Whenever I search the manpages, I'm almost always trying to find out what's going on with a specific flag. For example, when searching the man pages for pandoc I was searching the for -f flag. I'm not sure how to say, quickly get to the flag which is here:

   General options
       -f FORMAT, -r FORMAT, --from=FORMAT, --read=FORMAT

and filter out stuff like:

iconv -t utf-8 input.txt | pandoc | iconv -f utf-8           


pandoc -f markdown -t latex hello.txt

I've tried searching for /-f, and I've looked at another post and tried (^|\s)-f($|\s\) but it was invalid. So I'm wondering how do you quickly search less for "only the flag -f"?

Would love your thoughts or some other tool that you use to quickly go through documentation

  • 1
    first, good for you for using the man pages! i'd humbly suggest starting with looking for an OPTIONS section (forward slash to activate search then type uppercase: OPTIONS). in your search for -f be sure to include a space after it (without quotes): '-f ', finally try the command itself with an '-h', and perhaps pipe to grep: pandoc -h | grep -A 3 '\-f ' Oct 22, 2016 at 18:23
  • thanks for the suggestion! Searching for 'OPTIONS' then -f with the space helps, but then I tried reading the reading the man pages for grep to figure out what -A was and missed it because grep uses DESCRIPTION to put it's flags instead of OPTIONS ;). Is there any rhyme or reason for when a command uses one or the other? Also I like piping the help into grep, I'm going to mess around with it more, and maybe make a script out of it, would love your feedback when I do
    – mbigras
    Oct 22, 2016 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


One reasonably convenient, if not perfect, approach is to rely on the fact that the definition of an option usually involves that option being at the start of a line preceded only by spaces, so you can type:

/^ *-f

If you want to search for a long option, you might find that there's a short option before it, so you could type this instead:

/^ *-.*-from

While it may be possible to get a bit more accurate than this, for interactive use you normally want something quick and easy to remember.

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