Inconsistent Behavior of Find and Replace Dialog Box

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 30, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


Arlene often uses Ctrl+F to locate records in her worksheet so she can modify them. When the Find and Replace dialog box opens, the text in the Find What box is highlighted, which is very helpful; it allows her to immediately overtype what was there before. Sometimes, however, the text in the Find What box is not highlighted, and instead the insertion point is at the beginning of the box's contents. When Arlene starts typing, her text is added to what was in the box before.

This inconsistency is understandably frustrating to Arlene. She would find it most helpful if the contents of the Find What box were always highlighted and that she could count on that all the time, but she cannot. So, she wonders if there is some setting she should check to ensure that Excel is consistent when displaying the Find and Replace dialog box.

There is no setting within Excel that controls whether the Find What text is selected or the insertion point is at the beginning of the Find What box. In fact, in our testing, we could not replicate this issue—every time we used Ctrl+F to display the Find and Replace dialog box, the Find What text was always highlighted. In addition, the text was highlighted every time we left the Find What box (by pressing Tab or by clicking on a different control in the Find and Replace dialog box) and then came back to the Find What box.

This would lead one to question if there might be some macro in play on Arlene's system that is intercepting the Ctrl+F shortcut key or, perhaps, some third-party program that is affecting how Find in Replace operates. If so, then setting Ctrl+F back to its normal operation should fix the problem.

Be that as it may, there is a relatively simple fix that can help ensure the Find What text is selected at all times. Immediately after press Ctrl+F to display the Find and Replace dialog box, press Ctrl+Shift+Right Arrow. This ensures that everything in the Find What box is selected, and if something was previously selected, that selection is not disturbed. At this point, any additional typing you do will overwrite whatever was in the Find What box.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (7923) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 9 + 4?

2022-06-12 14:27:21

Roger Stone

I think you'll find this depends on whether the Find-Replace box was already open, having been used previously and then hidden under another window. If you are opening a completely new Find-Replace box, it comes up with the whole word you used last time highlighted. If the box is already open, it reappears on the surface with the insertion point. There is some logic to this.

2022-06-11 03:11:59


In Excel, my experience is that whenever the Replace tab is selected either after pressing Ctrl-F or Selected by pressing Ctrl-H, the "Replace With" box has focus. The contents of the box are highlighted. It has been this way since perhaps Excel version 2003. Personally I would like the "Find what" box to have focus. If there is a secret to getting the find What box selected I would love to know it.

In VBA, Word, Access, Publisher and PowerPoint the "Find What" box is the one that has focus no matter what box had focus when the dialog was closed although there are minor differences between them. Excel is the odd one out. (OneNote doesn't have a Replace dialog.)

2022-06-09 07:51:57

Dave Roberts

I find it easier to press Ctrl+a to highlight all and overwrite.

2018-04-10 12:52:09

Willy Vanhaelen

The behaviour you describe is indeed a very annoying. it seems to appear in all Office applications. It irritates me every time because it is not logic and prone to errors.


2018-04-10 02:58:56

Alan Elston

I can't replicate the issue reported by Arlene in a search and find in a spreadsheet either. ( I have tried Excel 2003 , 2007 and 2010 on a few independent versions on different computer instillations)

However I have always observed another slightly strange, or at least inconvenient, behaviour in all my attempts at a search and find in the
Excel VAB Editor Window:
This inconvenient behaviour I see in all those versions of Excel that I have.
I also observe this inconvenient behaviour in Word 2007, both in a search and find
in a document
and also
on a search and find in the Word VBA Editor Window

This inconvenient behaviour is that when hitting the replace with, then the find what is still highlighted and selected. So if I am not careful and start writing immediately after the replace box comes up, then I start overwriting what I am searching for –
So I always must remember to click in the replace box after selecting replace. In all spreadsheet search and replace attempts, the replace box is selected automatically when I hit the replace button. ( I except someone forgot to add that last bit of selection moving software or that last bit of the software does not always work )

Alan Elston

2018-04-09 03:45:38

Richard Price

I can't replicate the issue reported by Arlene either, but there is a somewhat similar issue when repeatedly using Ctrl+H (find and replace), which I believe is consistent. The first time you use it, the insertion point is in the (empty) "Find what" box, but on second and every subsequent occasion it's in the "Replace with" box, with the previous replacement text highlighted.

Presumably there's some reason behind this, but it frequently trips me up. For example, to replace all J10 with K10 I 'd type Ctrl+H J10 Tab K10 Alt+A Enter Esc , which works fine the first time. If at some later point I want to replace all L10 with M10, I would like to type in the same pattern Ctrl+H L10 Tab M10 Alt+A Enter Esc, except that fails because L10 goes into the "Replace with" rather than "Find what", and the Tab highlights the Options button rather than putting the insertion point in "Replace with".

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