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Problems with word processor documents can be very frustrating. This article is about fixing some common and some not-so-common problems with document formatting or damage that may or may not make Word crash or freeze up. Here we'll look at both what to do if you can open and view the file, at least a little, or what to do if the file can't be opened all. This information is based on Microsoft Knowledgebase article 918429.
Navigation: If you can't open your document at all without Word crashing, read the first two sections below and then scroll down and go to page three. Once there, start with the section entitled "Try Opening in Draft View with Minimal Features." If you're getting an error message about "Normal.dot" or are able to open the document with some difficulty or problems within the document, please start immediately below.
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What is Normal.dot?
Normal.dot is the default document template in Microsoft Word. It’s responsible for the blank page that appears when you start Word, and it contains all of the default formatting you’ve set for your documents. It’s fairly common knowledge that checking for a damaged normal.dot file is a first step in troubleshooting when you see normal.dot errors or when Word freezes or crashes at startup.
That’s great when it works, which is quite often, but what if you still can’t get into a document that contains data that you need even after deleting or renaming all the normal.dot files you find on your PC? What if your document opens, but is showing other corruption or causing error message? What if Word appears to be “stuck” and repeatedly tries to process the same formatting (like re-doing the page breaks or page numbers) over and over? Please follow along as we'll be trying to troubleshoot and fix those types of problems, too.
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Start Word without Loading the Default Template
The first step in troubleshooting is to determine if the normal.dot template is damaged. Fortunately this is not difficult. Microsoft has provided a “switch” to use for testing. Here’s how it works.
Click Start → Run, and then type in
and press Enter.
If Word then starts without problems, it’s likely that the normal.dot file is the problem. Fix this by searching your PC (all files and folders on the C: drive) for normal.dot and rename each one to something like “normal.dot.old.” Then start Word to force it to create a new normal.dot template.
If that cures your problem, that’s wonderful. However, if you still have problems with a document, there are other steps to try in troubleshooting. Please continue.
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See if Related Documents are Affected
Can you isolate the problems to one particular document? Check this by seeing if you can open other similar documents. If your problems are spreading to other documents or other components of Office, like your spreadsheet files, the problem is beyond the scope of what we’re covering here. You may need to use the repair function within Office or even reinstall Office. It's also possible that you need to run a virus scan or perform testing and diagnosis on your hard drive.
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But supposing that you find that your problem exists in only a single document or a few related documents that were created at nearly the same time, then the next step in troubleshooting is to determine what they have in common.
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Try another Printer Driver
Microsoft advocates changing the printer driver at this point. This is wise because Word queries the default printer settings when opening a document. Our troubleshooting can veer off here, too, as another possible cause of problems is a missing printer driver.
If your PC is a dual use machine that you use at work as well as a home, it’s possible that the printer drivers for those documents are set up on the network and don’t exist when you’re not connected to that network. If you find that you can open those related troublesome documents at work, but not at home, missing printer drivers are your problem, and there’s nothing more to troubleshoot here. However, you can resolve this issue by using the following step to create a temporary local printer that you can use at home.
Other than in that specific situation, disabling the printer driver to see if that has an effect is the next thing to try. This involves deleting your existing printer driver and installing a new one. For Word 2007 you can install the XPS Document Writer as your new default printer.
Pause here before proceeding. Did Windows automatically identify your real printer and install the drivers when you first plugged it in? If it needed a CD-ROM to install the printer, you need to make certain that you have that CD-ROM handy before you delete your primary printer driver. You also need to unplug the printer from the PC before deleting the printer.
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Trying the XPS Document Printer in Vista
It’s probable that the XPS Document Printer is already installed on a Vista system. To verify it, go to Start → Control Panel → Printers. Do you see the XPS Document Printer there? If so, and you have everything you need to reinstall the real printer, you can go ahead and delete the physical printer by right-clicking on the icon and selecting “Delete.” Vista may ask you if you want to delete all files associated with the printer. Choose “Yes” for this prompt and confirm the action.
