Can't Open a Word Document in Windows

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated September 25, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


1

Clive has a system that just hasn't worked correctly since he installed and then removed Open Office. Now, when he double-clicks a Word document in Windows Explorer, the document doesn't open. Instead, what he gets is a blank document. He can still open the documents using File | Open (within Word), but cannot double-click to open a document.

The first thing to check is to make sure that the file extensions are correctly associated with Word. Since double-clicking on a Word document in Windows Explorer opens Word, the file types are probably associated correctly, but it doesn't hurt to go through the steps anyway. From the command line, use the following command:

"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\winword.exe" /unregserver

The quotes are necessary, but you may need to change the path so it reflects the location of the winword.exe file on your system. (You can use Windows' Search tool to locate the path to the winword.exe file.) The /unregserver switch "unhooks" all the references to Word in the Windows Registry. You should then, immediately, use the following command:

"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\winword.exe" /regserver

This command causes Word to rewrite all its Registry keys and to reassociate itself with document and template files. Now you can double-click a document file and see if Windows starts Word and opens the document.

If this does not work, you'll need to try a few other things. First, start Word and let it try to detect and repair any problems with itself. Do this by choosing Detect and Repair from the Help menu. Word displays the Detect and Repair dialog box. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Detect and Repair dialog box.

Accept the default settings (only Restore My Shortcuts While Repairing is selected), then click OK. Word may ask you to insert the original installation CD-ROM, depending on what it detects and needs to repair.

If that still doesn't work, the problem is most likely rooted in the default action for the DOC file type being set to "New" instead of "Open." To correct this problem, follow these steps in Windows, while Word is closed:

  1. Use Windows Explorer to open a folder window. (It doesn't matter which folder; any of them will do.)
  2. Choose Folder Options from the Tools menu. Windows displays the Folder Options dialog box.
  3. Make sure the File Types tab is displayed. (See Figure 2.)
  4. Figure 2. The File Types tab of the Folder Options dialog box.

  5. Scroll through the list of Registered File Types until you find the option for DOC files. Select this option.
  6. Click the Advanced button. Windows displays the Edit File Type dialog box. (See Figure 3.)
  7. Figure 3. The Edit File Type dialog box.

  8. The dialog box lists a series of actions that can be performed on DOC files. One of those actions should be shown in bold-face type. Normally it is the Open action that is in bold. If it is in bold, skip to step 10.
  9. Click once on the Open action.
  10. Click Set Default. The Open action should now be shown in bold-face type.
  11. Skip to step 19.
  12. Double-click the Open action. Windows opens the Editing Action dialog box. (See Figure 4.)
  13. Figure 4. The Editing Action dialog box.

  14. Make sure the Action box contains &Open.
  15. Make sure the Application Used to Perform Action contains the following. (The path shown may need to be modified for your particular system and version of Word.)
  16. "D:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" /n /dde
    
  17. Make sure the Use DDE check box is selected.
  18. Make sure the DDE Message box contains the following:
  19. [REM _DDE_Direct][FileOpen("%1")]
    
  20. Make sure the Application box contains the word WinWord.
  21. The DDE Application Not Running box should be empty.
  22. Make sure the Topic box contains the word System.
  23. Click OK to close the Editing Action dialog box.
  24. Click OK to close the Edit File Type dialog box.
  25. Click OK to close the Folder Options dialog box.

You should now be able to double-click a Word document in Windows Explorer and have it open the actual document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (316) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is seven minus 7?

2023-09-13 19:21:39

John Hughes

09.13.23

On an up-to-date Windows 11 machine, I have successfully installed Microsoft Office 2003, and everything has been working well until a couple of days ago. WINWORD.EXE is set to run in Compatibility Mode, Windows XP (Service Pack 3), for all users.

Problem & Symptoms:

(1) When I double click a Word DOC file, the User Account Control is displayed. "WINWORD.EXE" is followed by this argument: "/n /dde." The "/n" starts a new instance of Word with no document open. The "dde" stands for "Dynamic Data Exchange." Clicking "Yes" causes Word to open, but no file is displayed, not even a blank one. If I have Word running, I can select File | Open and easily open any Word file, DOC or DOCX, so this is not a corrupt-file issue. ALSO, if I click the Word desktop shortcut, it opens a blank file, as it should.

(2) When I double click a Word DOCX file, the User Account Control is displayed. "WINWORD.EXE" is NOT followed by any arguments. Clicking "Yes" causes Word to open the selected file, just as it should do.

(3) In "Apps > Default apps > Choose defaults by file type," DOC files are set to open with "Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Word Document," and DOCX files are set to open with "Microsoft Office Word, Word 2007 Document."

(4) If I rename a DOC file someone has sent me or that I have created to DOCX, I can open it without a problem.

I have spent hours searching the Internet and trying all sorts of cures for (1) above, but nothing works. I have tried everything listed on this web page (and many others) 2x. I am totally stuck!

Any thoughts? Do you think uninstalling Microsoft Office 2003 and then reinstalling it would fix the problem?

REGEDIT Info:
Computer\HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Word.Document.8\shell\Open\command
Command: KEY = "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" /n /dde "%1"
Command: KEY = (f'^Vn-}f(ZXfeAR6.jiWORDFiles>P`os,1@SW=P7v6GPl]Xh /n /dde (f'^Vn-}f(ZXfeAR6.jiWORDFiles>P`os,1@SW=P7v6GPl]Xh
Ddeexec: [REM _DDE_Direct][FileOpen("%1")]
Ddeexec: Application = WinWord
Ddeexec: Topic = System
___________________________

John Hughes


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