Highlighting Dialogue in Microsoft Word

Writing novels with believable dialogue

There is a way of highlighting dialogue in Microsoft Word which many authors may find useful. It doesn’t highlight as you type, but once you’ve finished, you can use it to highlight everything between dialogue tags. I have listed the step-by-step instructions below for Word 2019, but using other versions is broadly similar.

WARNING ONE: Create a copy of your novel before following the instructions in case you make a mistake. Only use this method on the original novel once you are sure about what you are doing. The instructions may seem long, but only take a minute or two to complete.

WARNING TWO: The following instructions assume you are using double quotes (“) to show dialogue. If you use single quotes (‘) you will need to change the instructions accordingly.

Use Smart Quotes


This only works if you are using ‘smart quotes’ (curly quotes not straight ones) so the first thing you need to do is ensure you are using ‘smart quotes’ throughout your document. There are two stages. First, by putting autocorrect on, and secondly by replacing all quotes.

  1. In Word, go to Options/Proofing/AutoCorrectOptions. Make sure there is a tick in the ‘Replace as you type, straight quotes with smart quotes’ setting.
  2. In the top menu, find the ‘Find and Replace’ tool.
  3. Find ” and replace with ” to ensure all your ” are smart quotes.

Replace Dialogue With Highlighted Dialogue

There are four stages.

  1. Insert the following in the ‘Find and Replace’ tool (but DO NOT CLICK ON THE REPLACE BUTTON YET)
    The find text is (“)(*)(“)
    The replace text is “\2”
    The quotes in the boxes have to be smart quotes, so copy and paste start and end quotes from your manuscript.
    The * in the find box is an instruction to copy everything between the quotes.
  2. In the ‘Find and Replace’ tool, click in the ‘Find’ box, then on the ‘More’ button, and then in the ‘Use wildcards’ box.
  3. Click in the ‘Replace’ box, then on the ‘Format’ button, and then in the ‘Highlight’ box.
  4. You can NOW CLICK ON THE ‘REPLACE ALL’ BUTTON.

That’s it! Your dialogue should be exactly as it was, but with yellow highlighting.

Highlighting Dialogue in Microsoft Word

REMOVING DIALOGUE HIGHLIGHTING IS SIMILAR BUT IN REVERSE

  1. Insert the same search in the ‘Find and Replace’ tool.
    The find text is (“)(*)(“)
    The replace text is “\2”
  2. Click on the ‘Find’ box, then on the ‘Format’ button, and then in the ‘Highlight’ box (to include finding the highlighting).
  3. Click on the ‘Replace’ box, then on the ‘Format’ button, and then in the ‘Highlight’ box (to remove the highlighting in the replace box).
  4. CLICK ON THE ‘REPLACE ALL’ BUTTON.
    Your dialogue should be exactly as it was, but without the yellow highlighting.

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