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How to look inside an Office document

Occasionally you need to look ‘under the hood’ and see inside a Microsoft Office document file (Word, Excel or PowerPoint). Here’s how you can do it.

Very occasionally it’s helpful or necessary to dig into the structure of an Office document.  Maybe you’re trying to figure out why a document is misbehaving or to get a list of all the fonts used.

Many Office users can go through their entire life without needing to open up an Microsoft Office file, but if you ever do, here’s how.

  1. Copy any .docx .xlsx .pptx or other modern Office file
    • Not password protected.
    • Make a copy of the document, leave the original safely intact.
  2. Rename the file to .zip ending.
    • That will allow any compression program or Windows/Mac to open the file and view the contents.
    • For example. OfficeWatch.docx renames to
    • All modern Office documents with four letter extensions (docx, xlsx etc) are really ZIP compressed files.
  3. Extract the file contents to your computer in a separate folder.
    • Any compression program will do, WinZIP, 7zip, WinRAR (long time Office Watch recommendation) or the simple unpacking tool in Windows or Mac.
    • In Windows, right-click on any .ZIP file choose Extract All … and follow the wizard. That will unzip all the files into a new folder.
  4. View the small files that make up a modern Office document.
    • Mostly XML (text) files that can be opened in Notebook or other text editor.
    • Look for a sub-folder with the name of the app; Word, Excel etc … Here’s a sample Word document contents.

Document.xml contains the document text etc itself

fontTable.xml has a list of all fonts used

styles.xml lists all the styles in the document.

Look, rarely touch

This trick is great for looking inside Office documents but editing the XML files is rarely needed or wise.  The structure of Office docs is complicated and interconnected, changing the raw contents might break something.

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