Editing a Document with Many Pages

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 6, 2018)


Hal has a very large document that he works with regularly. The document is just text, with no images, and contains about 2,700 pages. The file size of the document is not terribly large, being under 2 MB. However, opening and editing the document can be excruciatingly slow. For instance, editing a sentence or applying a style can take minutes to accomplish. Hal wonders how he can speed up working with this long document.

Actually, there are a good number of things you can do, each of which might contribute to working with the document faster. Let's look at each of them, in turn.

How Your Document is Saved

First, let's talk about your document. How old is it? If you have been working with it for a while (and by "a while" I mean years), I would try the following, checking after each task to see if it helps.

  • Make sure you are saving your document on a local hard drive, not on a network drive or on a cloud drive such as OneDrive or DropBox.
  • Use Save As to save the document under a new name.
  • If the document is an old DOC format, save it in the current DOCX format.
  • If the document is in the current DOCX format, save it in the older DOC format, get out of Word, get back into Word, load the DOC file, and save it under a new name in the current DOCX format.
  • Save the document in RTF format, get out of Word, get back into Word, load the RTF file, and save it under a new name in the current DOCX format.

The reason that saving the document in different versions works is because it causes Word to, internally, "double check" pointers and references to make sure they are correct and as optimal as possible. This can then allow Word to work with the document faster.

What Your Document Contains

Now you may want to look at what is in your document. You mentioned that it was "just text" and contained no images, but you may want to check the following. (Because you said you had no images, I won't include any suggestions relative to them.)

  • Does the document contain a lot of text boxes? (Text boxes are very similar to graphics. While you may not have images, with lots of text boxes, performance by Word is similar to having a lot of images.)
  • Have you used Track Changes for a while with a lot of edits noted on the screen? (These can really slow things down. Just turning off Track Changes won't help; you'll want to resolve the changes as much as possible.)
  • Does the document contain links to external sources, particularly on the Web or on network drives? These can slow down editing tremendously. (See https://wordribbon.tips.net/T000978 for how you can turn off updating external links when opening a document.)
  • Does the document have a lot of footnotes or endnotes? These present more complex page layout challenges to Word, particularly if you are using footnotes and they are individually quite long.
  • Does your document have a lot of line breaks and, especially, section breaks? These can affect pagination quite a bit and force Word to repaginate more often than it otherwise would.
  • Does your document contain a lot of tables? There have been reports of a large number of tables causing sluggishness in the program. (What constitutes "a large number of tables" can vary greatly depending on other variables.)

A rule of thumb here is that there are many things that people view as "just text," but they aren't really. You can check to see what is "just text" by opening a new document, selecting everything from the old document, and using Paste Special in the new document to paste as text only. This can strip many of the "extras" that Word may be working with in the old document. You should realize that it will also remove any formatting in the pasted text, so that could present a huge task in getting the formatting right again.

Potential Document Corruption

It is possible that your document is corrupted or that it is showing the first signs of corruption. You can narrow down whether this is the case or not by determining if the problem is with a single document or with multiple documents. (If it is with multiple documents, chances are good that the problem isn't document corruption.)

It should also be noted that the various "saving" scenarios described in the first section of this tip may overcome any potential corruption in the document. If you think there may still be a problem, feel free to read on to help correct it.

The standard method to overcome document corruption is to copy the contents of the file (minus the last character in the file) to another document. This may work well with shorter documents, but isn't particularly practical with very long documents. Instead, copy "chunks" of your document to a new one by following these steps:

  1. Open the corrupt document.
  2. Create a brand new document.
  3. Switch to the corrupt document.
  4. Press Ctrl+Home to go to the beginning of the document.
  5. Select a "chunk" of the document—perhaps 100 pages or so.
  6. Press Ctrl+C. This copies the selected portion of the document to the Clipboard.
  7. Switch to the new document (the one created in step 2).
  8. Press Ctrl+V. The contents of the Clipboard are pasted into the blank document.
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8 with successive "chunks" of the document. Only when you are just about ready to copy the last part of the document should you continue with step 10.
  10. Position the insertion point just before the last portion of the corrupt document.
  11. Press Shift+Ctrl+End. This selects everything between the current insertion point and the end of the document.
  12. Hold down the Shift key as you press the Left Arrow key. This makes sure that the very last character in the document (the ending paragraph mark) is not selected.
  13. Press Ctrl+C. This copies the last portion of the document to the Clipboard.
  14. Switch to the new document (the one created in step 2).
  15. Press Ctrl+V. The contents of the Clipboard are pasted into the blank document.
  16. Save the new document.
  17. Close the document you suspect is corrupted.

Work with the new document for a while to see if the problems are corrected. (If the problems were related to document corruption, you should definitely see an improvement in responsiveness and less flakiness in Word's behavior.)

Modify Word's Configuration

You can also try these tasks, relative to how Word is configured. (After each of these suggestions I've tried to include a link to a WordTip that provides additional information relative to the suggestion.)

While not specifically a configuration change, you may also want to check to see if you have any add-ins or background programs running. This may include any virus checkers. Turn them off and check to see if the document editing goes faster.

The general rule is that you want to turn off any configuration option that requires additional processing or any background processing. While these optional items can make your life easier when dealing with shorter documents, they can slow down working with very long documents.

Final Things to Check

If none of these things work, you may want to check out some things relative to your system. First, there are lots of things you can tweak in Windows, itself, to make sure it is functioning at peak performance. Honestly, you shouldn't have to poke and prod Windows if you are only having problems with the one document, but it doesn't hurt to make sure that things are in fine shape. Here's a Microsoft article about sluggishness in Word, and it spends a great deal of time focusing on Windows issues:


You may also want to look at your hardware. How old is your computer? Does it have ample RAM? Is your hard drive nearly full? Is your hard drive one of the newer SSD drives?

If your hardware is found wanting and you cannot afford to upgrade it, you may want to look at breaking your document into several smaller documents—perhaps 4 or 5 documents of approximately equal length. You can then work with each document individually, and "put them back together" at a later point, if you need to.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (5138) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is seven minus 6?

2018-01-08 10:11:54

Kim Walton

Great article
I would also suggest using the Open and Repair feature which can identify and remove some corruption and legacy issues, and resave the docuemnt

2018-01-06 05:40:44

Ken Endacott

For Word 2007 and above you cannot turn off background spell checking by clearing “Check spelling as you type”. All it does is prevent the display of wiggly underscores on misspelt words. The spell checker continues to run in the background and maintain a collection of misspelt words.

Settings of “ignore” on misspelt words should be saved with the document thus preventing spell checking of these words when the document is re-opened but Word is fickle about saving “ignores” particularly on large documents. Therefore, when a large document is loaded it is usually given a full spell check even if “Check spelling as you type” is cleared. This can take some time, adding to the overall loading time. Once the document is spell checked then there is little overhead unless large amounts of text are inserted or re-checking is triggered by for example, changing the dictionary.

To reduce the spell checker overhead NoProofing can be set on blocks of text. For example if NoProofing is set for the all the text in the document then the spell checker has nothing to do. However there is a Gotcha. The routines that set NoProofing will only set a maximum of 50 paragraphs (including blank paragraphs) at a time. If you try to set more than 50 then nothing happens and there are no messages to say so, nor is there any indication of what text has NoProofing set. If you want more than 50 paragraphs set then you can repeat for the next 50 and so on, an irksome task if the document is large. NoProof settings are stored with the document.

The solution is to use a macro to set or remove NoProofing no matter how large the text selection. The following macro will do this. Change True to False to remove NoProofing.

Sub SetNoProofing()
Dim aParagraph as Paragraph
For Each aParagraph In Selection.Paragraphs
aParagraph.Range.NoProofing = True
Next aParagraph
End Sub

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