If the XPS Document Printer is not there, click “Add a printer” in the top bar. Click “Add a local printer” and then select “Use an existing port” and click “Next.” In the next pane, wait for the list of printers to appear. Then scroll down and select “Microsoft” in the list. In the right-hand pane, select Microsoft XPS Document Writer” and then click “Next.” In the next pane, select “Use the driver that is current installed (recommended)” and click “Next.” In the next pane, select “Set as the default printer” and click “Next.” The installer will ask if you want to print a test page. That’s fairly useless for our purposes, so click “Finish” to close the dialog. At this point, the Microsoft XPS document printer should have appeared in the Control Panel → Printers window.
Now you can delete the actual printer driver. Again, make sure that you have what you need to reinstall the printer after this test. Also, please verify that you have closed all copies of Word on your system.
After the printer driver is deleted, start Word and see if you can open your troublesome documents. If so, see if you can download an updated printer driver from your printer manufacturer’s website. If you still have problems, reinstall your real printer and skip the next section.
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Recover Damaged Word 2007 Documents - What to Do if the Document CAN be Opened In troubleshooting problems with Word documents that can be opened, we can try to let Word try to fix the problem or boot into windows safe mode to see if the problem still exists. We can also try saving the document to another format such as RTF and then try to save it back to Word 2007 format.
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Trying the XPS Document Printer in Windows XP
This is much more complicated in Windows XP. The XPS Document Printer is not installed by default, and a number of other updates and packages are required to support it in XP.
Your starting point is this page at the Microsoft website. That’s an active page. It should detect your system and suggest the correct packages. This will probably be called “Microsoft XPS Essentials” or something similar. That and related packages like the .NET Framework will be downloaded, and the total file space needed may be fifty megabytes or slightly more.
Once you have everything downloaded and the XPS package installed, get together what you’ll need to reinstall the printer. Then close all copies of Word. Go ahead and delete the printer by right-clicking on the icon and choosing “Delete.” Select “Yes” if asked if you want to delete all files associated with the printer.
After the printer driver is deleted, the XPS printer should appear under “Printers and Faxes” in Control Panel and become the default.
Then start Word and see if you can open your troublesome documents. If so, see if you can download an updated printer driver from your printer manufacturer’s website. If you still have problems, try the next step.
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See if Word Can Repair the Document
At this point, Microsoft suggests booting into Safe Mode to see if the document will open. However, there’s something simpler to try before doing that. This is to let Word try to repair the document itself. Do this by starting Word and clicking the Office button (orb) and selecting “Open.” At the bottom of the dialog, click the small down-arrow beside “Open” and select “Open and Repair.”
If that works, great. If not, then we’ve reached another forking point. Now we need to focus in on the specific problem. At this point, we’ve tried starting without the normal.dot template, testing with a different printer driver, and having Word try to repair the document. We need to look again at the nature of the problem.
If Word is stuck in some repetitive condition, such as continuous repaginating or page renumbering when the document is opened, trying to break the cycle is an obvious objective. Then booting into Windows safe mode would be a good thing to try. However, if it appears to be a formatting issue that is static (not causing processing) or unchangeable (problematic areas in the document appear to be locked and can’t be edited, manipulated, or deleted), skip the next step and go to the following section where we’ll try to recover the important content even if we can’t fix the documents.
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Try Booting into Windows Safe Mode
Before booting into safe mode, remove all CDs, DVDs, FLASH memory thumb drives, and turn off any external hard drives. Remove any floppy disk, too, if your PC has one.
In Vista, click Start, click the arrow at bottom right, and select “Restart.” As the PC restarts, press and hold the F8 button. If the Windows logo appears, you’ve missed the opportunity and should try again. Select the operating system you want to start in safe mode (if more than one OS is installed) and then press F8 again. On the next screen, select Safe Mode and press Enter.
In Windows XP, click Start and click “Shut Down.” Hold down the Ctrl key as the computer restarts. When the “Starting Windows” message appears, release the Ctrl key and press F8. Select Safe Mode and press Enter.
In Safe Mode, start Word 2007 and see if you can open your problematic documents. If this fixes the problems, then you have some sort of driver issue or application conflict. Safe Mode starts a very limited version of Windows with only the most basic system files and drivers open. What this step has done for us is to eliminate Windows default settings and basic system drivers as contributing to the problem.
