Behind the File Dialogs – Part 2

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Nothing as simple as saving a document – right? Maybe you’ve figured out by now that nothing is simple in Office.


Nothing as simple as saving a document – right? Maybe you’ve figured out by now that nothing is simple in Office.

If you go to Tools | Options | Save in Word or Excel you’ll see some options which depend on the version of Office you have.

You get the choice between Fast Saves and making a backup copy but not both.

Fast saving means Word won’t save the entire file afresh each time, rather it just appends recent changes to the end of the file. When there’s too many small changes, the entire document gets totally re-written to disk. This option seems to work fairly well these days but it got a bad reputation for corrupting documents and so most experienced Office users turn fast saves off.


The other useful option is Save AutoRecover info every ‘n’ minutes. Since I have a fairly fast machine with a fast hard drive I set this to a low number – less than 5 minutes – to give the best chance of recovering my work after a crash. Setting it too low can interfere with your working pace, going too high means that more typing isn’t saved.

Losing some or all of a document is a constant fear of experienced computer users. You can sometimes see people typing and regularly pressing Ctrl + S to save their work – that’s probably not as necessary these days but it may be a good habit to get into anyway.

Making a backup copy means that each time you click on Save or close a document there are two documents saved. The current document is saved, as you’d expect. The document at the previous time you saved is kept with the same document name but a .WBK extension. Keep in mind that the WBK files can accumulate and use up disk space so you may want to delete, or better still, archive them from time to time.



There’s a bewildering range of choices to save a Word document. For most purposes you simply save in the default Word format and be done with it, but there are situations where you’ll want to save in another format. These are available from the Save and Save As dialogs under ‘Save as type ..’

You may want to ensure that someone with an earlier version of Office can read the document you’ve made. In that case, choose the closest match to the Office version of the receiver.

If you don’t know what Office they have (or if they use Office at all) then the RTF (Rich Text Format) is the best choice for cross-program and cross-operating system compatibility.

RTF retains all formatting but not versions or multi-user edits. It also omits all Word macros – which makes it ideal for sending to many people.

Whenever sending a document to a wide group of people – I always suggest using RTF format. It has the widest compatibility (even if they don’t have Office, Windows users will have WordPad which also supports RTF). You can deflect any accusations of spreading Word document viruses by pointing out that RTF documents can’t hold a macro.

Some of the other formats available are Web pages, single file web pages (MHT – which have any images included in the single file), Pocket PC Word (though ActiveSync can automatically convert docs as they are copied to your PDA). Microsoft Works can have its own document format and Word can save to that format. Plain text will save just the text in the document with no formatting.



There’s a little trap when you use File | Save As to make a new document. Using File | Save As closes the current document without saving any changes since the last time you saved that document. The changes are saved in the newly created ‘Save As’ document instead.

The ‘old’ version of the document is the last saved but not necessarily exactly the same as the new file you’re creating when you choose Save As.

For example: you save a document, make some changes to the document, then choose File | Save As so that it’s saved as a new document. The two documents will be different because you made changes between saving the old doc and the Save As option. This may be what you intended but it may not be.

This especially applies if you use Save As to create a copy in a different file format. You want a .doc and .rtf format version of a document but if you make changes between the last save of the .doc and saving the .rtf version then the content of the two won’t be exactly the same. Sounds complicated but it’s easy to do – you’re working on a document then decide to make the .rtf or web page clone, forgetting that you haven’t saved the .doc version completely up to date.


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