Reasons Why I Can't Open Word Documents

by Gregory Hamel

Microsoft Word is a common computer word processing program used to compose documents and save them in a digital form. Information you receive in email attachments or that you access on the Internet may be contained in a Word document. You may be unable to open certain Word documents on your computer for a variety of underlying issues.

Program Compatibilty

You must have a computer program installed on your PC that is compatible with MS Word to open Word documents. If you don't have MS Word, OpenOffice is a free alternative that is able to open Word documents. In addition, you must choose to open Word files with a compatible program; in some cases your computer may attempt to open a file with an incompatible program by default. Right-click on a document and choose "Open with" to select the program you want to use to open it.

New Word File Formats

When Microsoft released Word 2007, it introduced a new standard file format for Word documents: .docx. Older versions of MS Word (Word 2003 and prior versions) are not compatible with .docx files by default, so if you are running an older version of Word you may be unable to open Word documents created with Word 2007 or 2010. Users of old versions of MS Office products can install a compatibly pack to open and edit new file formats (see Resources).

Password Protection

MS Word allows users to set password protection on documents to prevent others from accessing sensitive information. If you attempt to open a password-protected document and you do not enter the correct password in the pop-up that appears, you will not be able to open the document.

Read-Only Mode

In some cases, you may be able to open a Word document but you may not be able to make any changes to the document. This is known as "read-only" mode. A document's creator can set a document to read-only mode to prevent others from changing information. If you are accessing a document on a network that someone else is currently editing, you might have to open it in read-only mode.


If your computer is affected by a virus or some other form of malicious program, it could be impaired in its ability to perform normal functions like opening documents. In addition, if your computer is low on system resources and you attempt to open a large word document, it could overtax the system and cause an error.

About the Author

Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.