Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Letters Turn into Squares.

Letters Turn Into Squares

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated March 30, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Ingrid wrote with a problem she was having with a document. It seems that as she was working on the document, the whole first page suddenly turned into squares and now she doesn't know how to get the words back.

There could be any number of causes for this problem. The key is to understand what it means when characters turn into small squares—that Word is using a font for which character information is not available. If the document was readable one minute and then unreadable the next, it means that something changed in regards to the font in use.

One possibility is that the document was selected (Ctrl+A) and then the font changed to one that can't display the characters in use. The way around this problem is to again select the entire document and then hold down the Ctrl key as you press the Spacebar. This changes the font back to whatever font is defined for the underlying style assigned to the paragraphs.

Of course, this leads to the second possibility: That the font used for a style is no longer valid. You can check this out by looking at what style is used for the problem paragraphs, and then modify those styles so they use a font that will display as you desire. (Try a font such as Arial or Times New Roman. These are pretty standard on most systems.)

It is possible, too, that the problem is related to the template used with the document—it could be corrupted in some way. This typically isn't a problem if the document uses your Normal template, as in that case you would notice the small squares on many, many documents. If you notice the squares on only a single document, then figure out what template is being used with that document, close the document, delete or rename the template, and reopen the document.

Another option is that the font you want to use has been removed from your system. Check the name of the font used in the document, and then use the Windows Control Panel to see if that particular font is installed on the machine. If it isn't, then you will need to either reformat your text, or you will need to install the desired font.

If you are still having problems, take the document and see if it displays properly on a different system. If it doesn't, then you probably have a document corruption problem, and you will need to try to transfer the text from the bad document to a new one. (How you try to recover the contents of a corrupted document has been discussed in other issues of WordTips.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11409) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Letters Turn into Squares.

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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