A Microsoft Word file that displays garbled text or gibberish when you open it may point to something as serious as unrecoverable file corruption or as potentially straightforward to correct as a text-encoding mismatch. Microsoft Word should perform the necessary language-based file translations on the fly as it accesses document contents, but when that process fails to produce the proper results, you may be able to track its symptoms to correctable encoding problems.

Encoding Standards

Language-specific text-encoding standards tell Microsoft Word and other applications how to interpret the characters you type into a document window. When you press a key or key combination on a system set up for one language, the character that appears may be completely different from the result under a different language setup, or may contain an accent mark that applies in one language but not in another. Beyond the challenges of interpolating among various alphabets, languages that use non-alphabetic writing systems or that write in a different direction -- horizontally or vertically -- pose difficulties for systems set up to accommodate Western linguistic systems.

Opening a File

Each time you open a file in Microsoft Word, the program looks for a series of indicators that tell it how to display the document's contents. One of those markers represents text encoding. If the encoding information doesn't appear or doesn't match the file's actual contents, the document's text may appear scrambled when you open it. In that case, access the Options screen from the File tab and choose "Advanced." Activate the "Confirm File Format Conversion on Open" option in the General section, close the file, and when you open it again you'll see the Convert File dialog box. When you choose "Encoded Text," the File Conversion dialog appears to give you a choice of text encodings along with a preview that helps you confirm the conversion.

Inserting a File

Some text-encoding problems resolve when you use a new, blank Microsoft Word file as a container and insert the problematic document into it. From the Insert menu, choose "File" to access the Insert File dialog box. Select the misbehaving document in the file list and click on the "OK" button to bring its contents into your new document. The act of reading the document data to process the file-insertion command can force Microsoft Word to apply the proper encoding.

Other Considerations

Some encoding problems may relate to the font files active on your system rather than to the document you're trying to open. If a Microsoft Word file expects to see an OpenType typeface with multilingual support but the version installed on your system handles only one language in TrueType or PostScript Type 1 format, you may need a different version of the typeface to view your file correctly. If a required font file simply isn't present in any version, you may see character substitutions or other typographic anomalies that you can cure by installing the missing typeface for your operating system.