Problem solving

Who would want to be the poor tech support guy? Well, I will. But for one month only. Below are typical tech problems encountered by writers, along with solutions.

Where has my file gone?

You were sure you saved that file when you’d finished but now…? It’s vanished. First, try the obvious. Open your word processor, then click File > Recent. Look for the file in the list. If you find it, open it and then save it again but this time to somewhere you’ll remember in future. See any files with names that seem to be a jumble of letters and numbers? Open them and see if they’re what you’re looking for, then again save out the file with a proper name and somewhere you’ll remember.

However, let’s take this opportunity to correct a bad habit. Think back to where the document came from. Did you work on it after opening it from an email message? Never do this. Train yourself to first download emailed file attachments to your Documents folder, and then open them there for editing. You can download attachments by right-clicking them in the email and selecting Save As, or possibly by clicking File > Save Attachments (or similar).

If you open a file straight from an email, it’s saved by your computer to a temporary location in the deep, dark dungeons of the operating system. If, when you’ve finished your edits, you then click File > Save, or tap Ctrl+S, all you’re doing is saving your edits to that temporary location too.

Prepare yourself for the fact the file might’ve been deleted as part of the standard clean-up tasks performed by your computer. However, Microsoft has a guide about trying to salvage files from the temporary location if you’re using its Outlook email program – read down from the More Information heading on this page: If you use Windows Live Mail then take a look at this guide:

If the document has got lost by other means, use the Windows search function – if you’re using Windows 7 open the Windows menu, and type in the box at the bottom that reads Search Programs and Files. On Windows 8, return to the main tiles screen and just start typing.

Enter the filename if you can remember it exactly, or part of it, but it might be better to search for some text within the piece – if you’ve a character in your novel called Brandon Jones, for example, then type that. Remember that the Search feature isn’t intelligent. It will search only for exactly what you type, and won’t make suggestions or corrections, like Google does.

Still nothing? Try opening up the Windows search tool to non-typical locations, as follows. If using Windows 7, open a file explorer window then click the Organise dropdown at the top left, then Folder and Search options. In the dialog box that appears, click the Search tab, and select Always Search File Names and Contents under the What To Search heading near the top. Then click OK. With Windows 8 it’s a little more involved – see Microsoft’s guide: Note that opening up search in this way needs only be done once, after which you should leave your PC switched on overnight while indexing takes place, and then search again as described previously.

Still no luck? Try AstroGrep, which is best described as a hard-core search tool: We’ll leave it to you to Google how to use it.

Which version of my doc is the most recent?

You can filter by date and time in Windows’ file explorer – select details in the view list at the top right, then click the Date Modified heading. The most recent files you’ve worked on should jump to the top of the list.

Sadly, however, computer scientists still haven’t come up with a better way of organising files than the decades old analogy of a filing cabinet, which is confusing even to me at times. I use a very simple method to track files: When saving a file at the end of the day, I add the date at the end: DeathOfTheZeitgeist-23March2015.doc, for example. Then I can see at a glance what’s what.

Why can’t I print?

I hate to say it but, before trying anything else, save your data and then turn everything off, before turning it back on again. I meet many people who believe this is a joke but it isn’t. It really will solve many problems, especially when it comes to two pieces of hardware not talking to each other.

Still no luck? I’m assuming you’ve already checked for paper jams, or lack of paper, or that the ink/toner hasn’t run out. A red or flashing light on the printer usually indicates such troubles. Check to make sure the printer is actually plugged in and turned on. It’s very easy to accidentally kick out a cable under a desk.

Check to ensure you’re printing to the correct printer driver. When you come to print, is your exact make and model of printer listed in the dialog box? Even if it is, you should watch out for some printers with built-in Wi-Fi. These sometimes install two printers on the system – one for when you’re directly connected via cable, and one for when you’re printing wirelessly over Wi-Fi. Usually the only clue is that the printer driver for Wi-Fi will say so, although it might do so in a cryptic way. Ensure you select the correct one. If this sounds confusing, just try the other entry in the list and see if that works. Don’t use any entry with the word “PDF” or “XPS” in it – they’re used to turn your document into a PDF or XPS document.

Still no joy? It’s time to uninstall the printer software, and reinstall it. To uninstall it, open Control Panel and click the Uninstall a Program entry. Then double-click the software for your printer and follow the instructions. After this, head off to the website of your manufacturer and download and install the latest drivers.

What is a PDF and how do I make one?

Portable Document Files (PDFs) are a form of document that’s read-only and that rigidly maintains the layout of the original document, including font choices (which are included in the file so they appear even if the recipient doesn’t have those fonts installed on his/her system). Compare this to a Microsoft Word file, which is editable by anybody who owns it, and might look different depending on which system is used to edit it.

As for creating PDFs, most people reckon the free of charge CutePDF does the job well: Once installed, it appears as a fake printer driver, so you must select to print, and then select it as if printing to a real printer. The difference is you’ll then be asked where you want to save your PDF. To view PDFs, again most people reckon FoxIt PDF Reader does a great job and is also free:

If you use LibreOffice or OpenOffice, you can simply select to print to PDF from the File menu.

 I can’t open a document I’ve been sent!

There are essentially three types of word processing file type you’re likely to come into contact with. The first two are Microsoft Word: .doc, and .docx (.docx is simply a newer format). The third is created by the increasingly popular free office apps LibreOffice and OpenOffice: .odt, or possibly .odm.

Issues arise if your version of Microsoft Word is old and doesn’t understand the newer formats. The great news is that Microsoft provides a free update for older versions of Office that brings compatibility with these formats. Just visit Once installed you should be able to open and save the files just fine.

Microsoft supports LibreOffice/OpenOffice formats but only in more recent versions of its Office suite. To open the documents if you’re unable to you may as well download LibreOffice – it’s free of charge – and use it to open and save out the documents in Word format. You can download it from

All the fonts are wrong!

Ever seen a warning when opening a document that your system is missing a necessary font? This might be because the person who drafted the doc used an unusual font. You could note down the font name, then search the web for a copy and install it (just double-click it after downloading), but it’s unlikely the copy you download will be legally licensed. It’s better to get in touch with the individual and ask they correct their errant ways, suggesting they stick to Times New Roman or similar. However, in some cases – especially with computers a few years old – it’s possible you’ll be missing one of the Microsoft default fonts, and in particular the C fonts: Calibri, Candara, Cambria etc. These come as standard with new versions of Windows but older computers may not have them. Luckily, they can be installed for free (and legally!) via the clever trick of installing the free PowerPoint Viewer app from here: As its name suggests this is used to view PowerPoint presentations, and you can ignore it once you’ve installed it, but it happens to come with all the C fonts!

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