18 December 2006


"Can I Delete All My ___ Entries in MS Word?"

(This is the newest entry in my MS Word Indexing FAQ.)

Every now and then, there's nothing you want to do more than globally delete a bunch of entries. The problem is how this is supposed to happen. For example, suppose you have a common main entry for "publicity," when you decide that you're better off with a cross reference like "publicity. See marketing." In addition to creating this cross reference, you need to remove all of your original publicity entries. Although you can search for marker text, you can't search for whole markers. In other words, you can search for the word "publicity" when it's used within index markers (look for hidden text), but you can't search for a whole marker like {XE "publicity"} or {XE "publicity:methods for"}. For this reason you can search globally and delete.

The easiest approach to deleting all publicity entries is the manual approach: generate your index, then delete everything that starts with the word publicity. Unfortunately, manual edits will be undone as soon as you generate the index again; you'll have to remember that you want to make these manual changes every time you create a new version of the index. To help you remember to make these manual changes, I recommend changing the format and/or language for the word publicity to make sure it jumps out at you. Search for XE "publicity, the unique text for all publicity entries, and replace it with boldface, all caps, and a shocking color like red. I also recommend that you change the word publicity with something that will sort at the very beginning of your index, such as aaa DELETE ME. Now, when you generate your index, you'll see some red, boldface, all-caps reminder at the top of your index file. Hopefully this will be enough for you to remember deleting your entries.

Another approach, and by far the one I prefer, is to replace the marker syntax with something that Word can't interpret. Instead of using the letters XE in your marker, use something like DELETE_ME. In other words, globally change XE "publicity with DELETE_ME "publicity. Since markers are hidden text, your DELETE_ME markers will remain hidden from publications; further, they'll fail to become index entries since Word won't interpret them as XE markers. The biggest advantage to this method is that it works globally, and you only have to make these changes once. Another advantage is that you aren't actually deleting the entry, just rewriting it; if for any reason you need to reconstruct entries, you can always change DELETE_ME to XE. (This is a kludgy way of creating conditional text, but it might be just what you need.) The disadvantage is that you're not actually deleting anything, potentially cluttering your documentation.

As a side note, whenever you remove an entry from your index, remember that you have to delete any cross references that target those now-removed entries. For example, if you replace your publicity entries with "publicity. See marketing," you'll need to rewrite or delete entries like "public relations. See also publicity."


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