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Agent Ransack for Multi-Folder Search: A Tutorial

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

The books I edit arrive as separate Word files, one for each chapter. I cannot recall ever receiving a book as a single file. For one thing, scientific books don't contain just text; they typically have images, equations, and tables, all of which increase the file size. If all the chapters are combined in a single file, file corruption is a distinct possibility. If the book has multiple contributors, then chapter-wise consistency is the norm, which makes it convenient to have the chapters in separate files. Finally, if the deadline is tight, chapters are sometimes sent separately to the typesetter as the copyeditor finishes them, which is not possible if the book is a single file.

So, let's assume we have the book in its own folder with each chapter in its own subfolder. How can consistency be imposed on a bunch of files sitting in their own folders? The answer is multi-folder search. It's a functionality that's built into Windows search, but a specialized tool will offer additional options. I've used a couple of them since my early copyediting days, but I'm very happy with Agent Ransack, which I stumbled upon a year or so ago. In this post, I'll explain how it works.

Agent Ransack can be downloaded from the Mythicsoft website: The software is free for both personal and commercial use.

When you fire up Agent Ransack, you will see this:

Click on the icon below "File" to open the search window:

There are three panels: top, left, and right. Make sure that the Expert mode is selected (see the top-right corner of the top panel). For the purpose of this little tutorial, I downloaded a handful of books from Project Gutenburg and stored them in a Test folder as follows:

There are four folders containing books, and two books are stored outside the folders. I will use Agent Ransack to search the books in this Test folder. Let us now tell Agent Ransack to search in this folder. Note the folder icon in the right panel, next to the Subfolders checkbox. I checked Subfolders because I want the subfolders to be searched. Now I clicked on the folder icon and navigated to the Test folder. The screen now looks like this:

I now entered the word I want to search, "minkowski", in the "Containing text" box of the top panel (the "File name" box is used to search for files using their names) and hit the Start button on the right side of the panel. The result is shown below:

Three books—all physics books—contain the word. The number of hits in each book is shown in the left panel, and the lines containing the word are shown in the right panel, with the search term highlighted. If the line snippets are not enough context, you can click on a file name in the left panel to open the file. I find this display convenient and well designed.

Note that the top panel displays the Main tab. Next, I clicked the Options tab in the top panel. Clicking the dropdown next to "Boolean" reveals the "Regular Expressions" option. This is a powerful text search tool that most editors will not need to use, but it's nice to know that the capability is there. Some of you may be familiar with wildcards, which is Word's implementation of regular expressions.

I now checked the "Match case" option.

I then clicked the Main tab and hit Start. Unsurprisingly, there are no hits, as shown below:

I next changed the search folder to the subfolder Literature and searched for "God," with the results shown below:

Note that "Godfrey" is counted as a hit. What if I'm interested in finding whole words and not fragments embedded in longer words? Then I enclose the word in angle brackets, like this:

You can see that the results now return only whole words; the Godfreys have disappeared. By the way, this use of angle brackets is a regular expressions feature, and so it's no surprise that it's also built into Word wildcard searches. Even if you have no idea what regular expressions and wildcards are all about, you've now used them. Maybe this is only the beginning of a grand adventure for you?

Exact phrases (consisting of more than one word) or hyphenated compounds can be hunted down by enclosing the search term in quotes:

"Thank God" does not occur in Moby Dick.

Don't forget that we have been performing case-sensitive searches. I next unchecked "Check case" in Options and repeated the previous search:

You can see that now Moby Dick is included; it only contains "thank God," not "Thank God."

Next, I wanted the Medicine folder to be searched in addition to the Literature folder. So I clicked on the icon consisting of two folders on the right of the top panel (next to the folder icon). A new window opened, and I was able to browse for the Medicine folder and add it, as shown below:

On clicking Start, we see that a book in the Medicine folder contains one instance of "thank God":

This concludes my little tutorial on Agent Ransack. I hope you have found it useful, and will try out the software. Copyeditors, who use mostly Microsoft Word, will be happy to know that Agent Ransack searches Word comments too.

I use Agent Ransack every day in my work, and I cannot thank Mythicsoft enough for developing such a well-designed tool and making it free for both personal and commercial use.

Some sensitive souls were perturbed by the "Ransack" in the product name, and so Mythicsoft released another version of the product with the bland but explanatory name "FileLocator Lite." The two products are identical twins with different names.

My vote is for Agent Ransack.


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