mswordTell me if this sounds familiar.

You just typed up a document at home. You made a fancy new graphic organizer or handout for class, but when you try to open it at school and print it… you get an error.

Something about how the document isn’t compatible with your version of Microsoft Word. You’re told that you can download a “compatibility pack” to fix the problem. But that’s just a wild goose chase, because you can’t install the compatibility pack after it’s done downloading.

Eugh. That’s not cool. But there is a solution.

What’s the Problem?

The problem is that you have a newer version of Microsoft Office at home than your computer has at school. For years, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Microsoft used a standard file format (*.doc) for all Word documents, and this was compatible with all versions of Word.

With Microsoft Office 2007, MS introduced a new file format – *.docx. You don’t need to worry yourself about the technical details of why they changed it; the important thing is it’s not backwards compatible. Versions of MS Word made before 2007 cannot open these *.docx files (unless you have the compatibility pack installed.

So What’s the Solution?

Well, if you know about the problem beforehand, you can take some preventive measures. In Microsoft Word, you can save your document as a different file type. Instead of using the fancy, new *.docx file type, we want to save a document using the standard, old *.doc file type.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry. It’s not.

Step One: In Microsoft Word, go to the File menu and select “Save As.”

This will bring up a dialog box where you can type a filename. You can also select the filetype.

Step Two: Click on the “Format” dropdown menu, and select “Microsoft Office 97-2003,” “Microsoft Office 97-2004,” or something similar. The option will also say “.doc” at the end.

Notice the description:

The document format that is compatible with Word 98 through Word 2004 for Mac and Word 97 through Word 2003 for Windows.

Step Three: Hit Save, and you’re good to go. Now, you’ve got a Word document saved in a compatible file format that you’ll be able to open in school.

On Wednesday, we’ll address the related issue of how you can open up one of these fancy *.docx files on an old computer.

Bonus Tip: If you select “PDF” from the Format dropdown, you will create a PDF file. This is a file type that is compatible across virtually all modern computers. You also can’t change the contents of the file once it’s created. Great for creating handouts that you want kids to read and/or print, but not edit.