Help, My Capstone Paper Won’t Open!

How to Recover Corrupted Files in Word

error message for microsoft word: file corruptedIt’s that time of year when end of the semester projects are in full swing and it’s almost time to turn in that big final paper. This gives rise to a common end-of-the-semester situation at the IT HelpDesk – students needing to fix a Word file that will not open, with Word often displaying an error message that the file is “corrupted”.

Why is my file corrupted? What happened?

There are a number of different reasons why your file was damaged. If Word or your computer suddenly crashes, or there’s a power outage while you are working on a document, it might get damaged. Malware might have come into play. It could also be that the part of your drive where the document is saved has become damaged or unreadable, especially if you yank out your flash drive or external hard drive while your document is still open or while it’s trying to save.


  1. In Word, first try to recover a previous version of your file.

  2. If you cannot open your file, or any previous version of it, try opening the document on another computer with Word. All campus computer labs have Word installed on every PC and Mac. If the file will not open on any computer or displays an error message, the document is likely damaged.

  3. Before you start trying to recover your file, make a copy of your file and try to fix the copy. The original might get damaged more over time, or you may destroy the file in your efforts to save it.

  4. The Microsoft support site has articles with several methods for recovering your document in Word for Windows or Word for Mac. Try these techniques to see if it’s possible to recover your document. You might lose your document’s formatting styles, but at least you can recover the text.

2 Ways to Attempt Recovery if your Document Will Not Open

The following screencast shows two options for trying to recover a file that will not open in Word 2010. Remember to try these techniques on a copy of your file. The first option is using “Open and Repair,” and the second one to try is “Recover Text from Any File”.  Again, you may lose your formatting or see some extra Word formatting information, but you can always reformat your text once you recover it.

An Ounce of Prevention

Of course, this situation is only dire if you only have one copy of your document. If you keep backup copies of your documents, you can easily work off one of your backups. Consider the 3-2-1 Method of backup: you should have three copies of your files, two of which you can access locally (like on your hard drive and a USB drive) and a third located outside your home or office (like EdShare).

Maintenance Tip: Storing and Backing Up your Files and Documents

Storing and Organizing Files

Properly storing and organizing your digital documents will go a long way towards making your files easy to find and reference later. However, often the biggest issue is creating and maintaining a consistent system that will not leave you wondering where you saved a crucial document.

Both PCs and Mac computers feature a “Documents” folder for containing your documents and files you create or download from the web. Typically, Microsoft Office applications will want to save documents in this folder by default. In this “Documents” folder, you may create additional folders for categorizing the types of files you collect. Should your computer need repair in the future, the St. Edward’s Computer HelpDesk or an outside company will assume that the majority of the files you want saved will be located in this folder.

Creating File Folders on a PC and Mac

On a Mac, double click on the “Macintosh HD” icon on the desktop and click on “Documents,” listed on the left navigation bar. The top of the window will now say “Documents” with a folder icon next to it. This is where you can create folders and save documents. To create a new folder, right-click on your mouse or control-click and choose “New Folder”. Name the untitled folder and press the Return key.

Give your folders descriptive names, such as “Cyber Security Awareness Month,” which is better than an acronym like “CSAM” because over time you may not remember all of the acronyms you created. You may also create folders within folders for ones that contain several sub-groups of documents, such as folders for different years or versions of files. Most people develop their own unique file system method that depends on the types of files they have.

Reserve your desktop for short-term storage of files you are currently working on. Once you no longer need immediate access to that document, put it in the appropriate folder you created in “Documents”.

Backing up Files

Now with a file system in place within your “Documents” folder, it is time to create a backup of your files. IT recommends backing your files in multiple places in the event of a virus infection or computer crash. Should your hard drive fail, your files may not be recoverable.

We recommend backing up your files by making copies and saving them on an external hard drive (available in any electronics department or store), USB drives or your EdShare account. You may also want to burn your files to writable CDs and store them in a safe place.