What you can (and can’t) open in Word

Microsoft Word can work with a wide variety of word processing formats.  But there are some documents you cannot edit or even open in Word.  Do you know what they are?

Here’s a list of what you can open and/or edit in Word:

Type File Extension Description

Word document


Any document created with a PC (not Macintosh) version of Microsoft Word

Word template


Word templates (either those included with the software or those you create yourself, such as FAX cover sheets, etc.)

Rich Text Format


A generic word processing format that can be created by most word processing programs.  It is text with some simple formatting (bold, italic, etc.) but without advanced Word features.

Plain Text

.txt, .csv, .ans

Unformatted DOS text.  Some types (like .csv) indicate that the file contains tabs or commas meant to separate fields (like in a database).

WordPerfect document

.wpd, .doc

Documents created and saved in WordPerfect.

Web pages

.htm, .html, .mht, .mhtml

Format for publishing pages on the Internet.  In Word 2000, you must use the command “File, Save As Web Page” rather than using the document type drop-down list.

Works document


Documents created in Works.

Depending on the version of Word you’re using, and what features have been installed, you may need additional add-ons to translate some document types (such as Microsoft Works).

What you can’t/shouldn’t open in Word

Word will allow you to retrieve other types of documents, such as Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.  However, the results can be somewhat unpredictable, since Word is not equipped to duplicate the unique formatting of other, non-word processing software.

If you’re going to edit and re-save those kinds of documents, it’s better to use the document’s native software for that task.  In other words, if you have an Excel sheet that needs editing, open it with Excel.  The same is true of other formats, such as Adobe Acrobat.

If you don’t know which software program to use to open a particular file, try double-clicking the document in Windows Explorer – usually, Windows will figure out the correct program to view, edit and save the document.

Elsewhere in this blog, we’ll learn about embedding information from other programs like Excel into your Word documents.  This will let you include information from those files and still edit the source document (without having to update the information in any documents it is embedded in).

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.


Slightly off topic, but tangentially related – our staff likes to use Word’s ‘File Open’ process to open all their files, no matter the file type. That way they can employ the convenience of Word’s ‘My Places’ bar, which each person has fully customized for their particular practice area, making folder navigation quick and easy. Then, as long as Word is set to ‘Show All Files’ they can easily locate the file they want to open, *right-click on the file* from within Word’s ‘File Open’ box, and allow the file to open with its proper program.

Since they have Word open all day long, they find this process to be the most convenient way to access all their files.

It’s become such a persistent habit that I’m a little worried what will happen when we move to Word 2010, since I haven’t get figured out how to replicate the old My Places bar! I think the new process is ‘File’ ‘Recent’ then ‘Pin to Recent Places’, but that’s going to make a lot of users very unhappy.

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