Monday, 28 March 2011

The File (.docx) Cannot be Opened because there are Problems with the Contents - Unspecified Error

There are a number of errors you receive from MS Word (.docx). However, the above error can be particularly annoying since none of the recommended fixes on the Microsoft site and in many of the help forums seems to work. The error "The file cannot be opened because there are problems with the contents" is easy to resolve. The error is an "Unspecified error" and a screen prompt usually provides information on where the error is located in the Word XML file (the exact line and column). Personally, when I tried to fix the document using the "open and repair" feature it did not work. I then got some information from the Microsoft site with some very complicated instructions about unzipping the Word file to get the XML document, editing it  and then zipping it back. I found all of this very confusing and cumbersome.

However, I stumbled upon a quick and easy work around and this is how it works (You will need to use Internet Explorer browser for this fix to work):

Step one - Open a Microsoft live or Hotmail account if you don't already have one. If you do log in.

Step two - On the top menu, hover your mouse on "Office" and then click on "your documents" as shown in the screen capture below.

Step three - Next, navigate to "Add files" as shown below. Select the corrupted .docx file from the location on your computer and upload it to Office docs.

Step four - Go to "My Documents" and click on "Edit in Browser" as shown in the screen capture below.

Step five - The .docx file will open in the browser. Kindly note that this is the reason you need to use Internet Explorer. This feature does not work in Mozilla or Chrome.

Note: from the screen shot you have the option of opening the document in Word. However, you need to fix the document before opening it word. This error is found in documents with a "table of contents". Normally, the document gets corrupted while you are in the process of saving it and Word is no longer able to read the table of contents. The solution is to delete the table of contents, click "save" and then open the document in word by clicking on the "open in word" icon. This launches MS Word 2007 on your computer and voila! the document opens but without the table of contents. All you now need to do is to rebuild your table of contents and save the document again.

This fix has worked wonderfully for me on two occasions when large documents which both had a table of contents got corrupted. I was able to recover them using this method in less than five minutes. For some reason, the documents can be opened online but cannot open locally on your computer. There appears to be a bug in MS Word 2007 (.docx) which the guys at Microsoft do not want to admit to. All other fixes recommended on their website DO NOT work. I am not sure if the same fix works with Google Docs, I suspect it might though there is the limitation that you can only upload documents up to 1mb which is quite limiting if you work with large documents. Microsoft Office Live Workspace is one of the best online backup service and allows you to upload a document as large as 25MB.
I will post an update once I test this fix on Google Docs for small documents of less than 1MB ... or you can try it out yourself and post a comment back here letting us know if it works.

See Part II of this fix or try Free Word Recovery Software.

Suggested Reading
How to Recover a Lost Word Document


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dear kimkay,

    Based on your nickname I assume you are from Belgium as well :).
    I encountered the same frustrating problem with a file of 500kb. With the first method I could open the document in Windows Live, but after deleting the table of contents I was still not able to open the file in MS word 2007.

    However the second method did work for me. Now I just have to redo the formatting.

    Thanks, you saved me a couple of hours.

  3. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Works perfectly, but in my case, the problem was with the nomenclature, not the table of contents!


  4. Well I actually cannot open the file in Windows Live. If you are here, please respond as quick as possible as I have to deliver my work until 00.00....;(