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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Damaged Document Troubleshooting

Most of the information presented here is common (or at least similar) to all versions of Microsoft Word. However, some steps such as “Open and Repair” are new features to Word XP, 2003. The next version of Word will use a different format, so we’ll see what happens there.

Introduction: So Your Document Is Possessed

So many things can happen to a Word document just through use. Sometimes it’s a wonder how any document remains stable at all! Well, before we go off the deep end and start throwing office furniture because you lost your only copy of your 1000 page dissertation, here’s the easiest way to (try to) recover (at least some of) your lost work.

Step 1: Make a Copy

The first step to any damaged document troubleshooting is to ALWAYS make a copy of the document first (I assume that you can find the document – if it’s gone, look for another post on finding lost documents). Make a copy of the document to play with so you don’t permanently destroy anything that would have been recoverable.

Step 2: Let Word Do Its Thing

Starting with version XP (or 2002 for number lovers), Word included a new feature called “Open and Repair”. It’s accessible via the little drop down button on the Open button in the Open file dialog box. It has a neat little way of sniffing out what’s broken in documents and trying to fix or remove the problem. Try it:

  1. Click File > Open
  2. Select your document
  3. Click the small down arrow on the Open button in the Open file dialog box
  4. Select Open and Repair and see what happens
If this works, count yourself lucky and go home happy. Continue if it’s not exactly what you want.

Step 3: Go For Broke

I always recommend trying the “Recover Text from Any File” file converter. This will go through the document and strip out all of the text included in the document. You’ll also get to see the header metadata that’s stored in the document.

NOTE: A Word document isn’t just text. It isn’t text with markups like what you see in Word Perfect - that would be too easy. A Word document is actually a binary object stored to disk. Meaning, when Word is open, the document is loaded into memory. When the document is saved, Word dumps the contents of your computer’s memory that stores the document onto disk (almost) exactly as it stored in memory - in a binary format. That’s why it looks like garbage when you open it in Notepad. From a programmer’s standpoint, it’s just better that way... usually.
  1. Click File > Open
  2. In the "Files of Type" dropdown in the Open File dialog box, select "Recover text from any file"
  3. Select your document
  4. Click Open
You can do a Save As... on this document to save a copy of whatever text you’ve recovered. The thing to remember is that this is the absolute worst case scenario - it only gets better (hopefully) from here!

Close this copy and open Word back up for more tests.

Now, if this doesn’t work, you’re essentially done. In the technical support world, we call what’s coming next "delivering bad news:" I’m sorry but your document is... uh... unrecoverable." There’s really no need to continue troubleshooting it as it’s probably destroyed beyond Word’s ability to repair documents. However, see the Links section at the bottom for a ray of hope!

Step 4: Insert working document here

Word stores extra information about a document in what’s represented as the last paragraph mark (I forget what they’re really called) in the document - information about headers, footers, global-level kind of stuff. But, it’s possible to have this go sour, just like anything else. Whack it, and you might be good to go with minimal changes.
  1. Open up a brand new blank document
  2. Click Insert > File
  3. Select your file and click Insert
If this worked, save a copy and move on. If not, you might try clicking the little arrow on the Insert button in the Insert File dialog box and choosing "Insert as a link".

Step 5: The Last of the Pilcrows

Some will say that that inserting the document doesn’t effectively do the job. Here’s a better approach if you can open the document:
  1. Type ctrl-end (to move to the end of the document)
  2. Type ctrl-shift-home (to select everything but the last paragraph mark)
  3. Type ctrl-c (to copy the document)
  4. Type ctrl-n (to make a new document)
  5. Type ctrl-v (to paste your document in)
This copies your entire document without the last paragraph mark (it's special; discussion for another day) into a new document. Sometimes, that's all you need.

Step 6: Middle Ground

WordPad will open Word documents in their Rich Text Format (RTF) equivalents. Try opening it up in WordPad and see how bad it looks. If not bad, save it, keep it, and fix what’s wrong.

Alternatively, if you can open the document, try saving it as RTF. Since RTF doesn’t support all of the cool Word document features like headers/footers, complex styles, etc., so if that’s what’s broken, this’ll fix it. Just remember to save it as a Word document (.doc) again after you close and open it back up.

Step 7: Slipping Off of Middle Ground

Save your document as HTML. This will cause you to lose most of the formatting in your document (slightly more than you’d lose in RTF). However, it may help you keep some and some is better than none!

Step 8: She's Takin' On Water!

Remove all of the formatting and just try to keep the text. If you’ve just got a corrupt style, this might help:
  1. Select all of your text
  2. type ctrl-spacebar (to remove character formatting)
  3. Does it behave appropriately?
  4. type ctrl-q (to remove paragraph formatting)
  5. How about now?
  6. click the style dropdown on the formatting toolbar and chose "Clear Formatting"
  7. now you’re just down to text
Step 8: How Low Can I Go?

Last, but not least is to save your document as a plain text file (.txt). Just save your document as a text file, or copy and paste your document into Notepad and back into a new Word document. If this doesn’t work, you’ve really got a problem!

Links: When Integrated Solutions Just Don’t Cut It


So, what do you do when none of this works and it’s a really important document. Well first, if it’s not really that important, then just redo it. Or if you’ll spend less time recreating it, just redo it. Law of Diminishing Returns applies here folks.

However, there are 3rd party tools that can be considerably more effective than these solutions. Unfortunately, none are free. Here are some links:

http://www.word-fix.com/
http://www.officerecovery.com/word/
http://www.recoverytoolbox.com/repair_word_document.html

References:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/826864 (for Word 2000, XP, 2003)
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/87856 (for Word 97)

5 comments:

Alex said...

At work with word files I usually use this application-how to fix damage word file,which to my mind one of the best in this sphere,also program has many facilities and is free as far as I can see,it easily repaired manually just in five minutes,can be damaged due to a great number of different reasons,except hacker and virus attacks, you may face a power failure, hardware damage or any other error, when forwarding your document to another person via local area network or email attachment,can process corrupted documents and templates of .doc, .docx, .dot, and .dotx format,open and fix Word files attempts to recover your document and shows the content in a preview window,exporting of recovered content into a new document in Microsoft Word format and fixing Word encoding.

Dave said...

Thanks for the input Alex! I'll put that in the list of tools.

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Alisa Ally said...

You can recover your corrupted Microsoft word document though the help of zip recovery software. This software capable to easily recover word document files as well as entire zip files.

Stanley D. Middleton said...

Use Word File Recovery which can easily and carefully repair or restore with complete data such as OLE objects, images, forms, graphs, hyper links, tables, text, headers, and footnotes from corrupted or damaged word documents without any problem. For any query, Click here:- http://www.recoverydeletedfiles.com/word-file-recovery-tool.html