At Orgtheory, Fabio asked about how to identify substrings within text fields in Stata. Although this is a seemingly simple proposal, there is one big problem, as Gabriel Rossman points out: Stata string fields can only hold 244 characters of text. As Fabio desires to use this field to analyze scientific abstracts, then 244 characters is obviously insufficient.

Gabriel Rossman has posted a solution he has called grepmerge that uses the Linux-based program grep to search for strings in files. This is a great solution, but it comes with one large caveat: it cannot be used in a native Windows environment. This is because the grep command is only native to Linux-based systems (which include Apple computers). Therefore, I set out to find a solution that was a) platform-independent and b) internal to Stata (if possible).

Below is the solution that I developed. The solution, it turns out, is not to rely on Stata's string variables or string functions (both can only handle 244 characters), but instead to rely on Stata's local macros ("macros" are what other programming languages call "variables;" however, this would be confusing given that Stata also has variables, thus Stata calls them "macros"). The second key comes from the extended functions of Stata's macros. These are functions that build in much of the programming functions for Stata. There is no function defined to search for strings that are immediately like regex() or strpos(); however, there is an extended function to substitute within strings that will also provide a count of the number of substitutions made. Since all we really care about is the number of times a string would be substituted, then if we know that the count of substitutions is greater than we have the information that we need.