Largish Word files lagging after the tiniest of edits
April 13, 2021 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I do freelance copyediting, and I'm getting these problematic large Word files from one particular client (usually about 12MB or 400-500 pages). When I’m editing the downloaded file with Track Changes on, Word often stalls for about five seconds; the top bar grays out and says Not Responding, the fan comes on, and I can’t do anything until it catches up.

These are academic and scholarly manuscripts with prodigious endnotes, and I suspect the files are loaded with macros (if that’s the right word) for formatting, etc. It is hugely frustrating to type three characters or delete a comma and then have to wait for Word to catch up--though it doesn't happen with every single keystroke. I’m using a Lenovo ThinkPad, about 3-4 years old, running Windows 10 and using Office 365. I assume it’s not a memory issue because I’m only using about 25% of capacity. The company insists no other freelancers have reported similar problems. Local computer repair shops can’t tell me anything--one guy’s advice was to work in Google Docs, which won’t even open the file. I tried to split the file into two halves, but that somehow moved each chapter's endnotes to the end of the file and that won't do. I've Googled (and searched Ask) and haven't found any solutions. Help?
posted by scratch to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You've probably seen this already if you've Googled, but posting it on the offchance - the suggestion to try the placeholder options for images might help (if there are any images in the document):
FWIW my PhD thesis ended up behaving very similarly, and I just used to go and put the kettle on when it did this. That was also on a Lenovo too. Thinking about it, have you got it set up to Autosave at regular intervals? That was at least part of the issue for me then.
posted by Chairboy at 3:21 PM on April 13

I would consider editing without Track Changes on, if you can do so without going nuts yourself, and then using Word's compare feature or another redlining software to put the changes in.

Also, make sure you restart Word regularly. This helps sometimes as, from what I can tell, the issue is that Word runs out of memory within the program somehow. It sucks.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:23 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it possible there are a lot of special characters in the file? Possibly invisible? This tends to happen when I export files from other programs into Word, where special terms or variable names which have been filled in automatically by the program I'm exporting from will come attached with invisible special characters on either side of them in place of a regular space. (For example, one program I use often has a variable for [customer name], where it exports my documents with whatever the current customer's name is filled into those spots.)

These special characters make editing the document in Word ridiculously slow. They are only visible if you turn on all the character markings to visible in Word; that's when it's noticeable that these variable names have not spaces but some other nonsense on either side of them. I have to remember to do a quick search & replace as a first step with every document.
posted by MiraK at 3:25 PM on April 13

its a pretty new laptop, but might want to check if you have a older mechanical drive vs a ssd, a friend recently switched and said its night and day when working on large files.
posted by edman at 3:38 PM on April 13

Are the endnotes/ references managed within Word, or using an external program like EndNote?

Back in the day, EndNote (or whatever I was using) was a hog, and yes, probably hijacking Word's (not great) macro system and getting wires crossed inefficiently.

If they are handled by an external program, it might help to make sure that it is up to date. I seem to recall EndNote having a function to "clean up" the references (ie., compacting/ re-sorting its internal database) that I had to do every so often to keep things chugging along.

A 3-4yo Thinkpad should have a decent SSD. If not, that might be another source of the slowdowns as Word/external program might be grinding the HDD (inefficiently) looking through its references database. If so, a defrag might help (but Win10 auto defrags now?).
posted by porpoise at 3:38 PM on April 13

Oddly enough, turning off 'check spelling automatically' can help with this.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 3:51 PM on April 13

Response by poster: I never use the auto-spell-checker. Files don’t have any images. It has a solid state drive. I’ll look into the special characters possibility and I’m wondering now if EndNote might be the culprit. Thanks for everyone’s input!
posted by scratch at 4:18 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try saving the file as a Word 97-2004 document (.doc), then exiting and re-opening. Docx files sometimes get crufted up with "dynamic content" and other garbage you don't want. Saving back to the older file type should strip that stuff out.
posted by libraryhead at 5:58 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to try to confirm if EndNote is the culprit, ctrl-alt-del to open up Task Manager and go to the Processes tab - it should display a list of Apps and Background processes.

See if you can find Word and EndNote (which might show up as both an App and maybe a Process, but it might be named something different under Processes). There should be columns breaking down CPU/ Memory/ Disk/ and Network usage by App/ Process.

If EndNote is maxing out resources during the slowdowns, then there's confirmation of the issue.

If you have two monitors, keeping the Task Manager on a separate display can be handy since if something is stalling, it might also delay Task Manager refresh (although on modern hardware/ Win10, shouldn't be a problem, but can be).

Also maybe check to see the size of the .enl and .enlx files associated with the .docx - if they're ginormous, that could be a culprit. I know that with my Win10 setup, my data HDDs spin down/ sleep and will sometimes hang for a few seconds when accessing one that's on power save. Make sure the .enl file is local and not on a network drive somewhere/ in the cloud.
posted by porpoise at 6:28 PM on April 13

I use a Mac and when I've had something similar i make the track changes not visible (show simple mark up rather than All) and turn them back visible at the end.
posted by bwonder2 at 9:15 PM on April 13

Endnote uses fields to show its results. There is a keystroke that will convert all the fields to values. From memory, it's one of the F9 combinations, but I forget which. If you convert the fields, saveas something new, reopen, then Endnote is out of the way and you can see if you still have issues.
posted by StephenB at 12:47 AM on April 14

Best answer: Also helps if you work in Draft view, if you can. I'm working on a big Word document (which I created) that has a fair amount of structure and document automation, and it slows down quite significantly when I try to edit anything significant.

Something I have done with big documents in which I need to track changes is to save a copy exactly as (in your case) it came from the client, then editing the copy without tracking changes, and then comparing them at the end. Track changes is not only a resource hog, but would I distrust the stability of a large document with tracked changes in it.
posted by Logophiliac at 5:00 AM on April 14

Are you by any chance saving to a "non-local" location? So - for example, do you have your "My Documents" folder synchronized with OneDrive? That can add network latency and... SharePoint versioning/synchronization (if it is a 365-account OneDrive) on-top of Word's local issues. If you do - ensure that the folders containing your documents are set with the synchronization setting "Always Keep on this Device".
posted by rozcakj at 5:49 AM on April 14

If you can upgrade the RAM on the Lenovo that may help, too (although I always recommend maxing out RAM because it's relatively inexpensive these days and almost always aids performance). Although the fan coming on does imply that the CPU is working hard and generating more heat than usual with a word processing program - and since others have pointed to EndNote as having potential issues I'd look at that, too.
posted by TimHare at 9:34 PM on April 14

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