Cannot open Word document, get jibberish on screen

Microsoft Office problem gibberishWhy can’t I open a Word or Excel document sent to me?  It comes up as loads of jibberish on the screen.

A very common problem this one and I’m asked about it very often. The usual scenario is that “Person A” sends “Person B” a document and they are unable to view it. This leads to countless lost hours and backwards and forwards with documents, when all that is required is a simple update on Person B’s computer.

For the terminology here, remember “Word” and “Excel” are part of the Microsoft Office package.

You may be suffering a common problem where you cannot open an Office 2007 document because you have Office 2003 installed.  To identify this, look at the 3 letters at the end of the file.  For example:

report.doc = Word 2003 format
report.docx = Word 2007 format
sales.xls = Excel 2003 format
sales.xlsx = Excel 2007 format

Some people will have the file extension (those last 3 letters) viewing turned off.  To rectify this look at my article here, then come back:

How to show file extensions in Windows

So what is the solution to this Microsoft Office jibberish problem?

Opening report.docx with Word 2003 will not work unless you have the “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for 2007 Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint File Formats”  – a downloadable installation program which Microsoft offer to resolve this issue.  This program is free of charge and can be downloaded here:

The rtf format is opened by most word processors such as Wordpad, Word, OpenOffice Writer etc so is a good format to ensure maximum compatibility if you are not sure what program the document’s recipient has.  To avoid problems I generally save in .doc format rather than .docx, even when using the Office 2007 suite, if I am sending a document to an unknown recipient. Better still, sending as a PDF allows your document to show as you intended because often the recipient will have different margins, paper size etc.

Please drop me a quick comment below if this helped to resolve your problem!

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