Need to repair or fix a damaged Word document? Sometimes, when you open a Word document, you receive an error message stating that the document cannot be read because it is damaged or there is another problem with the file. Word documents can be damaged in many ways, but usually it’s just a problem with the headers in the file, and in most cases the data can be recovered.
Here is a typical error message you might see when Word cannot open a document.
â€œWord was unable to read this document. It may be damaged “
By default, Word shows you two possible ways to open a damaged document: open and repair the file, or open with a text recovery converter. In addition to these two options, there are other tricks you can try in Word to open a corrupted file. You should definitely try all of these options before moving on to third party tools, etc.
For testing purposes, I intentionally messed up my Word document and then tried to repair it using all the different tools and techniques mentioned below. I will note the results for each recovery option.
Unfortunately, there are not so many free ways to repair a Word document, which you can probably determine by doing a Google search. I’ll make sure to mention all the free options I can find before mentioning the paid software.
Built-in Recovery Options
Both of the built-in recovery options mentioned above are available through the open file dialog. Click “File,” then “Open,” and then single-click the file you want to restore. Don’t double click on it, or Windows will try to open it normally and you just get an error.
Now, instead of clicking the “Open” button, click on the black arrow to the right of the button. You will see a lot of additional options, one of which is Open and Restore. Word will try to repair the damaged document, and if you’re lucky, you should be able to view the file.
In my simple test, Word was able to completely repair my file, even though it only contained about two pages of plain text. Always try this option first, as it works pretty well and doesn’t require any additional software.
The second built-in feature is the recovery converter, which you can also access through the Open dialog box. From the All Word Documents drop-down list, select Recover Text from Any File.
If none of these two methods helped, you can try pasting the damaged document into another Word document. To do this, open a new file and click the “Insert” tab.
Click the object, and then click the object again in the drop-down list. Click the Create From File tab, and then click the Browse button. Select the damaged Word file and see if it can paste the content into the new document.
In my test, Word was unable to insert the document into the current file. Instead, I got some weird error message that said 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 try, but don’t expect much.
Open the file via the link
This method is a little confusing, but it might work for you depending on the type of damage done to your document. Basically, we create a document, enter any text into it, copy this text, then specially paste this text into the new document as a link, and finally update this link so that it points to the damaged file and not the original file. Wow! Let’s get started.
First, open a new Word document and type something 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 press CTRL + C, or you can just right-click on it and select “Copy”.
Then create a new Word document by choosing File and then New. If prompted, select a blank document. Now click the little arrow on the Paste button and select Paste Special.
Here, you need to select “Insert Link” and then select Rich Text (RTF) or Unformatted Text. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. If you get any error message when you try to paste the link, close the new document, re-copy the text, and then create a new document again.
We are nearing the end. Right-click the pasted link text, select Linked Document Object, and then select Links.
Click the Change Source button here and navigate to the directory containing the corrupted file. Select the file and click “Open”.
After updating the link source, click OK and hopefully the text from the corrupted document will appear instead of the text you copied earlier. In my case, I got an error and was unable to open the corrupted file. However, my test file was damaged in several ways and this could be the reason the text was not recovered. You should try it anyway.
Open in draft mode
Alternatively, you can try opening the file in draft mode, which does not take into account some header information, etc. and therefore can open the file.
To do this, click “File” and then “Options”. Click Advanced and then scroll down to the Show Document Contents section.
Go ahead and check the boxes for Show image placeholders and Use draft font in drafts and diagrams. Now go back to Word, click on View, and then click on Draft under the View Documents section.
Now try opening the corrupted file and see if it opens. If not, you will have to continue reading to learn about other possible methods to repair the damage.
Another option that can help you recover your Word document is previous versions. In Windows 7 and later, System Restore automatically backs up your documents when you create a new restore point.
This means that System Restore must be enabled, which is the default. If you disabled it manually, you will not be able to recover data using this feature. If enabled, Windows automatically creates restore points quite often, usually at least once a day.
You can check if there are any backups of the file by simply right-clicking it, selecting Properties, and then clicking the Previous Versions tab. If you don’t see this tab, then System Restore is not enabled.
Any previously saved versions will appear in the list below. Obviously, you will lose all the 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 will only mention the ones that have free demos, because nobody wants to shell out money just to find out that nothing can be returned. Demos usually let you see some of the text and tell you if everything else was restored. At this stage, you can choose payment if you think the program will bring the desired results.
You will also want to make sure that you have made a copy of the damaged file before you start using the recovery tools. One program might end up damaging the file further, and a second program that might have repaired the original damaged file might also fail due to changes made by the first program.
Retrieve my word
Fix my words
If you have a Word file created from an older version of Word, you can use Recover My Word to recover the file for free. This is one of the few free apps, and for good reason. Unfortunately, it only works with Word 6.0, Word 95, Word 97, Word 2000, Word XP, and Word 2003. It does not work with the new docx file format used in Word 2007 and later.
I created a Word 2003 document, damaged it, and then tried to repair it using WordRepair, but I only got a message that the file was encrypted and could not be read. The file was not encrypted, but I assume the problem was caused by the fact that I was using Office 2010 to save the file in Office 2003 format.
However, if you have a damaged .DOC file, try this program as it is free and has been around for a long time.
The recovery for Word costs $ 69, which is quite expensive, but only works with all versions of Word 95 through 2010. The demo will also recover a small portion of the file to help you decide whether or not to pay that amount.
After installing it, click “Run Recovery Wizard” and then click “Add Files”.
Click Next and the program will remind you to back up the file before you try to restore it. Click Next and select the location where you want to save the file. Finally, click “Start” to begin the recovery process.
The program also gives you a score from 1 to 3, the first one being the least likely and the second one having the highest chance of data recovery. In my case, I had 1 out of 3 and my file was completely unreadable. It was good because I wouldn’t have to spend $ 70 to find out later.
DocRepair costs $ 79 and works with Word 95 through Word 2010. It’s also quite expensive, but again, you can download the demo and check the preview to see if any data can be recovered.
Once installed and launched, click Browse and locate the corrupted file. Click Next and don’t check any of the advanced options yet.
Click “Next” and the program will start correcting your document. Upon completion, it will show you a preview of any content it managed to get. In the demo version, the recovered words are replaced with the word demo, so you have to pay to show the real words.
If nothing appears in the preview window or something is missing, go back to step 2 and select the Use Recovered Content Retrieval Mode checkbox.
It will find more content, but it will also create more junk characters. In my test, this program also failed to recover anything from my corrupted file.
Core for Word
Kernel for Word
Kernel for Word only costs $ 49, which is slightly cheaper than other programs. Again, the demo will try to recover some data from your file as proof that it actually works.
Once installed, just click on “Add Files” and then “Restore Files”. You will be prompted for a location to save the recovered files, and then the recovery process will begin. Again, this program failed when trying to recover text from my corrupted file.
To be honest, my file was intentionally corrupted to the max. I wanted to check if some program can recover a badly damaged file. The answer was almost no, but hopefully your Word document isn’t nearly as messed up as mine. There are also many other paid programs you can try, just make sure you download the trial or demo before purchasing. Good luck!