Word: Error opening a Word 2010 document in Word 2007

December 21, 2011

Here’s a strange one…

One of my clients sent me a Word 2007 template (DOTM) and five existing Word 2007 reports (DOCX format). They wanted me to transfer the report contents on to the new template, creating a new document for each report.

I only have Word 2003 and Word 2010 so I created the new documents in Word 2010 from the client’s template and happily sent them off the client. I’ve used Word 2010 for this client’s Word 2007 documents previously, without any problems.

However, when the client received the new documents, only two would open in Word 2007. The other three resulted in an error message (‘The file cannot be opened because there are problems with the contents’) — one of those lovely messages that tells you absolutely nothing! What ‘problems with the contents’? Does this mean the table of contents, or the content of the document?

Error message when trying to open Word 2010 documents in Word 2007

Error message when trying to open Word 2010 documents in Word 2007

When I clicked on Details (as you do), I got nothing from Microsoft Word as to what might be causing this error:

'Details' tells you nothing more

'Details' tells you nothing more


I tried opening these 20+ page documents in Word 2007 on another client’s computer, but also got the error, so I was able to replicate what my client saw. I also tried opening them on my PC with Word 2003 installed on it. Again, I got a useless error message saying that Word couldn’t open the document. However, on my laptop with Word 2010 installed on it, these documents opened just fine.

Off to the internet…

I found several suggestions for getting your document back, and tried most of them (see below for links for various solutions). Things I tried included:

  • Save As a different format — DOC (Word 2003; no good as you lose the Content Controls, and this document/template had 25 of these!) and DOCM (macro-enabled Word 2007/2010 document). That didn’t work — the document I was testing still wouldn’t open.
  • Open and Repair via both Word 2003 and Word 2007. That didn’t work.
  • Remove the Table of Contents and replace it with a new one, as suggested on one of the web forums. That didn’t work.
  • Upload the Word document to Google Docs and DON’T convert it. Google Docs said it couldn’t open it…
  • Upload the Word document to Google Docs and convert it. It opened in Google Docs, but as there were a LOT of client-specific styles in this document, I decided this would be my final option as there was a lot of work to copy/paste and reformat the content.
  • I didn’t try the XML options I found on the internet as my issue wasn’t with XML, as far as I could tell.

Because I could still open the documents in Word 2010, I decided to Save As RTF (Rich Text Format) from Word 2010. This blew each 600 KB document out to some 27 MB, but these were only temporary files until I re-created the documents.

I then used the PC with Word 2007 on it and re-created a new document for each of the three that were corrupted, using the View Side by Side option in Word to copy/paste the contents. Because I was using the same template with the same styles, the copy/paste process was pretty quick and easy, even for the tables.

Fortunately, I could access a Word 2007 installation, otherwise I might have had to resort to the Google Docs option or start again and hope for the best (these were only 20 page docs, but, like most people, I don’t like having to re-do work I’ve just done).

So, what caused this corruption?

I have no idea.

And I wasn’t going to spend hours trying to find out. I had already charged the client for the work done, so I had to re-create the docs on my own time and dime. I didn’t have time to figure out why — I just needed to fix the documents.

The only thing I can think of that *may* have caused something to go wrong was that I attached these docs to an email and sent the email to the client. Not long after I did that, I closed Outlook and shut down the laptop. As my upload speed is pretty slow, it’s quite likely that closing Outlook and shutting down the laptop occurred in the middle of the upload. However, I didn’t get any warning message telling me so, and my Outbox was clear when I closed it. As I said, it’s the only thing I can think of that I did that *may* have caused it. One of the sites below talks about removing a USB stick causing documents to corrupt, so I think closing Outlook and/or the laptop might be similar.


Here are some of the sites I used to get clues as to how to fix these corrupt Word documents:

[Links last checked December 2011]


  1. Hello,

    I had exactly the same behaviour as you described in your notice ‘Error opening a Word 2010 document in word 2007’. I was very suprised.

    Because we received the Word2010-document by mail we are not able to make an earlier doc-version (Word2007, etc.) . Our policy governs only Office2007-documents or earlier.

    The solution: I set up an new client with Vista SP2 and Office 2010 SP1. Then, the nevous document opens with no problems.

    I am very angry.

    Have a nice weekend!


  2. Hi,

    I found the problem was caused by an embedded Excel chart.

  3. I also had an embedded Excel chart that was the source of the problem, after deleting it and pasting it as an image file Word 07 opened the document.

  4. Hey I had the same issue with my computer. I wasted my time on it for
    many days but finally I got a solution from this link

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