How to Repair Damaged Word Documents

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Like any other file on your computer, Microsoft Word documents can get corrupted. Sometimes the damage manifests in obvious ways, like with formatting issues. A corrupt Word document can cause application crashes, system hangs, and many other annoyances that hamper your productivity.

Every new Microsoft Word release introduces new types of file corruption, and can also cause new and different types of problems. There are a few techniques that you can use to repair damaged Word documents, or damaged areas in Word documents, that are quick and easy. None of these fixes work 100% of the time, but these techniques have been proven time and time again.

Document Crashes Repeatedly

This is one of the worst types of document corruption, but it is also one of the most common. You open a document, work in it for a while and then Word suddenly comes to a halt and shuts down. You re-open the document, and a few minutes later the same thing happens. Once you’ve determined that the problem is limited to one document and not a larger system or Microsoft Word problem, you can easily fix it. Open a new blank document, and then open the damaged document. Copy the entire contents of the damaged document and paste it into the new blank document. Save the new document with a new name in another place (as a precaution in case the problem involves where you were saving the original file). Make sure that the new file has all of the formatting and elements (pictures, tables, etc.) that appeared in the original.

Once you have confirmed that the new copy of the document contains the full contents and formatting of the original document, you can continue working from the new document. This will fix a lot of corrupt documents, but if the problem is linked to a corrupt element in the document (picture, embedded Microsoft Office file, etc.); it is possible that the crashes and application halts will continue. If that is the case, try removing some of the larger elements from the document and see if it fixes the issue.

Formatting Will Not Change

If you have a document that is heavily formatted, you may encounter issues removing or replacing existing formatting. This frequently happens in Office 2003 and Office 2007 Word documents that have a lot of styles.

We’ve personally experienced this particular issue extensively when editing documents. If you remove a few lines from a document that are formatted in a particular way (e.g., a bulleted list), sometimes the next line will either take the formatting of the lines you removed or will refuse to take the formatting of the line you removed.

Another good example of this is when you use a Header 1 style to start a chapter after a page break, but after you move items around in the document, the chapter number in the Header 1 style disappears. We’ve all encountered issues like this and most of us use a trial and error strategy to fix it. Here are some things you should try first.

  1. Remove the formatting using Clear All from the Styles sidebar menu.

    Clear All style in Microsoft Word.

  2. Remove the text that is giving problems (CTRL+X) and paste it back into the document as plain text. Try reformatting it after you do this.

  3. Insert a blank page in the document close to the area that has formatting issues and move all of the text and document elements to the new blank page. Delete the page that was having formatting issues.

These techniques will not fix every instance of formatting problems, but they will help. If you see this happening throughout your document, consider copying the contents of the document to a new blank document.

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LAST UPDATED 4/22/2010