For over 10 years now, I've been providing Microsoft MVP support to users, with emphasis on issues related to Microsoft Word, since that's the program I know best. I use Word for all types of work from document design (desktop publishing), to book and user manual publication, to custom programming using Word. So not only have I seen the same problems fixed using the same methods for many years, but to say I've blown up my computer a few times is an understatement. When you're testing code and pushing your PC to the limits with experiments, you can see some pretty wacky things happen to a computer. But if you can routinely fix those problems with the same set of troubleshooting techniques, you can become fairly confident that one of these fixes will solve most all problems.
In this article, I'll outline the techniques I've used to help myself and others fix errors that will crop up as you're working away. This article is broken down to these areas:
- Detecting An Error
- Various Troubleshooting Techniques
- Is Word crashing on you?
- Are you having trouble opening docs?
- Do you get errors opening/closing Word?
- Does Word freeze up?
- Memory Errors?
- Strange Error Message About Hidden Modules?
...see this section for these solutions and more
- Getting More Help
- What information you should have available
- Places where you can get more help
I Reinstalled Everything, But It Didn't Help!
Before we go any further let me say that...reinstalling programs rarely helps fix a technical problem. So many times I hear from people who say they completely reinstalled Office, completely reinstalled Windows or...worse...totally reformatted their hard drive in an effort to fix a problem. Then they find out they only needed to delete a file or change a setting and the problem would have been fixed. Hours of time were wasted, needlessly, reinstalling applications. Granted, a reinstallation can fix a serious problem, but it's rare. So hold that one off as a last resort!
Why? Well, usually the problem has nothing to do with the installation or even the program itself. I can't count the times people have come screaming to me about Word problems only to discover that the problem lies with some other program that installed some file that conflicts with the way Word needs to operate. Below you'll find a link with more information about Addins. Also, you may have a corrupt system file. When the program installs, it may see that a certain file is already installed, so it will not give you a new version of that file.
A better way to try to decipher problems with your current installation is to use the Detect and Repair feature that is available in more recent versions of Office. This process will run a check on your installation. If files are corrupt or missing it will replace those files. It will also check to make sure that the settings you have in the Registry for the program are correct. You will need to have your original CDs available in case new files are required.
To Run, click Help > Detect and Repair. Have your CDs handy
If you're having computer problems, there's a very good chance that one of the articles below will help you solve your problem. These are some of the most common issues and some of the most frequently quoted articles.
- Maintaining Your Computer
- This is an important article that provides you with step-by-step details regarding the removal of TEMP files to free up resources that cause many computer errors, as well as how to modify your hardware accelerator to test for video issues related to freezing up...and more!
- Normal.dot Template - Explained
- The Normal.dot template is the master template in Word and houses many defaults. It can become corrupt and cause all sorts of silly problems. Learn to understand templates and how to troubleshoot common errors in Word by reading this article.
- Add-ins...One of Word's Most Common Problems
- Many third-party programs can add files to work with Word, but they may have issues that also cause them to conflict with Word. Read this article to find out how to easily test for this problem and how to go about fixing these issues. This fix solves many errors related, in particular, when you're getting mysterious error message when trying to open or close Word.
- Problems Opening Word
- This is probably one of the most popular article on the Word MVP site. It talks about some similar issues mentioned in the Maintaining Your Computer article, but takes these troubleshooting techniques further with even more possible solutions to other common problems.
- I Keep Getting ‘Insufficient Memory’ Errors
- If your system is mysteriously having it's RAM being eaten up, you may have a virus! Check out this article to learn more.
- RAM Explained: Simply
- If you don't understand RAM and how your computer's memory works, read this article that explains the process in terms that even a beginner can understand!
- My Menus and Toolbars are Missing and Won't Come Back
- The Data Key in your registry can become corrupt. If this happens, you have to reset it to get back your normal operations in Word, such as having menus work correctly. This Word MVP article explains how to handle this problem and fix it.
Help! I'm Getting an Error!
The first thing you want to realize is that, when you ask someone to help you solve a problem with your computer, you need to provide that person with some pertinent information so they can help you decipher the most likely problem. Don't just run screaming that you have an error. Detail what you were doing when the problem happen and also provide as much detail about your system so they can understand what type of technical environment in which you are working.
First we'll look at the type of information you should be able to provide when asking for help. Then we'll look at each item in detail. Finally, I'll give you several troubleshooting techniques to try, as well as links to more detailed information. With luck, you'll be able to help yourself by drilling down the problem to get it fixed.
- What program are you using?
- What VERSION of that program are you using?
- What operating system are you using?
- What was the EXACT error message you received?
- What were you doing when that error popped up?
- What happened after you got the error message?
- How long have you been experiencing this problem?
- Did you do anything new just prior to this error happening?
- What EXACTLY have you done to date to try to fix the problem.
What Program Are You Using?
This should be obvious, but many people will forget to mention exactly which program they were using when they received an error. Microsoft Office has several programs, so when you ask for help, be sure to tell your support rep which program you were using.
What Version of That Program Are You Using?
Different versions of software programs can experience different types of problems. A problem in one application was probably fixed in a future version. Software companies also provide interim fixes called Patches, SRs (Service Releases), Hotfixes and other fun names to confuse us. They contain updated code that can fix a common problem discovered after the program was released. So if you don't have a fix installed, your answer may be as simple as updating your software with the latest release to fix your problems.