If booting into safe mode resolves your problem, I'd suggest looking at your Word add-ins and plug-ins in the Trust Center. Start at the Office button/orb and select "Word Options" at the bottom of the dialog. Then check under "Add-Ins" and "Trust Center." Temporarily deactivating an add-in will rule it out as a source of problems. Some plug-ins are not readily visible. For those, select the Add-Ins tab and select Manage → COM add-ins →Go at the bottom of the dialog.
A variety of applications seem to like to plug into Word, so it's not possible to guess what you'll find. Look for applications that seem to have a minimal effect in Word or that you did not specifically authorize, and then test them, one by one, by disabling them.
If you find an add-in that conflicts, great! Your next step is to contact the manufacturer of the offending application to see if they have a program update or a fix for Word 2007.
If no conflicting add-ins or plug-ins were found, please continue troubleshooting.
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Try Saving the Document to RTF
It’s possible that the problem is being caused by something in Word 2007’s .docx file format. We can try to get around this by saving the file to rich text format. With the document open, click the Office button/orb and select “Save as.” Under “Save as type:” click the droplist and select “Rich Text Format (*.rtf).” If this completes without error, exit all copies of Word, and then restart and try to open the document. Is it accessible now?
If it is, we should have tried it sooner. Try saving it in Word 2007 format and see if you’ve fixed the problem (and if that doesn’t work, try saving the RTF copy to HTML or any other document format).
If that didn’t fix the problem or the process couldn’t complete, try saving the file to plain old text (.txt). This will lose all the formatting in that copy, but at least you’ll save the majority of the content, even if just to use as a partial backup while we continue trying to recover the document.
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Going forward from here, we'll be mostly trying to save the content rather than the document itself.
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Recover Damaged Word 2007 Documents - What to Do if Word Crashes or Freezes In trying to recover content from a damaged Word document file that can be opened, sometimes a piecemeal approach of copying a little bit over at a time works. It's important not to copy over section breaks, however. We can also try opening the document with minimal features by turning off things we don't need. Here we're trying to recover content.
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Try a Piecemeal Recovery
The notion here is that if the entire document can’t be saved into a different format, a section by section recovery to another Word document window can be used to save as much of the content as possible as well as to act as a process of elimination to find the problem area. To do this, click the Office button/orb and select New → Blank Document → Create. Then, piece-by-piece, try to copy segments from the damaged document to the new document. Save the new document after pasting in each segment, and continue until you finish or the problem transfers to the new document.
Microsoft notes that if the document contains sections, such as changing from single to double-column format and back within the document, you should not copy the section breaks as they make bring the damage over to the new document.
Since section breaks are sometimes not obvious or even discernible, a good utility program that will allow you to view the location of the section breaks is the CrossEyes Word add-in from Levit and James, Inc. It provides a WordPerfect-like “Reveal Codes” area in Word that lets you see what’s really going on in the document, with the section breaks readily visible. Thus you’ll be able to avoid copying them over.
You also can switch the view to draft layout to make section breaks visible. Do this in Word 2007 by clicking the View tab and then clicking the “Draft” icon in the ribbon.
Also, if all is going well in this step, be cautious and take smaller segments as you near the end of the document. It’s possible that the last paragraph marker will be the undoing of the entire document, so you may want to avoid copying over that very last segment. Instead, type the same text into the new document without copying it.
On the other hand, if the last part of the document is missing, you can try switching to Draft view as above to see if the text becomes visible.
And that brings us to the end of this troubleshooter. Next we’ll look at what to do if the document crashes Word and can’t be opened at all. At this point, if you’re still having problems with a document that you can open, scroll down and jump to the very end of the article for the final suggestion.
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Try Opening in Draft View with Minimal Features
If opening the document promptly crashes Word 2007 or causes it to freeze, try opening the document in draft mode with most of the features turned off. Make sure that all copies of Word are closed, and then restart it. On the View tab, select Draft. Then click the Office button/orb and then click “Word Options” at the bottom of the dialog. Click the “Advanced” tab in the left-hand pane and then scroll the right-hand pane down until you come to the “Show document control” section. Click to check “Show picture placeholders” and “Use draft font in Draft and Outline views.”
