Reader Question: How do I speed up Word?

As anyone who gets my weekly e-newsletter can attest (you do, don’t you?), I invite readers to submit questions and problems (either via email or my Ask the Guru page).  Here’s one I received this week:

Microsoft Word is very slow starting up, finding documents and shutting down.  How do I speed it up?

Here’s my answer:

If Word is running too slowly, it’s probably a system problem, not a Word problem per se.  In other words, it’s probably the computer hardware or system settings, not the software.  Here are the things I would look at:

Have you defragmented your hard drive lately? If Word (or any other program) is having to pick up its pieces from too many disparate parts of the hard disk, that can slow down things considerably.  (Before you defrag, shut all programs down and back up everything first.  These two tutorials may help: and

Have you run Disk Cleanup lately? This clears out the temporary files that can sometimes cause the computer to run slowly.  In Windows, shut all programs down first, then go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, then Disk Cleanup.

Is your antivirus and antispyware protection up-to-date and running? You may need to run a scan of both to clear out any malicious programs that are gathering and sending data that could interfere with normal operation.  I once picked up a piece of spyware on the Internet that slowed my PC to a crawl while I was attempting to run a training class.  These things, they happen.

How full is your hard disk? If your hard disk is running to near capacity, Windows won’t have enough extra space for caching memory, which can slow things down.  Disk Cleanup (see above) can help; off-loading older files onto CDs, etc. can help as well.

How often do you reboot? With Windows, depending on how much you use your system and how many programs you start/stop each day, I’d say reboot (turn off and back on) a minimum of twice a week.  Daily is better.  Over time, with repeated starting and stopping of different software, computer memory can become less efficient; rebooting will refresh it.

If none of these resolve your problem, you may need to take your system into the shop and have them review it.  For a minimal fee, they can do some “performance tuning” by adjusting some Windows settings; for a bit more money, they may be able to upgrade your memory to give Word and other programs more space to work with.

What performance-tuning tips have worked for you?  Tell us in the comments below.  (And thanks for that question, Reader!)

Photo credit: Dan Fulano via Flickr.

Update: Here are a couple of blog posts elsewhere that have some additional tips. They mostly center around adjusting some settings to prevent unnecessary features from loading:

8 Tips & Tricks to Speed Up Microsoft Word – Includes disabling several settings under Tools, Options (version 2003 and earlier), like animated text boxes, AutoFormat As You Type, etc.

How to Speed Up Microsoft Office: 8 Tips – This actually has tips for several of the Office applications.  For instance, how long has it been since you cleaned up your .pst file in Outlook?  (Yeah, I thought so.)

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About the Author

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.