See this article by Greg Chapman for more important reasons to keep your software current:
As the Worm Turns...Your Computer into a Zombie
So be sure to know what version of the software you are using. To find out what version you have, all software programs provide version information in a Help > About dialog box. Below you can see samples of various Word About Box dialog boxes.
Notice along the top, this says that this program is Word 2000 and SP-3 (Service Pack # 3) has been applied.
This is from Word 2002 (Word XP) and it has been updated to Service Pack # 3.
This is the latest version of Word, 2003, and it has been updated to SP1.
Knowing what Service Pack or Service Release you have updated to is important information. So be sure to include that information when you post a request for help. And if you don't have any fixes applied to your version, know that some of the problems you may be experiencing may well have to do with the fact that you are using software that had known bugs that have since been fixed in these service packs. So it is important to keep your software updated to the latest available version.
For Microsoft Office, you can go to this link to check to see if there are any new fixes that you have not yet applied to your software:
Microsoft Office Update (Download) Site
When you arrive at the link above, click the Update button. Your system will be analyzed and you'll be advised what updates are available for you to install.
What Operating System Are You Using?
Besides letting your Help Desk know what program and version you were using, it's also important to let them know what operating system you are using.
There are several ways to find out what operating system you have. The easiest is probably to just pay attention to the splash screen that appears when your computer starts. Does it say Windows 98? Windows XP? And if it is Windows XP, is it the Professional Edition or the Home Edition? Those versions have different features, so that information is also important.
To find out while within Windows, you can open Windows Explorer by right clicking the Start button and clicking Explore. Within the Explorer, again, just click Help > About and you'll see an About Box such as the one below.
You can also right click My Computer and click Properties. Under the General tab, you'll see the following system details:
Notice that both messages tell me that I am running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 applied.
What Was the EXACT Error Message You Received?
"I have a problem, can you help me fix it?"
"What is the problem?"
"I got a computer error?"
"What did it say?"
"I don't remember! I clicked OK and it went away."
Every support rep is giggling right now, because every support rep has had this conversation. Frustrating? Oh yeah! And I'm sure can appreciate the answer to that question!
How in the world can you really expect someone to help you fix a problem when you can't explain it?
When an error pops up you should stop, read the error and WRITE IT DOWN! Write down the message EXACTLY as it appears on your screen. Even better, you can take a screen shot of it. Every computer has the ability to take a picture of the screen content.
By hitting the Print Screen (sometimes displayed as PrtScn) button, you have taken a picture of your screen. The picture is now sitting in your Clipboard...a hidden place on your computer. You can now open a program such as Word or even Paint and click Edit > Paste or hit Ctrl + V to have that image pasted into the program. Save the page and email that to someone who can help. Or print it so you have the details available to tell your support rep EXACTLY what it said.
What Were You Doing When That Error Popped Up?
Being able to provide details about exactly what you were doing will help your service rep because they will try to reproduce the error. Were you attempting to add a logo into a header? Were you just typing? Did you just try to access a particular dialog box? Try your best to provide specific details.
What Happened After You Got the Error Message?
Knowing the results of the error can also be useful information. Did the program crash and close? Did it freeze up? Did it just go on working without any further problems? Did you get any additional error messages? If so, what were they?
How Long Have You Been Experiencing this Problem?
Has this problem been occurring for a long time and you're just now getting around to being frustrated by it enough to ask for help? Did it just start happening? Does it only happen when you do a certain thing?...such as open a certain file?
Did You Do Anything New Just Prior to This Error Happening?
Here's a secret...all support reps know that users lie! Sorry, it's pretty much a fact. User's fiddle with settings or install some new screen saver or program they shouldn't have installed. Then there's a problem. They try to fix the problem on their own and get really messed up. So they call for help. When they're asked what they were doing...we hear "I didn't do anything! I was just trying to open a file and now it won't work!"
If you recently were messing with some settings, let your support rep know. Fess up! It can save hours of troubleshooting to know that you tried to install a program that didn't work so you removed it. Maybe you didn't remove it properly or it left some files that are now conflicting with your program. Programs like Adobe install templates that can interfer with Word. So knowing that you just surfed to a web site and downloaded a file may not seem like it would matter to another program. But it might. So that could be important information.
What Exactly Have You Done to Date to Try to Fix the Problem.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard "I tried everything, but it still won't work!"
Knowing what everything means, in detail, will help. I had someone say they "did the template thing, but that didn't help." I assumed they meant they'd tried to rename the Normal.dot template. After several emails of discussion, I discovered that they meant that they had deleted the template directory! They were told to delete everything in their TEMP directory and thought that meant Template directory. They also misunderstood that they should have deleted what was inside of the folder and not delete the folder itself!
These are important facts, so be sure to explain what everything means!
Where To Get More Help
If you have gone through all the recommended troubleshooting techniques explained above and you still can't get the problem fixed, then you might want to post your problem to a support group. Someone else most likely has experienced a similar problem and will share their fix details with you. Gather up all the details above and post to a support group.
Here are some locations where you can find further help.
Good luck solving your computer problems!