Next, scroll down further to the “General” section. Click to clear the “Update automatic links at Open” checkbox. The click “OK” to close the dialog.
Then try opening the problematic document. Was it successful? Did it open without crashing or freezing Word? If so, try saving the document to RTF format as previously described. If that goes smoothly, you can then save it back to Word 2007 format.
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How to Recover Damaged Word 2007 Documents - Recover the Content Even if the Document Cannot be Saved When a damaged document crashes Word at startup, there are two things to try to recover the content. One is importing the damaged document into a new document as a file using the Insert Object menu in Word. The other is to create a temporary link document, insert it into a second document, and then change the link to point to the damaged document. A final and more drastic step is to try a text recovery only. It's also worth a try to see if the WordPerfect trial version can open the file.
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Try Importing the Document into a New Document
There are two things you can try in the way of importing the content of the damaged document into a new one, even if the document can’t be opened. We are nearing the point of diminishing returns here, but it’s worth a try.
Create a new document in Word. With the page blank, click the Insert tab on the ribbon and then click Insert Object → Text from File. Locate and select the damaged document and then click “Insert.” Microsoft notes here that you may have to reformat the last section. This suggests that this process is also avoiding that final paragraph that could actually be the problem.
Once this is done, save the file and then exit Word. Restart Word, and try to open the document. If it works, great. Try saving a copy to RTF for backup, and then see what formatting you’ve lost in the document, if any.
There’s one more non-drastic thing to try in the way of importing into a new document, and that’s a link from a new document to the problem document. Right – not linking from the problem document, but linking a new document into it. It’s sort of the opposite approach. Although the Knowledgebase article is very succinct about this and there are several steps involved, we can boil it down some.
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- Create a new blank document and type in a random sentence. Save the document and name it “Rescue link” or similar. Then select the text you entered and press Ctrl-C to copy it to the clipboard.
- Create a new blank document and on the Home tab, click the down-arrow under the “Paste” icon and then select “Paste Special.” Select “Paste link” (which won’t be present if the clipboard is empty) and then select “Formatted Text (RTF).”
- Right-click the text that was pasted in and select “Links” under “Linked Document Object.” This will open the “Links” dialog. Click the file name of the linked document (“Rescue link?”) and then click “Change Source.” Then in the Change Source dialog click the damaged document and click “Open.” Then click “OK” to close the Links dialog.
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And this becomes the moment. If any content was recovered, it will appear now.
What happened? Did you recover any content? If so, you can go ahead and break the link before saving the document. As above, right-click the linked (pasted in) text and select “Linked Document Object” and “Links.” In the Links dialog, select “Break Link.” Word will ask if you’re sure that you want to break the link, so select “Yes.” Then OK out of there and save your document.
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If it failed to bring in any content, the next thing to try is an auto-recovery. This is guaranteed to lose some of your original formatting and may actually lose some content, particularly at the beginning or the end of the document, but it’s the last drastic step we’ll be able to try.
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Try a Text Recovery
Fortunately, this is pretty straightforward. Close and restart Word, and then click the Office button/orb and click “Open.” At lower right, click the droplist and select “Recover Text from Any File (*.*).” Some extra data will come with it. You’ll recognize it as non-printing characters and other garbage not normally seen on the WYSIWG screen. You’ll need to edit all of this out before saving your document, or else you’ll have a brand new problem that will start this entire loop all over again.
We have now arrived at the end of this leg of the troubleshooter. By now, hopefully you’ve recovered your document or at least the lion’s share of your content.
If you’re still having problems with a document or group of documents at this point, there’s only one thing left to suggest, and although you’ll see it here, you won’t ever hear it from Microsoft.
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Try Using the WordPerfect Demo
Yes, the next thing to try is finding out if the file can be opened and saved in Corel WordPerfect. Fortunately, WordPerfect is available in demo form and can open Word 2007 documents.
If that works, try saving the file, closing WordPerfect, and opening it again in Word. I will make no further comment here except that if it works, go forth, rejoice, and be happy.
I hope that you resolved your problem with your damaged documents, and I hope that you resolved them before reaching this end-point. Thank you for reading this, and thank you for visiting Bright Hub.