Why is my “Blank Document” not blank?

When I start Word or create a new document, it has the text of an old document in it.

Article contributed by Suzanne S. Barnhill


Why it’s happening

All documents in Word are based on templates. A template is a special kind of Word file with the .dot, .dotx, or .dotm file extension (instead of .doc or .docx, which are used for documents). The template can contain text (such as a letterhead), special styles (such as those that might be suitable for an academic paper or a newsletter), and custom toolbars, macros, and shortcut key assignments that make it easier to prepare a certain kind of document. (See also What do Templates and Add-ins store?)

The blank document that you start with when you open Word (“Document1”) and all documents that you create by pressing the New button on the Standard toolbar or choosing “Blank Document” in the New or Templates dialog are based on the Normal template (Normal.dot in Word 2003 and earlier; Normal.dotm in Word 2007), which is the “global” template that also (by default) stores most of your customizations, such as changes to styles or toolbars.

If you change a style in the Normal template (for example, if you change the default font, which means that you actually change the font of the Normal style) or if you change the default margins or page size, that change affects every blank document you create from then on. Needless to say, if you save text in Normal.dot, that text will appear in every blank document you create.

It is a mystery how users manage to save text in the Normal template, but if your “blank” documents suddenly start opening with the text of an old document in them, this is what you have done! There are basically two ways to solve this problem: you can delete the extraneous text, or you can force Word to generate a fresh, factory-default copy of the Normal template. This article tells how to do both and also explains how to preview the results of the latter.

Note: Although this article speaks of clearing out unwanted text from the Normal template, the same techniques can be used to solve other problems that appear in new documents, including the mysterious appearance of more than one column. In many cases, however, it is possible to make these changes (to the default font, to Page Setup, including margins, or to styles) without having to open the template itself; see “How to change the default settings for Word documents.”

The simplest fix: cleaning up the Normal template

In order to delete the extraneous text from the Normal template, you must first locate the template file and open it. There are two main ways to do this in Word 2003 and earlier (for Word 2007, see Method 3).

Find and open the Normal template: Method 1

In Windows Explorer, press Ctrl+F, and search for Normal.dot. Or select Start | Find | Files or folders, and search for Normal.dot. In Windows XP, the folder that contains this file is a "hidden" folder. In order to find it, you will therefore need to go to Tools | Folder Options, select the View tab, and check the radio button for "Show hidden files and folders" (or at least specifically include “Hidden files and folders” in your search).

Depending on your Windows Explorer settings, the search results may not display the “.dot” extension; as shown in the screen capture below, it may display only the Word “Normal”. Either way, once you have found it, don’t double-click on the file; this will just create a new document based on it. Instead, open it by right-clicking on the file and choosing Open.

Note: It is actually much better – for all sorts of reasons, one being that it makes it easier to find the files you want, another being that it makes you less prone to virus attack – to set up Windows Explorer so that it does display all file extensions. If you have already done so, the Windows Find dialog will display “Normal.dot” in the search results rather than “Normal” as shown above. Unfortunately, by default, file extensions are hidden. To change this, select Tools | Folder Options (or depending on your Windows version, View | Folder Options, or View | Options); select the “View” tab, and de-select “Hide file extensions for known file types”.

Find and open the Normal template: Method 2

Find and open the Normal template: Method 3

If you are using Word 2007, you do not have to hunt for the Normal template (Normal.dotm). The folder where it is stored is represented by the Trusted Templates button on the Places Bar at the left side of the Open dialog. Click on this button to open the folder. Follow the procedure in step 3 of Method 2 to open the file.

Clean the Normal template

Once you have opened Normal.dot, delete the text in it, save the file, and close. The next time you click New you should get a Blank Document.

Creating a new Normal.dot from scratch

If you think you may not be able to return the Normal template to its original state – that is, if you think that, in addition to extraneous text, there may be modifications of margins or styles and you’re not sure how to put these back the way they were – you may want to start over with a new Normal just the way it came out of the box. Especially if you have not been using Word very long or haven’t customized it much, this may be the preferable alternative.

If Word does not find the Normal template at startup, it will create a new one. You could assure this by deleting the file, but it is usually better just to rename it. Close Word and, in Windows Explorer (using one of the methods detailed above), find Normal.dot or Normal.dotm and rename it. (You can call it anything you want, but Normal.old and Oldnormal.dot are frequently suggested.) Then restart Word. Word will create a new Normal template and your Document1 and subsequent Blank Documents will be blank again.

Salvaging your customizations

Before you decide to rename the Normal template, you should be aware of what you may be losing by doing this. All templates can store a variety of customizations, and if you haven’t explicitly chosen to store them elsewhere, those customizations will be stored in the Normal template. For a complete rundown on these, see What Do Templates and Add-ins store? Even if you haven’t heavily customized Word, you may have added some toolbar buttons or created AutoText. In addition to toolbar customizations and AutoText entries, templates store macros, keyboard shortcuts, styles, and custom toolbars. Some of these can be copied from one template to another; some can’t.

What you can salvage easily

If you look at the Organizer (accessible through Tools | Templates and Add-ins or Format | Style), you will see that it has four tabs: Styles, Toolbars, AutoText, and Macro Project Items. As you might deduce, using the Organizer, you can transfer styles, custom toolbars, AutoText entries, and macros from your renamed (old) Normal template to the fresh new one.

Note: In Word 2007, access the Organizer via View | Macros | Macros. Choose View Macros and then click Organizer… Since Word 2007 has no toolbars, and AutoText entries are covered by the Building Blocks Organizer, the Organizer has tabs only for Styles and Macro Project Items. Customizations you have made to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) are saved in .qat files and consequently are not affected by renaming Normal.dotm.

What you can salvage, but not so easily

  1. Note that “custom toolbars” are different from toolbar customizations. If you’ve created a new toolbar from scratch and put your custom buttons on it, you can copy that using the Organizer. But if you’ve just added more buttons to the built-in toolbars, you’ll have to temporarily copy those buttons onto a new custom toolbar before you can use the Organizer to copy that to the new template. (The same applies to the right-click shortcut menus).

Note: The above applies to Word 2003 and earlier only since Word 2007 has no toolbars, and its shortcut menus can’t be customized.

  1. You can't use the Organizer to copy keyboard customizations, but you can copy most keyboard customizations between templates using Chris Woodman's Shortcut Organizer.

  2. (This one is for advanced users only.) You can't copy macros that are stored in your ThisDocument module, or in any class module (including UserForm modules), using the Organizer; but you can go into the VB Editor (press Alt+F11) and, using the Project Explorer, either export and then import the modules (select the module and right-click); or copy and paste the code between templates.

A trial run

Only you can decide whether you have too much to lose by renaming the Normal template and starting over. But you can get a preview of what Word will be like with a new Normal by starting Word in a special way. In Word 2002 and above you can access what is called Office Safe Mode by holding down the Ctrl key while you start Word. In previous versions, the same thing is accomplished by using a “startup switch.” You can read more about startup switches in the Help topic “Control what happens when you start Word.” To start Word without any templates, add‑ins, or user settings (and with the default Normal.dot), you use the /a switch. Here’s how:

  1. On the Windows Start menu, click Run.

  2. Type “Winword.exe /a” (without the quotes) and press Enter. Note the space before the forward slash.

  3. Alternatively, you can enter the full path to Word (or click Browse to locate it), although it shouldn't be necessary to enter the full path unless you are running multiple versions of Word. If you do enter the full path, then you do need to include quotes around the path, for example:
    "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\Winword.exe" /a