Microsoft Office Software

Why won’t my Word document save?

Why won't my Word document save
Word up: don't try and save a doc with this title

Here’s one for irony corner: if I’d written a document titled ‘why won’t my Word document save?’ in Microsoft Word, it wouldn’t save. But will Word tell you why it won’t save a document with that filename? Of course it won’t. This is 2017: what do you expect? Usability?

There are certain characters that you simply can’t put into the title of a saved document. And that doesn’t only apply to Word documents, by the way, but Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, digital photos or any type of file you attempt to save in Windows.

The question mark is on the list of characters that you can’t use in filenames. But Word doesn’t tell you this. Instead, if you attempt to save a document with a ? in the filename, Word will simply refuse to save the file. The average user might fairly conclude that Word has crashed, swear a bit and then spend the next hour re-typing their document. All you need do is remove that troublesome question mark from the filename and it will save right away.

So what, you might wonder, are the other characters you shouldn’t put into filenames?

Characters to avoid when saving Word docs and other files

According to Microsoft, you cannot use the following characters anywhere in a filename:

  • Tilde ~
  • Hash #
  • Percent %
  • Ampersand &
  • Asterisk *
  • Brackets ( )
  • Backslash /
  • Colon :
  • Angle brackets { }
  • Question mark ?
  • Slash \
  • Pipe |
  • Quotation mark “

There are strict rules on the usage of full stops, too. You can’t use them at the beginning or the end of a filename, and you can’t use two consecutively in the middle of a filename. Frankly, we’d avoid using any full stops in filenames whatsoever, as you might accidentally change the file type, making it difficult to open the document.

Also steer clear of using the underscore or _ at the beginning of filenames. This will hide the file, meaning you might struggle to ever find it again unless you know how to view hidden files in Windows. (You can view Hidden items by ticking the box in the View tab of Windows File Explorer.)

Now read this: what can you do if Outlook search returns no results?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at


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  • I think you totally missed the point of the question. Word automatically tells you the conditions you listed might be a problem.

    What people REALLY NEED is a way to SAVE a file they’ve already opened and previously saved. I, too, have this same issue.

    When attempting to SAVE a doc WORD pops up: UNABLE TO LOCATE FILE.

    The issue at hand is PERMISSION to save files in the DOCUMENT FOLDER. A while back I followed some instructions I found on the net that worked, but the “problem” was reset (again) after the next WIN10 update. I’m sure it was in the Security section, but where, I fail to remember.

    There is a WORKAROUND that I found. Simply save the file in the DOWNLOADS folder, OPEN the DOWNLOADS folder and drag it back to the DOCUMENTS folder.

    Sure, it’s a hassle, but so is losing all your updates.