MS Word

Recover a Corrupted Master Document

The Problem:

My master document has become corrupted. I can still see most of the text, but the formatting looks as though a truck hit it. And there are groups of weird charactersthings like ��� (Is Word trying to learn Finnish?), Euro symbols, and empty-box characters.

The Solution:

Word doesn't save AutoRecover information for master documents, so if Humpy Dumpty falls, restoring him to a semblance of togetherness tends to be a job for all the king's horses and all the king's men. Assemble a bucketful of patience, allow yourself plenty of time, and work calmly and methodicallyeasier said than done if you're looking at the wreck of several weeks of work.

When you're faced with a corrupted master document, don't immediately save it. Consider your options. There are three main strategies for recovering a corrupted master document, discussed in detail in the following sections:

  • Revert to Word's backup document.

  • Revert to your last uncorrupted backup.

  • Repair the corrupted version. This is the most difficult option. It involves a considerable amount of detailed work and is usually only worth the effort if neither of the previous two strategies is viablefor example, because the master document contains many changes that the backup does not, or because you have neither a Word backup copy nor a manual backup of the master document.

Revert to Word's backup document of the master document

If you've been saving your master document frequently, reverting to Word's backup document is the easiest recovery path. This backup document will exist if you checked the "Always create backup copy" box on the Save tab of the Options dialog box (Tools » Options) in Word. The backup document (which will have a name such as Backup of My Master Document.wbk and will be located in the same folder as the master document) contains the document as it was the next-to-last time you saved it.

If the corrupted master document is still open and contains unsaved changes, the backup document is two generations back: it's not the document created the last time you saved the master document, but the document created at the save before that. Here's how to revert to Word's backup document:

  1. Open a Windows Explorer window to the folder containing the master document. Verify that the backup document exists, that its date and time correspond to the next-to-last time you saved the master document, and that its size is approximately the same as that of the master document.

  2. Close the master document without saving changes and exit Word.

  3. Restart Word and open the backup document. The document is likely about to corrupt (just as the master document did), so remove the subdocuments, choose File » Save As, and save it to a "normal" Word document using a different filename.

  4. Choose File » Save As again and save the document as a Web Page document, again using another filename. Using the Web Page format ensures that you have the text and formatting written out to a text-based format.

  5. Close the web page and reopen the "normal" Word document you created. Check it carefully for corruption or loss.

Revert to a manual backup of the master document

If you've been making backups frequently, and the corrupted master document (and the Word backup document) contains only a few changes that the uncorrupted backup doesn't, this is a quick and effective strategy. Follow the steps in the previous list to check that the backup exists and that it's recent enough for your needs. Remove the subdocuments and save the backup document to a "normal" Word document, and then save it again as a Web Page document. Open the "normal" Word document and check it carefully.

Recover a corrupted master document manually

No good on the previous two approaches? Fear not! All hope is not lostyet.

To recover as much of a corrupted master document as possible, follow these steps:

  1. If the corrupted document is open, choose File » Save As, choose Web Page in the "Save as type" drop-down list, specify a different filename, and click the Save button. Exit Word (choose File » Exit).

  2. Close any other applications you're running, and then check your computer for viruses with an up-to-date antivirus application in case the problem has been caused by a macro virus.

  3. Open a Windows Explorer window to your user templates folder. (If you don't know where this is, open Word, choose Tools » Options, click the File Locations tab, and look at the "User templates" readout. If you can't see the full path, double-click it and then examine the "Look in" drop-down list in the Modify Location dialog box.) Rename to another name of your choosing (in case corruption in has caused the problem with the master document), and then rename the template used for the master documentyou'll create a new version of this too, in case the original caused the problem.

  4. Restart Word and then exit it. This causes Word to create a new

  5. Restart Word again. Choose File » New » On My Computer (in Word 2003) or File » New » General Templates (in Word XP) to display the Templates dialog box. In Word 2000, choose File » New to display the New dialog box. Select the Blank Document item on the General tab, select the Template option, and then click the OK button to create a new template based on

  6. Choose File » Page Setup to display the Page Setup dialog box, and choose settings for the margins, paper size and orientation, and layout (for example, headers and footers) for your recovery document. Click the OK button.

  7. Choose File » Save to display the Save As dialog box, and save the new template under a name of your choice.

  8. With the new template still open, choose Tools » Macro » Macros to display the Macros dialog box. Click the Organizer button, and then click the Styles tab. One of the "Styles available in" drop-down lists will list the new template, while the other will show

  9. Click the Close File button on the side that lists, click the resulting Open File button, and use the Open dialog box to "open" the longest of the subdocuments. The document doesn't actually open, but its styles appear in the Organizer dialog box.

  10. Select all the styles in the tutorial except the styles named "Heading" ("Heading 1," "Heading 2," and so on). The easiest way to do this is to click the first style, scroll down to the bottom of the list, and Shift-click the last style; then hold down Ctrl while you click each of the "Heading" styles. Click the Copy button to copy the styles to your new template. If Word prompts you to decide whether to overwrite existing styles in the new template, click the Yes To All button. Click the Close button to close the Organizer dialog box.

  11. Choose Format » Bullets and Numbering to display the Bullets and Numbering dialog box. On each tab, click each of the list types in turn; if the Reset button is available for that list template, click it and then click the Yes button in the confirmation dialog box. When you've finished, click the Close button.

  12. Choose File » Save to save the template, and File » Exit to exit Word. Restarting forces Word to write the details of the list templates to the Registry (that's where it stores them).

  13. Restart Word. Choose File » New » On My Computer (in Word 2003) or File » New » General Templates (in Word XP) to display the Templates dialog box. In Word 2000, choose File » New to display the New dialog box. Click your new template, then click the OK button to create a new document based on that template. Choose File » Save to display the Save As dialog box, and save the document in a new folder on a drive that has plenty of space.

  14. Choose File » Open and open the first subdocument for the master document. Click the Show/Hide button on the Standard toolbar to display the formatting marks in the document.

  15. Press Ctrl+H to display the Replace dialog box, type ^b in the "Find what" box, and leave the "Replace with" box blank. Click the Replace All button. This action removes all the section breaks from the document.

  16. Press Ctrl+A to select the entire document, press Ctrl+Q to reapply styles (removing any customizations made to the styles), and press Ctrl+Spacebar to remove any direct character formatting.

  17. With the whole document still selected, hold down the Shift key and press once to deselect the last paragraph mark in the document. (This is the "default section break" that contains the master table of the document's formatting.) Copy the text (press Ctrl+C), switch to your new document, and paste it in (press Ctrl+V). Save the new document (press Ctrl+S).

  18. Repeat steps 1417 for all the other subdocuments that were in the master document.

  19. Insert any necessary section breaks manually. Don't replace the section breaks that were used only for the master document.

  20. Use Outline view to check that the heading levels of your document are suitable.

  21. Save the document and keep a truly paranoid number of backups.