Word: Can anyone help?

August 11, 2011

Here’s a curly one.

In ONE of my client’s documents, they’ve been seeing this occasionally scattered throughout the document, in places it shouldn’t be:

The numbers in the small dotted boxes change in each instance, but I can see no pattern for them, except that the beginning and end numbers surrounding the ‘ulphur’ part are invariably the same (e.g. 36/36, 67/67, 35/35 etc.).

Does anyone have any clue what might have caused this? And how we can fix it permanently?

We can fix it temporarily by selecting it and deleting it from places where it doesn’t belong, and/or reinserting the correct text. But that’s not stopping it from occurring in a later version.

Other information that may help in diagnosing this problem:

  • We use bookmarks, and this matches the pattern of a bookmark.
  • At some stage in the document’s creation and editing, we’ve done a find/replace for ‘ulph’ and changed it to ‘ulf’.
  • We use Track Changes.
  • When I select the entire text including the numbers in the boxes and paste it into Notepad, it goes in as <space><space>ulphur<space><space> — the numbers disappear.
  • We can’t search for the numbers in the boxes using Find/Replace.
  • Sometimes we see this where ‘sulphur’ would normally have been, but it also appears randomly in any other text (in the 100 page document where it occurs, it occurs about six times).
  • We’re using Word 2007.

I’ve searched the internet but haven’t found anything that matches what we’re seeing. I’ve also been using Word since the early 1990s and have never seen anything like this.

I suspect something behind the scenes got a bit mixed up at some stage and now the internal code is rendering/displaying as those numbers. I’d really like to find out what’s causing it and how to stop it from recurring (short of re-creating the document, which I don’t want to do for half a dozen instances, and besides, the Track Changes are required by the government regulators who will be viewing and commenting on the document).

Anyone got ANY clues? Thanks!

Update later the same day: Many thanks to the great team at @MSAU (Twitter handle for the Microsoft Australia team)!

They got a support tech guy to call me about this. While he didn’t have a solution, he suggested various reasons why it might be occurring, some of which are more likely than others. Here are his suggestions, with my comments, in order of what I believe is their likelihood in the situation in which I’m working:

  1. Someone who has worked on this document has an autocorrect set up for ‘ulphur’ and it’s not set up correctly so therefore it’s applied in the document when they work on it, and that is carrying over to others. Autocorrect settings are computer-specific, NOT document-specific. So, his advice is for everyone who has worked on that doc to check their AutoCorrect settings and perhaps delete that one if they have it. You can find the AutoCorrect settings under Office button > Word options > Proofing > AutoCorrect button.
  2.  Someone who has worked on this doc has taken it home and worked on it on their own computer. Seeing as though there are multiple versions of Word out there (Word 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010 PLUS the Mac versions), this is quite possible. Also, there are Word versions for Windows and Macs — and Macs are known to have some incompatibility issues, even with the ‘same’ version of Word. Then there’s the 3rd-party apps that can read a Word doc, allow edits and then save it back as a Word doc — such as some of the Open Document formats.
  3. Someone has installed a font set on their computer that others don’t have (unlikely in the office environment, but possible if the doc has been taken home and worked on a home computer that’s not set up as per the office environment). Different font sets can cause different rendering of text, and, if there’s nothing to match it back in the office environment, those characters can display oddly. Unlikely, but possible.
  4. Another 3rd-party application (NOT Acrobat) might be on someone’s computer that’s clobbering something in Word. This is unlikely as we’re in a fairly locked down and standard environment, and I’m not aware of any 3rd-party apps that my team might be using that interface with Word. However, we have no control over what might be on home computers (e.g. EndNote), so that’s another possibility.

The Microsoft guy also recommended that our team sets up a master list of AutoCorrect entries that we should all use, so that mine don’t clobber yours, or vice versa. Team members would check the master list first to make sure there’s not an AutoCorrect already recommended — and would add theirs to the list if it’s a new entry. I can’t see this being a particularly long list as there are a lot of common phrases and terms the whole team uses regularly.

Anyhow, we don’t have a solution yet, but we do have more clues as to what may have caused it.

Thanks again, @MSAU! To me, THIS sort of issue is the power of Twitter.


  1. From Karen in Denmark, via Twitter:

    BTW mystery codes in your word doc – language probs? Chinese lang snuck in? Select All, apply English Aus? Just a thought.

  2. I can think of two reasons why “random numbers” might appear in a Word
    1) Word displays the hexadecimal value of any character if you press Alt+X.
    Try it. Press Alt+X after any letter, number, punctuation mark, or space, and
    that character will be replaced by a four-digit hexadecimal number (a number
    that may include the letters A, B, C, D, E, and F). Pressing Alt+X again
    removes the number and restores the original character. Thus, if you
    accidentally press Alt+X while typing, “random numbers” will appear in your
    2) Field codes, such as PAGE and others, can produce numbers wherever they
    happen to be. Go to the location of one of these “random numbers” and press
    Alt+F9, which reveals all the field codes in your document. Pressing Alt+F9
    again hides the field codes. If the “random number” disappears and you see
    something in curly brackets instead, like {PAGE}, a field code is generating

  3. Hi Carol

    Thanks for those two tricks — in all my years using Word, I wasn’t aware of either of them! That Alt+X one in particular, will be valuable.

    However, neither of your suggestions displayed what was ‘hidden’ behind these numbers. In fact, absolutely nothing happened to them when I pressed either keystroke combination — they just remained as they were.


  4. I would love to see that document and take a crack at it. Any chance you could send it to me at carol@carolscorneroffice.com?

  5. Hi Carol

    Many thanks! Have emailed it to you.


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