Word Turned ALL My Text to Asterisks

Article contributed by John McGhie

Word 2011 had a serious bug that turned all the text in a document to asterisks (or sometimes, page numbers).  The document text became completely unrecoverable: if you did not have a backup, you lost the entire document.


This bug was fixed in the 14.1.2 Update.

Use Help>Check for Updates to apply ALL the currently-available updates to Word, and this bug will be gone.

Our strong advice is to leave AutoUpdate set to "Automatic" and "Weekly" to ensure you are always up-to-date.  Many of the issues people report on the forums can be cured simply by applying updates.  When asking us for advice, our first suggestion is always going to be "Is your Office software fully up-to-date?" because we really can't help much with un-updated software, given that the behavior of such software in an operating system that has received updates becomes very unpredictable.


Backups:  A Virtue Next to Godliness and Well Ahead of Cleanliness

Word does lose data from time to time.  There's no point in sitting there saying "well it shouldn't!".  We all know that.  Microsoft works very hard to try to provide that.  But Word does lose data.  When it loses data, YOU do not need to lose any...

  1. Turn on Time Machine, and set it to run as often as possible.  If you set Time Machine to backup every hour, you can never lose more than an hour's worth of work.
  2. Save your files before you start typing!  Backups can save you only if there is something to back up.  If you have not saved the file before you begin, there is no file on the disk to be backed up.
  3. Go to Word>Preferences>Save and turn on "Always create backup".  See below for an explanation of this.
  4. Log out at the end of your work each day.  This enables OS X to clean up the memory and the temporary files in the system  Several users have reported that the asterisks bug has not struck since they began logging out at the end of the day.  (Laptop Users: No!  Closing the lid is NOT the same thing: you need to log out!).
  5. Shut down the computer at the end of the week.  No operating system is perfect: if you leave it running forever, it keeps collecting trash that needs to be cleaned out.  If you shut down the computer at the end of the week, and re-start it when you come in on Monday morning, you completely clean out the whole of the insides.  The applications will run faster and crash less often: and the asterisks bug is much less likely to happen.

About 'Always Create Backup'

Microsoft Word has two built-in backup mechanisms.  The original one is "Always create backup".  This causes Word to "rename" the file each time you save.  Whenever you pause to think, hit "Command + s" to save your file.  When you do, Word re-names the previous version to "Backup of <file name>" and leaves it in the same folder, usually just above the file you are working on.  It then writes a brand new copy to disk with the original file name.

When the asterisks bug strikes, you can simply quit Word.  Open the "Backup of..." file, save it under a new name, and off you go again.  You will lose only a few seconds work.

The other backup mechanism in Word is the "Save autorecovery every xx minutes" preference.  This is next to useless.  Best ignored.  It does not save a complete file, it simply saves the CHANGES you have made since the previous save.  If Word cannot read the original file, the autorecover file is useless.  Most of the time when you lose a file, Word can't read the original.  So you lose the file.  Not a lot of help.

My File Just Blew Up, How Can I Get It Back?

You can't.  You had only one copy of the file, and it has now been trashed.

I am sorry, but one of the hardest lessons to learn about computing is "The only thing that is certain is that someday, it WILL fail."  Set yourself up to run proper backups now, so you will never again lose work.

 Return to Top