Word Slow to Open Documents

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 14, 2014)

There are times when opening a document in Word can be slow. For instance, if the document is quite large, or if it contains a lot of complex graphics, if it contains a lot of linked data from other sources, or if you have saved it quite often with Word's Fast Save feature turned on.

There are other times, however, when opening a document can be downright painful—for instance, when it takes four minutes (or longer) to open a document that is only 800 KB in size. In these instances, the reason for the slowness may not be immediately evident. This is where a little bit of detective work comes into play.

The first thing to check is whether the document is on your computer or not. If the document is on a different computer in your network, then the problem could be either the other computer or even the network itself. Sometimes, if the network is configured improperly, communication across the network can slow to a crawl. This type of slowdown should affect other programs on your computer, however, when you need to access remote data from those programs. Thus, if opening remote documents is slow in all of your programs, then you should check your network and the other computer. If you suspect this problem, you will need to chat with your network administrator to see what can be done.

If the problem is evident in all documents on your computer (they are all slow in opening), then you may want to check your virus protection software. It could be that it is slowing down opening files. The only way to determine if this is the case is to disable virus protection—at least for the length of your test—to see if the problem goes away. If it does, then you should either check with the publisher of the virus protection software for an update, or look at getting a different virus protection program.

There are other things to try if the problem is evident in all of the documents you open. When Word is not running, make sure you delete all the temporary files that Word may have left lying around various folders in your system. Look for files that end with the TMP extension, or files that being with the tilde (~) character. If your file folders become very cluttered with these temporary files, it can slow Word down immensely. You can find out more information about Word's temporary files at this Knowledge Base article:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/211632

Another thing to try is to start Word with the /a switch on the command line. This causes it to load without also loading different startup files such as add-ins and macros. If this fixes the problem, then you can bet that the slowdown is caused by one of those add-ins or macros. You might also rename the Normal.dot (or Normal.dotm) file; if it is corrupted then it can slow down response times. (Renaming the file causes Word to create a clean, fresh, empty one the next time you start the program.)

When the problem is limited to a single document, then there are a couple of things to try. First, is the file stored on some sort of removable media, such as a flash drive or other external drive? Opening a file on some removable media can be excruciatingly slow. This is not only because reading the file is slow, but because Word also tries to create its own temporary files on the removable media. This may quickly fill up the media and cause very slow response times.

Another thing to check is if the file contains lots of links to external resources. For instance, if it contains linked images, linked charts, or linked spreadsheet objects. All the links in a document are refreshed when a document is opened, and the refreshing sequence can be very time consuming. This is particularly true if the source files that need to be opened by Word (the ones containing the images, charts, and spreadsheets) are on a network drive and that network drive is either not available or suffering from slow communication speeds.

You should also open the file and check to see what template file is attached to the document. If the document is trying to use a non-existent template file, or one that is no longer accessible through a network connection, then Word may "stall" as it tries over and over again to find the template.

Finally, if the document still won't open quickly, it could be because the document itself is corrupted. You can check this out by following these general steps:

  1. Open the slow document. (Maybe you will need to take a coffee break while it opens.)
  2. Open a new, blank document.
  3. In the slow document, press Ctrl+Home to go to the beginning of the document.
  4. Press Shift+Ctrl+End. This should select everything from the beginning of the document to the end.
  5. Press Shift+Left Arrow. This "deselects" the final paragraph mark in the document.
  6. Press Ctrl+C to copy the selection to the Clipboard.
  7. In the new, blank document, press Ctrl+V. This pastes the copied information to the new document.
  8. Close the old document and save the new document.

This should clear up any corruption problems associated with a document. You will be able to tell if it solved your slow opening problem by opening the newly saved document and seeing if it opens quicker than the original one.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1328) 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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