Frequent Workbook Recovery Prompts

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 29, 2020)

Dorrie has a number of workbooks that repeatedly exhibit the same problem. When she opens a workbook, she gets the following error message: "Excel found unreadable content in [your workbook]. Do you want to recover the contents of this workbook?" Dorrie clicks "Yes" and none of the content is actually affected. The only things that are affected are tab colors and print settings. This frequent occurrence is extremely frustrating, so Dorrie is wondering why Excel would toy with her in this way.

Chances are good that Excel doesn't think it is toying with you. (Actually, Excel doesn't think at all, but you get the idea.) The message you are seeing is due to some set of conditions being met that cause Excel to treat the workbook as if it is corrupt in some way. And, in fact, it could be corrupt in some small way that doesn't hinder regular use, but only comes into play when opening the workbook.

That may lead to the question as to why this is happening with multiple workbooks. The most likely scenario is that those workbooks all come from a common source. Perhaps they all started as copies of an original problem workbook on your system. Or, perhaps, they are from a coworker that copied them from a problem workbook on his system. It is possible that they are created by exporting from a different program and that program isn't creating workbooks quite right.

Regardless of the reason why it is happening with a good number of workbooks, the fact that it isn't happening with all workbooks indicates that the problem is with the workbooks themselves, not with the Excel program. Unfortunately, the solution is not very simple. You can, if you desire, start "unpacking" the XML used to store a workbook and poke around until you find which setting is wrong. Here's the account of one such adventure in troubleshooting:

https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/office_
2010-excel/excel-corruption-excel-found-unreadable-content/
d8f3dcef-1a43-4044-a31a-f9aa24c99e46?auth=1

That's a very long URL, so I split it across three lines for readability. You'll want to make sure you get it all into your browser so you can see the proper page. Once there, you can see what the person needed to go through in order to track down and fix the problem.

Notice, as well, that the solution recounted at the website is for a problem that doesn't exactly match Dorrie's problem, but simply parallels it. The solution is provided so you can understand what is involved in tracking down problems of this type.

Quite honestly, if your workbooks aren't that complex, you may be better served to simply recreate them. Don't copy entire worksheets from one workbook to another; that only increases the likelihood of transferring the problem. You'll want to actually recreate the workbook, from scratch, so that you end up with a workbook that is as "clean" as possible.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9945) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Embedding TrueType Fonts by Default

If you use TrueType fonts frequently, you might want to set Word to embed those fonts by default. Here's how to do it.

Discover More

Deleting Blank Rows

Got some pesky blank rows in your data that you want to get rid of? This tip provides a wide variety of methods you can ...

Discover More

Inserting Symbols

Using the Character Map to insert symbols in Excel.

Discover More

Professional Development Guidance! Four world-class developers offer start-to-finish guidance for building powerful, robust, and secure applications with Excel. The authors show how to consistently make the right design decisions and make the most of Excel's powerful features. Check out Professional Excel Development today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Restoring the Analysis ToolPak

Add-ins for Excel, such as the Analysis ToolPak, are stored in files on your hard drive that can be deleted. If you ...

Discover More

Setting the Width for Row Labels

Excel displays, by default, a row label or heading at the left side of each row on the screen. As you scroll down the ...

Discover More

Understanding Lists

What is a list of data, and how do you create one? Here are some guidelines you may find helpful.

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is seven more than 6?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.