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Top Ten Word Annoyances
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

10b. Recover a Document After a Crash

The Annoyance: Word crashed again. Microsoft Office Application Recovery didn't do any good this time. And when I try to open the document, Word crashes again.

The Fix: This doesn't sound good, but all isn't lost yet. Here's what you should do, step-by-step:

1. Open a Windows Explorer window to the folder that contains the document and make a couple of copies of it. The easiest way to create a copy is to Ctrl-drag the document within the folder, but Copy and Paste works fine too. These copies are insurance in case your efforts to open the document turns out to trash it further. Leave the Windows Explorer window open.

2. Start Word again, choose File -> Open, select the document, click the drop-down arrow on the Open button, and choose "Open and Repair." If all goes well, Word fixes whatever is ailing the document and opens it. Choose File -> Save As and save the document under another name so that the entire document is written afresh. With the document still open, choose File -> Save As again, choose Rich Text Format in the "Save as Type" drop-down list, and save the document as a rich text file. Close the document, and copy the new document and the rich text document to a backup medium in case the problem returns.

3. If Word can't open the file, and Word is set to create backup copies of documents (if the "Always create backup copy" box on the Save tab of the Options dialog box is checked), try to open the backup file. In the Windows Explorer window, switch to Details view (View -> Details) and click the Name column heading to sort the files by name and double-click the backup file, which will be named "Backup of," the document's name, and the .wbk extension. If it opens, save it under a different name. For good measure, save it in Rich Text Format as well, as described in the previous step.

4. If Word isn't creating backup copies, look in the Windows Explorer window for a temporary file of the document. In Details view (View -> Details), click the Type column heading twice to produce a reverse sort by file type. This will put the "Word Temporary File" type near the top of the list. Identify the latest temporary file of your document by its date and file size (its file size will be nearly the same as that of your document file). Right-click the file, click "Open With," and choose the Word item (for example, Microsoft Office Word). If the document opens, save it under a different name. For good measure, save it in Rich Text Format as well, as described in step 2.

5. If you don't have a backup copy or a temporary file, try using WordPad to open the document that makes Word crash. In the Windows Explorer window, right-click the file, select Open With -> Choose Program, select WordPad, and click the OK button. WordPad understands only some of Word's formatting, so it has a better chance of not getting confused by errors in the document's formatting table. If WordPad can open the document, save it under a different file name. You'll have lost the formatting that WordPad can't read, but you should have the text of the document plus basic font formatting.

6. If WordPad can't open the document, and you're prepared to lose even the font formatting, use Word's "Recover text from any file" converter to recover the text. Choose File -> Open, select "Recover text from any file" in the "Files of type" drop-down list, select the document, and click the Open button. Save the resulting document under another file name. You'll need to manually remove extraneous information and odd characters from the document, and replace headers, footers, footnotes, and endnotes, which will appear as normal text paragraphs in the document.

7. If Word's "Recover text from any file" converter can't open the file, open it with Notepad instead. This is the last resort and will cost you all the formatting in the document, but you should be able to recover the text.

  • Depending on how the document is formatted, you will probably need to replace box-like characters with paragraph marks, but this tends to be far preferable to recreating the document from scratch.
  • In the worst case, the text may contain corruption that you will need to remove manually.
  • Save the file under a new name from Notepad, and then open it in Word.

Note: If you have another word processor installed on your computer, use it to open a damaged version of the document. Word processors such as Corel WordPerfect and OpenOffice.org include text converters that can read most Word features but are fairly tolerant of document corruption, bypassing it as being features they can't interpret. Again, you're likely to lose much formatting, but you may be able to recover most of the text.

Oh, wait--you wanted me to tell you how to get rid of the Office Assistant? Right-click its current manifestation and choose Properties on the shortcut menu. On the Options tab of the Office Assistant dialog, uncheck the "Use the Office Assistant" box, and then click the OK button.

And fix problems with numbered lists? Sorry--that's a long one. See the book for details.


In June 2005, O'Reilly Media, Inc., released Word Annoyances.

Guy Hart-Davis is the author of Windows XP and Office 2003 Keyboard Shortcuts, Mac OS X and Office v.X Keyboard Shortcuts, Word 2000 Developer's Handbook, and about 30 other computer books.


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