to search for the full string between your tags, including your tags. If you’re still having trouble, email me.

      • Hi Jaye,

        Thanks for the swift reply.

        I should have been clearer in my comment; I did do all that, and I’ve just tried it again, but still no italics between my tags in the new document. Not quite sure what the problem is…

        With thanks, Elizabeth

  10. No clue if Elizabeth’s issue got sorted out – but – using a Mac I’m finding that when you do the “replace” with -START-^&-END- that it is actually putting your words not where you expect and it’s coming out as: -STARnoT–END- (the word ‘no’ was in italics)… so then when you search the new document for: -START-*-END- it’s not finding anything because in reality it’s come out as: -STAR*T–END- I’m guessing it’s a Mac issue, and there might be a more correct way of doing it on a Mac (like maybe it’s not ^& but something else?) – but it does still work. When you’re ready to get rid of the tags you then have to search for: -STAR* to replace with blank and then T–END- to replace with blank – I recommend doing a single replacement and test so that you can see exactly what’s happening on your document and how to adjust accordingly then proceed from there.

  11. Pingback: Make It Work #10: Upload Your Book to Smashwords Without Tears (#selfpublishing #writingtips #amwriting) – Tara Lee Davis — A story begins one word at a time

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