Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 25, 2017)


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Of course, this leads to the second possibility: That the font used for a style is no longer valid.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.)

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, and 2016. 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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What is 1 + 8?

2017-02-09 06:10:04

Paul Franklin Stregevsky

If you do that, won't you lose all your formatting, including bullets, numbering, and tables?

2017-02-08 09:26:21


Ctrl + A the entire document then copy and paste it into a sticky note. Then copy everything in the sticky note to a notepad document. Then copy that into a new/clean word document and boom! Hope it helps

2016-10-30 02:02:54


I did it all but it didn't work!

2016-02-20 17:49:23

Need how to fix corrupted files tips for Word 2013 and Office 365 please!

2015-07-14 05:39:15

Bobby Tony

Try to copy into Excel and then change font. Sometimes that will work.

2015-05-13 12:25:30


My problem is SIMILAR and I still cannot fix it.
I was sent two documents created in Publisher. The documents are IDENTICAL - with the only exception being that one was in color and one was in black and white. Before I continue, I get these documents every month and never had an issue.

I was customizing the documents and I always do them at the same time. First one, then the other for each bit of customization to ensure I have not forgotten anything.

When I attempted to change
street address
city, state 00000

to the actual information in the black and white document, each time I to type a w or a v, it would be a little square.

This did not happen when I did the same thing in the color version!

I even tried inserting the characters from the character map!

As I said, I do this every month - and this time, there was NO getting around it.

Thanks in advance!

2015-02-20 22:48:58


This was an excellent tip, as usual. Many, Many Thanks. My documents where confusing at first glance. Some of the text was fine, normal. Other sections had the squares, the epsilon, greek, and general mess. Using advice from both versions of this tip article I was able to bring things under control. These documents were originally created on a Mac Word 2009 or possibly earlier. Applying a different font across the board did not eliminate the squares, neither did stripping out the formatting. Applying styles directly to the document did the trick. Using the style inspector to help a colleague gives one the sense that you're bringing fire to the natives. I later found the design tab can help the situation to some degree, but not reliably across different documents - at least in this case. side note: my friends wanted to send the docs to a compatibility factory, whatever that is. Thank you.

2014-12-15 11:26:36

Panel Shop

In my situation, I opened a document and all the fonts were suddenly in Greek. It doesn't occur on all the documents I have, but a fair portion of them. I sent the document to a coworker, he opened it and printed it and it came out just fine. He saved it and sent it back to me, and it still opens in Greek. The Ctrl-space changed everything into the boxes, and the undo command returned the Greek letters. Text boxes within the document are displayed in English, however. MS Community recommended running a macro on the whole document, but that only seems like it would compound the problem. The font indicated is 'Romantic' which I do not have installed on my system and have never used. The document used the 'normal' template and I prefer Times New Roman for my documents, with occasional forays into Aston-f1 or something else for emphasis.
Any suggestions?
Thanks! TS

2014-04-29 10:54:21


I had a problem with Word 2010 replacing some letters with squares. It was originally a Word 2003 document, but I had been working with it for a couple of years with 2010 without problem. It happened suddenly and it only affected those words that had 'All Caps' selected in Fond, and that were also in Bold font. I could physically remove the box and type in the correct letters, but as soon as I saved the document, the squares would return. The font was Arial Bold, and by chance I discovered if I changed the font to plain Arial, and then made the word 'bold' the problem stopped.

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