4 reasons you should be using GREP if you work with words

As a design agency that solely works within Publishing we deal with a lot of words. In order to meet our clients’ budgets and deadlines we have to be at the top of the game in terms of technical ability as well as creative ability when working with these words to create beautiful educational materials for learners.

That’s why we love pushing the design software as much as is humanly possible. One of the tools we use within InDesign is the more sophisticated search and replace function GREP. It’s like being a software programmer but for people who work with words!

We asked Duncan, one of our senior designers, to give us his top 4 reasons as to why you should use it too (or ask us to help you):

1. Quickly & effectively helps to tidy up manuscripts. A basic example of this would be to use GREP to remove any unnecessary double spaces or multiple paragraph breaks and tabs.

2. The use of wildcards allows us to search and replace a lot of text in one pass, making the formatting throughout a document as consistent as possible. For example, tabs after numbers in lists, and changing hyphens to en-dashes where necessary.

3. GREP can be combined with Character Styles and integrated into Paragraph Styles. This allows us to automatically apply Character Styles to certain text when the Paragraph Style is applied. We can use this to automatically avoid orphans and widows, keep leader lines with their corresponding exercise number, or apply a style to figure references.

4. Change non-standard characters. We’re sometimes asked to use a certain typeface but replace one of the characters with one from a different typeface. For example, we may need to use an infant ‘a’, or a sans serif with arms on the ‘I’ – these could be replaced automatically within the Paragraph Style.

About the Author:


  1. Karen White July 3, 2013 at 8:02 am - Reply

    As an editorial project manager I had GREP demonstrated to me about a year ago, and realised how useful it could be. However, editors don’t know enough about it to make it work sufficiently through all the stages. Any suggestions as to how we could enlighten them? Or do you think it’s something we should leave to the design team?

  2. emc design July 3, 2013 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your comment and great that you’ve had some experience of using GREP, you’ll know just how powerful it can be! And with power comes complexity. However, that’s not to say that editors and in-house teams can’t be shown how to use some of the simpler functions to help ready manuscripts. And consequently save time in production. The GREP we use is a function within InDesign, but there are stand-alone GREP text editors that could be used, but the whole process is very technical in nature with elements of coding. In capable hands it is a powerful tool, but that doesn’t mean to say that it is beyond editorial departments to take this on board, but they would need training. Having said that, as Publishers start to integrate their digital departments and share their skills, helping editors to get a grasp of how this simple coding programme works wouldn’t be too much of a headache for someone who is able to use sophisticated programming tools.

    It is also a great example of how design and production houses, like emc design, can work with in-house teams. We have had several occasions where editors have come to our training suite to be shown the technical side of their projects in production. It’s beneficial for design agencies to be willing to work with their clients in this way and be transparent in how they can save them time and money in production techniques.

  3. […] GREP to efficiently do this. If you’ve never used GREP read our top tips on why you should here. This applies to print and digital […]

  4. […] 4 reasons you should be using GREP if you work with words […]

Leave A Comment