Recover corrupt Microsoft Word documents using a different application

Earlier today I worked with a customer whose Microsoft Word document was corrupt. She explained she’d been having problems with some large documents and she’d been using Word’s Track Changes feature heavily. She was eager to recover her file even if it meant losing the tracked information.

Corrupt Word document

I had immediate success opening the corrupt document using Word’s Recover Text from Any File feature. While in Word I selected File > Open and selected the problem file. I then changed the Enable drop-down menu from All Office Documents to Recover Text from Any File and clicked the Open button.

Recover Text from Any File

Most if not all formatting was lost along with the Track Changes data but the text was mostly salvaged.

Word recovered text

My customer was unhappy about the work she’d lost but satisfied to at least recover the text of the document. We concluded our call. Cost to recover: Free.

My brain, however, was still experimenting with ideas and one of them was to try opening the document in TextEdit. I’ve recommended it for folks who need to open the occasional Word document but don’t want to buy Microsoft Office. I dragged the corrupt file onto TextEdit in my Dock and not only did it open but most of the formatting was still intact!

I duplicated the file in TextEdit and saved it as a Word 2007 (.docx) Document. The results in Word were dramatically better than Word’s recovery feature. Cost to recover: Free.

TextEdit recovered text

The winner of my little experiment, though, was Apple’s Pages word processor and page layout application. It’s been compatible with Microsoft Word documents since its early days and has come a long way in a few short years. Not only did it recover my customer’s document and retain the formatting but it also recovered the Track Changes information.

I dragged the corrupt Word document onto Pages in my Dock and saved it as a Word Document file to my desktop. Cost to recover: $19.99.

Pages recovered text

Apple’s Preview application for opening PDFs, graphics and postscript files was able to extract the text too and keep it nicely formatted. However, though it had an Export feature and could save the document as Microsoft Word 97-2004 Document, it seemed to preserve the corruption and Word still couldn’t open the resulting .doc file. Copying text from Preview and pasting into Word worked just fine. Cost to recover: Free.

My lesson today was not to take any application’s inability to open a file and assume it’s lost. Office’s Excel, PowerPoint and Word formats are widely supported by similar applications. Even a partial recovery can mean weeks or months of work saved.

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