Ultimate Guide to Repairing a Damaged or Corrupt Word File
Need to repair or fix a corruptWorddocument? Sometimes when opening a Word document, you will give you an error stating that the document cannot be read because it is corrupt or because there is some other problem with the file. Word documents can become corrupt in a number of different ways, but usually it’s just a problem with the headers in the file and the data can be recovered most of the time.
Here is a typicalerrormessageyou might see when Word can’t open a document.
“Word was unable to read this document. It may be corrupt“
By default, Word shows you two possible ways to open a corrupt document:Open and Repairthe file or open withText Recovery converter. In addition to these two options, there are other tricks you can try inside Word to open acorruptfile. You should definitely try all of these options before moving on to third party tools, etc.
For testing purposes, I intentionally corrupted a Word document and then tried to repair it using all the different tools and methods mentioned below. I’ll point out the results for eachrecoveryoption.
Unfortunately, there aren’t very many free ways to recover a Word document, as you’ll probably be able to tell when you perform a Google search. I’ll make sure to mention all the free options I could find before mentioning paid software.
Built-in Recovery Options
Both of the built-in repair options mentioned above can be accessed via theFile Opendialog. Click onFile, thenOpenand then single click on the file you want to repair. Do not double-click on it, otherwise Windows will try to open it normally and you’ll just get an error message.
Now instead of clicking on theOpenbutton, click on the black arrow that is located on the right side of the button. You’ll see a bunch of extra options, one of them beingOpen and Repair. Word will attempt to repair the corrupt document and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to view the file.
In my simple test, Word was able to recovery my file completely, though it only contained about two pages of plain text. Always try this option first as it does a pretty good job and doesn’t require any additional software.
The second built-in feature is the recovery converter, which you can also access via the Open dialog. In the drop down box that saysAll Word Documents, go ahead and chooseRecover Text from Any File.
Word will attempt to recover any text it can from the file. In my test case, it failed and only returned a message stating that the file appears to be corrupt. Depending on the type of corruption that your file has suffered, your results will vary.
If neither of these two methods worked, you can try to insert the corrupt document into another Word doc. To do this, open a new file and then click on theInserttab.
Click onObjectand then click onObjectagain from the dropdown. Click on theCreate from Filetab and then click theBrowsebutton. Choose your corrupt Word file and see if it is able to insert the contents into thenewdocument.
In my test, Word could not insert the document into the current file. Instead, I got some strange error message stating that the program used to create the file was Word, but Word was not installed on my system! Again, your results will vary, so give it a shot, but don’t expect much.
Open File via Link
This method is a bit convoluted, but it might work for you depending on the type of damageyourdocumenthas sustained. Basically, we create a document, type any text into it, copy that text, then paste special that text to a new document as a link and finally update that link to point to the corrupt file rather than the original file. Whew! Let’s start.
First, open a new Word doc and type in anything like “My name is John.” and then save the document somewhere.
Now select the text you just typed and copy it to the clipboard. You can select it and pressCTRL + Cor justrightclickon it and chooseCopy.
Next, create a new Word document by going toFileand thenNew. Choose blank document if asked. Now click on the small arrow on thePastebutton and choosePaste Special.
Here you have to selectPaste linkand then choose eitherFormatted Text (RTF)orUnformatted Text. It doesn’t matter which one you pick. If you get any kind of error message when trying to paste the link, go ahead and close the new document, recopy the text and then create a new document again.
We’re getting close to the end now. Right-click on the pasted link text, selectLinked Document Objectand then selectLinks.
Click theChange Sourcebutton here and navigate to the directory where yourcorruptedfileis located. Select the file and then clickOpen.
Once the link source has been updated, click OK and hopefully the text from the corrupt document will appear instead of the text you had copied earlier. In my case, I got an error message and could not open my corrupt file. However, mytestfilewas corrupted in several ways and that could have been the reason the text was not recovered. You should still give it a try.
Open in Draft Mode
Another thing you can try is opening the file in Draft mode, which doesn’t look at some of the header info, etc and therefore might be able to open the file.
To do this, click onFileand thenOptions. Click onAdvancedand then scroll down to theShowdocumentcontentsection.
