Why InDesign Crashes When Placing Word Documents and How to Fix It

Adobe InDesign CS5 has stopped workingI occasionally create PDF documents using Adobe InDesign. The source document always comes from Microsoft Word. More often than not, when placing (think importing) the document in InDesign, it crashes and says, “Adobe InDesign CS5 has stopped working. A problem caused the program to stop working correctly. Windows will close the program and notify you if a solution is available.” It gives no indication of what the problem might be, forcing me to search the Word document to see if I can locate the issue myself.

I proceed by dividing the document in half and then trying to import each half. The one that fails, I divide in half. I repeat this process over and over (and over) until I’ve located the page or paragraph with the problem. Since there’s no visible problem with the text itself, I use PureText to wipe out all the formatting and problem code and then reformat it by hand to match the original. It’s not a fun process, but it gets the job done.

After doing this for the third time, I decided there had to be a better (i.e., faster) way to identify the problem and fix it. I finally realized this time that in each case the problem has been the presence of a single empty footnote tag within a footnote. (I have no idea how it gets there.) There’s no indication of anything on the surface. However, underneath there’s an empty footnote tag in the code. This trips up InDesign every time, causing the program to crash and the placing process to fail. (It sure would be nice if it would just skip right over it and ignore it.) Don’t ask me how the people who create the documents I import manage to get empty footnote tags in their footnotes. If I knew, I’d ask them to stop it.

Anyway, I found a solution that works and will save me about an hour or more each time in the future. I’m posting it here so I don’t forget—and in hopes that it might help others who run into the same problem and turn to Google for the solution.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Copy and paste your entire document into Dreamweaver (or a comparable program that lets you see the underlying code).
  2. Search the code of the HTML document for <a name="fn" id="fn">.
  3. Locate the text between <a name="fn" id="fn"> and the closing tag </a>.
  4. Locate and select that same text (and, to be safe, the word immediately before and after it) in your Word document and paste it back in without formatting. (You can do this by using PureText, choosing Paste Special > Unformatted Text, or just deleting and retyping the text.)
  5. Reformat the text as necessary.
  6. Save your document, and retry placing it in InDesign.

If your document is too big to paste into Dreamweaver, you’ll have to take a slightly different approach.

  1. Save your Word document as a web page.
  2. Open the web page in Dreamweaver or another HTML editor.
  3. Search the code of the HTML document for <a name=fn>.
  4. Locate the text between <a name=fn> and the closing tag </a>.
  5. Follow steps 4–6 above.
That’s it. This should help you quickly find that hidden problem in your Word document that’s causing InDesign to crash when you try to place a document.

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8 Responses to Why InDesign Crashes When Placing Word Documents and How to Fix It

  1. Greg July 30, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I find that saving as RTF corrects the problem 99% of the time. Dynamically updated items like footnotes, indexes and TOC create problems when the item they are linking to has been deleted and the dynamic elements have not been rebuilt. The import filter of InD tries to connect the link and fails, sometimes causing a crash and sometimes resulting in import simple failing with nothing happening at all. Think of saving a Word file as RTF like flattening an image. It turns all dynamically linked text into static text and the import works fine.

    • Phil Gons July 30, 2011 at 10:47 am #

      Greg, thanks for the tip. That’s even easier. :) Do you lose anything by converting to RTF that you wouldn’t if you imported a .doc or .docx file?

      • Greg July 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

        Nothing that I’ve noticed. The rich text format seems to duplicate the page accurately when it is opened in Word. When saving as RTF, Word cautions that some features are not available in RTF format, and will be converted to regular text. That’s the whole idea. It’s those features that are causing the InD problems.

    • Cath C January 21, 2013 at 2:26 am #

      Saving to RTF worked perfectly; thank you so much for this great tip.

  2. hagiki December 1, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    I find this post very useful since i experienced the same problem.
    I stopped right after reading the text “the problem has been the presence of a single empty footnote tag within a footnote.”
    I didn’t have the time to read all the way through and there i went along and placed the doc without the footnotes in the place dialog box.
    Worked beautifully, thanx for the tip Phil.


  3. Rick Schettino December 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    You should have a “donate” button on this post! You just saved me many hours of hair pulling.


  4. Nicole November 21, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    Phil and Greg, thank you so much. I was already getting crazy. I agree with Rick. The donate button is missing. Thanks a lot guys!!!

  5. Chani November 23, 2015 at 6:54 am #

    Thank you so much Phil and Greg! I was going crazy trying to figure out why InDesign kept crashing when importing a word doc. You really saved me.