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John Deubert’s AcrobatiX: Advanced Text Search in Acrobat X

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Do you need to find out which of the 183 PDF files in your Documents folder contain references to Uncle Henry's Newt Farms? Acrobat's Advanced Search makes it a snap, and author John Deubert shows you how it works.
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In my off hours, I write a periodical called the Acumen Journal; each issue is built around a pair of lengthy articles, one of them on advanced Acrobat use. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, now, so I’ve accumulated quite a number of these issues. Surprisingly, I find they are very good references for me, as well as for my customers; my tiny brain is always losing track of useful bits of Acrobat lore that I have to look up among the 60-some-odd copies of the Journal.

I value efficiency (or, to put it another way, I’m lazy); if I need a reminder on, say, how to create calculated form fields, I do not want to scan the list of Acrobat articles by eye. My tool of preference in such cases is Acrobat’s long-standing Advanced Search feature. There are moments in my life when I absolutely love this component of Acrobat; other times, I’m merely fond of it. It’s always among my favorites, though.

Let’s look at it in detail.

So, What Is It Exactly?

Advanced Search is an extended version of the standard, useful-but-boring Find Text command (Command/Control-F). It does a mass hunt for the text you want (the “target” text), returning a list of all the instances of that text (“hits”) in your PDF file; it presents those instances in a convenient, clickable list. This is nearly always better than using the standard Find, which steps you through instances of the target text one…instance…at…a…time (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The Acrobat Find command works just like everyone else’s Find command; it steps you through each instance of the target text one at a time. Ennui generally sets in after the 87th click of the tiny right-arrow button.

But that’s not what makes Advanced Search indispensable. What’s really nifty, what elevates Advanced Search to where-have-you-been-all-my-life status, is the fact that it can search for your target text in a collection of PDF files: all PDF files on your disk, in a particular folder, etc.

This is what I use to search my Journal library; if I’m looking for information on calculated form fields, Advanced Search will give me a clickable list of all instances of, say, “Calculate” in all the documents in my folder of back issues (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Advanced Search searches one or more files for your target text, presenting you with a list of all the instances it found.

Acrobat’s multi-file Search is one of those “I don’t need it all the time, but when I do need it, I really need it” features.

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