Go ahead and check theShow picture placeholdersbox and theUse draft font in Draft and Outline viewsbox. Now go back to Word, click onViewand then click onDraftunder theDocument Viewssection.
Now try to open your corrupt file and see if it opens. If not, you’ll have to keep reading for other possible methods to fix the corruption.
Another option that might help you recover your Word document isPrevious Versions. InWindows7and higher, System Restore will automatically make backups of your documents whenever a new restore point is created.
This means that System Restore has to be enabled, which it is by default. If you manually turned it off, you won’t be able to recover any data using this feature. If it’s enabled, Windows automatically creates restore points fairly frequently, usually at least once a day.
You can check to see if there are any backed up versions of the file by simply right-clicking on it, choosingPropertiesand then clicking on thePrevious Versionstab. If you don’t see the tab, thenSystemRestoreis not turned on.
Any previously saved versions will show up in the list box below. Obviously, you will lose any data that was added after the last backup was created and before the corruption occurred, but it’s still better than nothing.
Third-Party Recovery Tools
When using third-party tools, I’ll only mention the ones that have free demos because no one wants to shell out cash only to find out nothing can be recovered. The demos usually let you see a portion of the text and will tell you if it was able to recover everything else. At that point, you can choose to pay if you feel the program will get your the results you want.
You also want to make sure you make a copy of the corrupt file before you start usingrecoverytools. One program may end up corrupting the file more and a second program that may have been able to recover the original corrupt file might not be able too due to the changes the first program made.
Repair My Word
If you have a Word file created from an older version of Word, you can use Repair My Word to repair the file for free. It’s one of the few freeware apps out there and there’s a big reason for that. Unfortunately, it only works with Word 6.0, Word 95, Word 97,Word2000, Word XP and Word 2003. It won’t work with the new docx file format used in Word 2007 and higher.
I created aWord2003document, corrupted it and then tried to recover it using theWordRepairprogram, but I only got a message stating the file was encrypted and unable to be read. The file was notencrypted, but I’m guessing the problem was caused by the fact that I usedOffice2010to save the file in Office 2003 format.
Even so, if you have a corrupt file in .DOC format, go ahead and give this program a shot since it’s free and it’s been around for a long time.
Recovery for Word
Recovery for Word costs $69, which is pretty steep, but works only all versions of Word from 95 to 2010. The demo will also recover a small portion of the file to help you decide whether to pay that much.
Once you install it, click onStart Recovery Wizardand then clickAdd Files.
Click Next and the program will remind you to backup the file before you try to recover it.ClickNextand choose a location where you want to save the file. Lastly, clickStartto begin the recovery process.
The program also gives you an assessment score from 1 to 3, the former being the least likely and the latter having the most chance of recovering data. In my case, I had a 1 out of 3 and my file was completely unreadable. This was good to know because I wouldn’t have to spend $70 to find that out later.
DocRepair costs $79 and works from Word 95 to Word 2010. It’s also fairly costly, but again, you can download the demo and check the preview to see whether any data can be recovered.
Once you install it and run it, clickBrowseand find the corrupt file. ClickNextand don’t check any of the advanced options yet.
Click Next and the program will start to repair your document. Once it completes, it will show you a preview of any content it was able to retrieve. Thedemoversionwill replace recovered words with the word demo, so you have to pay to show the actual words.
If nothing shows up in thepreviewwindowor if something is missing, go back to Step 2 and check theUse salvage content retrieval modebox.
It will find more content, but it will also create more garbage characters. In my test, this program couldn’t recover anything from my corrupt file either.
Kernel for Word
Kernel for Wordis only $49, so a bit cheaper than the other programs. Again, the demo version will attempt to recover some data from your file as proof that it actually works.
Once you install it, just clickAdd Filesand then clickRepair Files. It will ask you for a location to save the recovered files and then begin the recovery process. Again, this program failed when trying to recover text from my corrupt file.
To be fair, my file was purposely corrupted to the max. I wanted to test whether any program would be able to recover a severely damaged file. The answer was pretty much no, but hopefully your Word doc is nowhere near as messed up as mine. There are also a bunch of other paid programs out there you can try, just make sure to download the trial or demo before purchasing. Good luck!