What files do I need to back up?

Or: Where does Word store all the customizations I make?

Article contributed by Dave Rado and Brenda Hutton

To cope with a hard disk failure or other major calamity, or with a future upgrade to a new machine, you need to keep regular backups of more than just your data files. In order to keep all the customizations you've made in Word, you need to regularly back up the following as well.

Templates and Add-ins

The vast majority of customizations are stored in templates and add-ins. For details of the difference between templates and add-ins, and which stores what, see: What do Templates and Add-ins store?.

To find out where your regular templates are stored, select Tools + Options + File Locations, and note the paths listed under User Templates and Workgroup Templates. Note that in Word 2000, whilst all your custom templates are stored in that path, the Microsoft ones are not. But you don't need to back up the Microsoft ones (because they are on your Office CD). There is more coverage of this at What do Templates and Add-ins store?.

To find out where your global template Add-ins are stored, select Tools + Options + File Locations, and note the path listed under Startup.

If you can't see the full paths, double-click on them. Some of your templates may be stored in sub-folders of these folders (any custom – as opposed to Microsoft-generated) – tabs in the File New dialog come from the names of any such sub-folders).

If you think you don't have any custom templates, you're wrong; you have at least one – Normal.dot; and if you don't consciously specify where your customizations should be stored, they will be stored there. Normal.dot is prone to corruption and virus infection, and so you may need to delete it from time to time. When it is deleted, Word will create a brand new Normal.dot, minus any customizations stored in your old copy. So if you back up nothing else, at least back up Normal.dot; but it is much better to regularly back up your templates folders in their entirety (eliminating the need to back up Normal.dot individually); and as a general rule, it is also much better to store your customisations in templates and add-ins other than Normal.dot. Again, see: What do Templates and Add-ins store? for more details, and also see: Problems opening Word.

In Word 2000, you may also have COM Add-ins installed. For more details see: How to find out whether any Word Add-ins have been installed.

One more thing; under Tools + Options + Save, turn on the checkbox which says Prompt to save Normal template, if it isn't switched on already (unfortunately, it is switched off by default). The only time you should ever save Normal.dot is when you have knowingly made a change to it that you want to save. Then you should save it by holding the Shift key down and selecting File + Save All. Letting Word save Normal.dot whether you've consciously made changes to it or not, without even prompting you first, is just asking to end up with a corrupt Normal.dot file. I believe most corruptions of Normal.dot are a direct result of this setting being switched off.

AutoCorrect entries

AutoCorrect entries that have been saved without formatting are stored in an acl file; see: How can I import and export all my AutoCorrect entries, so they can be transferred to another machine? for more details. 

Custom spelling dictionaries

You can find out where your dictionary file is stored by selecting Tools + Options + Spelling and Grammar + Dictionaries + New. The default path varies, depending on your operating system and which version of Word you are using.

Preference Settings 

To back up and restore the preference settings you have made under Tools + Options, Tools + AutoCorrect, etc., you can use the method described at What exactly does the Data Key in the Registry store? (under How to preserve your Settings preferences).

Word documents

Under Tools + Options + File Locations + Documents, you can see the default path in which your documents are saved, although you can modify that setting. (The default setting is operating system dependant). You can, of course, save your data wherever you like, regardless of the default path.

It helps, when you later want to find your documents, if you create many sub-folders (and give them meaningful names), so that no one folder contains too many files. 

There is a trade-off between storing everything in a single folder tree (i.e.. one main folder and lots of sub-folders) or creating several trees. The former makes backing up your files simple, as long as your tape, or wherever you are backing up to, has enough capacity to cope; if it doesn't, you may need to use several smaller folder trees”.

In a company environment, the best place to store your documents is on a file server, because they will be backed up automatically if you do that (unless your firm has suicidal tendencies!). If using a laptop, you can use the Windows briefcase feature to synchronise the files you are working on between the server and your hard disk (it is covered in Windows Help).

Save my settings wizard (Word 2000 and above only)

Microsoft have provided an exe file which they call the Save my settings wizard. The Office XP version is installed automatically; the Word 2000 version is available here (link removed by Lene Fredborg 3-Feb-2017). It claims to allow you to back up and restore all your customizations using a secure area on the Microsoft web server. Once installed, you can access the wizardby selecting Start + Programs + Office Tools + Save my settings wizard. But unfortunately, it is of limited value at best: