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Unexpectedly Large Word Document, Performance Problems

You may have the following symptoms:

  • A Microsoft Word document (.DOC) is very large, perhaps 100Mb to 200Mb, and yet the document only contains a few dozen pages of text;

  • The file takes a long time to open and to save;

  • Microsoft Word uses large amounts of memory when opening the file;

  • You receive “Your system is running low on virtual memory” warnings; and

  • Your computer is very slow.

This occurs because the document has blown out with a large amount of spurious data. When Word opens the file, it loads the data into memory, yet the data is not visible in the document. This causes Word to run slowly, because of all the additional processing required to manage the extra data. Also, if the Save Autorecover Info option is enabled, Word will autosave the document frequently, and this will take a long time as the document is so large, and this contributes to the slowness problem.

The spurious data may be a large number of empty paragraphs, represented by a stream of 0x0D (ASCII 13; carriage return) characters. Each empty paragraph also has an associated block of data containing format and style information. Hence the large file size and the amount of memory required to open the file.

The file may be cleansed by saving to Rich Text format and then back to Word format:

  1. Start Word and open the affected file.

  2. Choose FileSave As.

  3. Under Save as Type, choose Rich Text Format (*.rtf) and click Save.

    The document should save fairly quickly.

  4. Close Word.

  5. Start Word and open the Rich Text version of the document (ie. ending in .RTF). The file should be a reasonable size (~ a few 100Kb) and should open quickly.

  6. Choose FileSave As.

  7. Under Save as Type, choose Word Document (*.doc) and click Save.

    By default, this will overwrite the existing, overblown, document, unless you provide a new filename.

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