Changing words quickly with Vim

I try to use Vim shortcuts to automate repetitive text-editing tasks. Here are two examples.

Differentiating Code and Files

While walking a user through an internal README, she mentioned that she wanted commands to type surrounded by backticks (`type me`), (which makes it look like code), and filenames surrounded with quotes ("filename.txt"). I thought changing words like this would be a lot more tedious than it turned out to be.

I ended up making this change with the following Vim usage:

  • Install vim-surround to help change surrounding text.
  • Travel to possible filenames surrounded by backticks
    • Turn on search highlighting with :set hlsearch
    • Search for words with a . surrounded by backticks with the following search: /`.*\..*`
    • This search will pull up more matches than we want to change, so travel between them with n and N.
  • Once the cursor is on the first word to chagne, type cs`" to change the surrounding backticks to quotes.
  • Hit n to go to the next potential word to change and, if it’s something to change, hit . to repeat the last change.

In the end, once you set up the search and the change, actually changing the rest of the document consists of typing n , then . for each word. Short of writing a script specifically to read a file, present possible matches, prompt me whether or not to replace them, and then change it (which would take way more set up), I can’t think of another way to easily change large amounts of text in this manner.

Vimifying pasted Docs

Sometime last year I started doing most text editing in Vim. I was recently copying text from multiple Google Docs documents into Vim and I wanted to make the text friendly to work with in Vim. This means that I wanted to separate paragraphs with a space, remove leading indentation from paragraphs, and insert newlines to separate long lines (I like my lines 80 characters wide).

This is fairly easy to do manually. When copied the paragraphs were already separated by spaces, so I didn’t have to do that. Unindenting an offending line can be done with << and formatting it with newlines can be done with gqq. But doing those steps can be automated even further with [macros] (

  • Navigate to an offending line in Normal Mode
  • qa to start recording a macro in the a register
  • << to unindent the line
  • gqq to impose my line length
  • o to insert a new line and inter Insert Mode
  • <Esc> to exit Insert Mode to Normal Mode
  • j to move down a line
  • q to stop recording

Now I can play that macro with @a in Normal Mode. That’s still awkward to type, so I temporarily remapped it to Space in Normal Mode with :nnoremap <Space> @a.

Now formatting the document is pretty easy. Go to a line, then hit <Space> to format it. The macro takes me to the next line after that, so there’s a good chance I can just hit <Space> again.