Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Letters Turn Into Squares.

Letters Turn into Squares

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 22, 2017)


Ingrid wrote with a problem she was having with a document. It seems that as she was working on the document, the whole first page suddenly turned into squares and now she doesn't know how to get the words back.

There could be any number of causes for this problem. The key is understanding what it means when characters turn into small squares—that Word is using a font for which character information is not available. If the document was readable one minute and then unreadable the next, it means that something changed in regards to the font in use.

One possibility is that the document was selected (Ctrl+A) and then the font changed to one that can't display the characters in use. The way around this problem is to again select the entire document and then hold down the Ctrl key as you press the Spacebar. This changes the font back to whatever font is defined for the underlying style assigned to the paragraphs.

Of course, this leads to the second possibility: That the font used for a style is no longer valid. You can check this out by looking at what style is used for the problem paragraphs, and then modify those styles so they use a font that will display as you desire. (Try a font such as Arial or Times New Roman. These are pretty standard on most systems.)

Another option is that the font you want to use has been removed from your system. Check the name of the font used in the document, and then use the Windows Control Panel to see if that particular font is installed on the machine. If it isn't, then you will need to either reformat your text, or you will need to install the desired font.

If you are still having problems, take the document and see if it displays properly on a different system. If it doesn't, then you probably have a document corruption problem, and you will need to try to transfer the text from the bad document to a new one. (How you try to recover the contents of a corrupted document has been discussed at length in other issues of WordTips.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (566) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Letters Turn Into Squares.

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 6 - 0?

2017-12-14 15:19:38

Joanie Campbell

Some of my Word documents on my desktop and in Documents have changed into SCRIPT icons (a weird "S") and the document is replaced with non-sense symbols and words/codes. How can I get all these documents back please?

2017-01-11 01:19:17


My word 2013 file completely scattered in word 2016.

2016-08-26 10:28:33


I have a new problem can't read amharic words and news replaced by square boxes alphabets needs to avoid this problem and want access to read properly.

2016-02-09 12:33:22


ctrl + A and ctrl + shift option saves my life
thanks a lot

2015-05-09 09:11:23


i recieve a report in ms word formate this file symbols turn into square boxes. i want to recover these symbols. what i do?

2015-03-30 15:40:14


I had the same issue. The document had been saving perfectly until my final save, after which everything converted to boxes, symbols, and random selections of the text I had written. None of the aforementioned tips worked for me and the document would no longer open, even after I restarted Microsoft word, so I took a right-clicked the document, and selected preview. The preview opened up with my complete document and I was able to copy the text and paste it into a new word document, which I saved again. Hope this helps!

2015-03-11 13:26:37


i wrote in wordpad i saved the document and when i opened it again it appears just squares . and non of this tips worked please help me it is something i can t write again

2014-11-24 19:56:03


Josh - thanks for your help! I'll try it. I have a couple old files like that...

2014-11-23 19:09:04


alice, I had the same problem, but I changed the font from Symbols/Greek to arial, copied the boxes, and pasted into a different word program. I have my paper back! Hope this works for you!

2014-08-16 12:00:06


Re: getting rid of Greek "staying on". There is an easy workaround.
Before making the Greek symbol simply print an "X", create the Greek symbol in front of X, and then substitute your text for the X.

2014-08-15 09:25:37


In Word 97, I write a Greek expression and use the macro (control Q??) To make it Greek, it appears to lock on to Greek for the succeeding text which should be normal. I don't know how to restore it to normal. Ctl SpBar does not work.
The key sequence for subscript toggles and un-toggles, which is very sensible. Not so with Greek.

2014-05-01 04:14:58


Wow brilliant!
I was given a word doc by someone to turn into a printable book but many characters turned into boxes

did a search and found this article :)

so I - crtl + A
held the crtl button down and pressed the spacebar expecting all the text to vanishe and bingo! not a square to be found!

thanks heaps!

2013-08-26 17:49:17


I'm having the same exact trouble as Jasmine, but I can't seem to figure out what's wrong. I've tried almost everything. I'm also afraid that it will happen again to another document. It happened in Wordpad though on an older computer, if that even helps at all.

2013-08-14 05:46:31


The ctrl+space worked like a charm .

Thanks so very much

2013-04-28 12:25:41


When you select all of the writing and use Ctrl+ space or just select it and press space, it just replaces all of the writing with a space. How does that work? I had a document which I just added a bit onto, I saved it and then the computer accidentally turned off. I turned it back on and opened the document and it was two pages of squares. I think it's a corrupted document, because i opened it on another computer and it was the same and the ctrl+spacebar didn't do much as I said. The link you put to other issues of Wordtips to recover the content of a corrupted document is very confusing for me (I'm actually quite young so I don't understand it at all) so I have no clue what to do! Can you help me, maybe tell me what all of that means and what to do? That document is really important for me.

2013-01-01 16:02:44


My problem is that I changed a document to a Greek font so no one could read it while I was away from my desk, but now it won't let me go back to a normal font. The wingding-type fonts work, but regular fonts like Arial and Times just come out as little boxes. The CTRL-space doesn't work because I saved it as Greek - I can only get the Greek back or wingdings. I appreciate any help.

2012-09-29 16:57:37


So i had my text copied from a website, it is now in Times New Roman Special. It shows but when i try to change it to another font, it immediately becomes squares [boxes]. What should i do?

2012-05-04 15:29:04


Thank you for providing these tips! I thought that I had lost a lengthy procedure that I had drafted when everything turned into boxes, but I applied "ctrl + spacebar" and I got the text back! You've saved me time and spared me a headache.

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