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Backing up Word templates and shortcuts

By Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2016. Backing up Word templates and shortcuts.

If you’ve used Microsoft Word for any length of time, you’ve probably begun using its key automation features, such as macros and automatic text. If you’re as gung ho as I am, you’ve accumulated a significant collection of these shortcuts. You probably even depend on them for getting work done efficiently. You’ve also probably spent some time adding words to the software’s custom dictionaries, and may even have created specialized dictionaries for certain genres that have their own jargon. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you somehow lost all that hard work? Yet I frequently hear horror stories from editors who have lost their shortcuts to computer crashes or simple carelessness (overwriting a key file), and reinstalling or upgrading Word can erase the files that store your shortcuts and dictionaries if you’re not vigilant about the installation options. Indeed, my standard advice for Word is to make a backup copy of these files before you install Word or begin creating new shortcuts; that way, if you mess up your files or Microsoft does it for you, you can quickly restore them.

Of course, to do this you need to figure out where these files are located, both for spur-of-the-moment backups and as part of your ongoing backup strategy (i.e., telling your backup software where to look). In this article, I’ll point you in the right directions. For simplicity, I’ll refer to Macintosh versions of Word as MacWord and Windows versions as WinWord; version numbers follow in brackets.

Note: Microsoft moves files around promiscuously, so locations change. I’ll provide the most likely locations for three recent and still commonly used versions of Word. If you can’t find the files, search the Web with the following search terms in double quotes: your software’s version number, the file type, and other key words such as location that narrow the search, for example, search for “Word 2016” “Normal.dotm” “template location”. (Note that in Google, you must place double quotes on both sides of all words or phrases that must appear in the search results. Other search engines may use different syntax.)

Word templates

Most of Word’s customizations are stored in its template files. To locate these files, look in the options (WinWord) or preferences (MacWord) dialog boxes:

The “user templates” are the ones that store most of your keyboard customizations, automatic text (now called “building blocks”), and macros. If you’re part of a workgroup and use shared templates, ask your manager to ensure the “workgroup templates” are also included in the backups. To learn where Word stores these files:

In your backup, include Normal.dotm, which is where Word stores shortcuts unless you tell it to use a different repository. If you’ve designed any custom templates for specific purposes (e.g., creating and editing a client’s newsletter), include these files in your backups, too. Note that if you haven’t moved your template directory someplace more convenient, you’ll notice that these files are buried deep in your hard drive. To get to these directories easily, create a shortcut (Windows) or an alias (Mac) to the directory that contains them. When you need to find them in a hurry (e.g., to make a manual backup before reinstalling Word), simply double-click the shortcut.

Caution: You can usually move templates between versions of Word, but there are constraints. First, although newer versions of Word usually support templates from older versions, older versions may not support features introduced in newer versions. Second, don’t try moving templates from MacWord to WinWord or vice versa. Every time I’ve tried, I’ve found subtle but significant ongoing problems. It’s tedious, but your best bet is to recreate these customizations from scratch in the other operating system.

Building Blocks (formerly AutoText)

In older versions of Word, Microsoft provided a feature called “AutoText” that let you store large chunks of text containing complex formatting. With a single keystroke (or a visit to the AutoText dialog box), Word let you insert this text at the cursor position, thereby saving much typing. MacWord still calls this feature AutoText, but in WinWord it’s been incorporated in the “Building Blocks” feature:


AutoCorrect entries are shorter versions of AutoText and are stored in two places: formatted ones are stored in Normal.dotm, and unformatted ones are stored in separate files with “.ACL” at the end of the name (Windows) or as part of the name (Mac). Note that in Windows, the “.ACL” part of the file name may not be visible if you have not set Windows to display filename extensions. Although you can use your computer’s “find file” function to locate these files, it’s simpler to navigate directly to where they’re stored:

Change for Word 2011: During one of the recent service releases (patches) for Word 2011, Microsoft changed the location of the autocorrect files. If you can't find the most current version of this file at the location specified above, look here instead:
[your name] > Library > Application Support > Microsoft > Office > Preferences > Office 2011
The file names have not changed.

As in the case of templates, create a shortcut or alias that will get you to these files quickly.


Macros are small programs that perform a series of actions (e.g., opening menus, selecting options, and applying them to text) in a single keystroke or via the appropriate dialog box. By default, macros are stored in Normal.dotm, but you can also store them in templates that you create for special purposes. In the latter case, be sure to include these custom templates in your backups. To view the code for your macros (in case you want to copy that code to create a manual backup, as I describe later in this article), open the macros dialog box:

In the Macros dialog box, select the macro you want to inspect and click the Edit button to display the macro in Word’s macro editor software. You can now copy the text and paste it into a Word document for safekeeping; should you ever need to recreate that macro, you can copy the text from that repository and paste it into the macro editor. To escape from this editor, press Alt+F4 in Windows or Command+Q on the Mac. Don’t worry: you’re only quitting the editor, not Word!

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are created using the “customize keyboard” dialog box. If you don’t specify otherwise, Word stores these customizations in the Normal.dotm template. If you choose to store them in a different template, be sure to include that template in your backups.

A manual alternative

I store all of my automatic text, macros, and a list of keyboard shortcuts and customizations that I’ve created in a file named (logically enough) “Keyboard customizations”. Should I ever need to recreate these shortcuts and find myself separated from my backups (e.g., while I’m traveling), I can recreate all of my customizations in an hour or so by working diligently through this file, one item at a time. For example, I can copy and paste macro code into the macro editor window instead of having to re-record or rewrite the code. Because I teach writing and onscreen editing in Word, I find this document useful whenever I install a new version of Word because the act of recreating my customizations helps me remember how to teach others to create these shortcuts. Moreover, I periodically skim this file to see which of my shortcuts I’ve forgotten about and should be using. (You’d be surprised how often that happens.)


Word lets you create custom dictionaries that store words that aren’t in the standard dictionaries, and exclusion dictionaries that cause Word to flag correctly spelled words that you might want to examine more closely to ensure that they’re correct in some contexts. To find these dictionaries, you’ll first need to display the Custom Dictionaries dialog box:

Look below the list of dictionaries for the “File path” field. In WinWord, this is typically C:\Users\[your name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\UProof. In MacWord, the dialog box is too small to display the full path, but if you click the “Add” button, Word opens a standard file selection dialog box. If you click the menu at the top of the dialog box that shows the current directory, you’ll see the full path leading to that directory. This is typically Users\[your name]\Library\Application Support\Microsoft\Office\Preferences\Office 2011.

But wait, there’s more

Thought you were done? Not so fast! If you use WinWord, you’ll also need to include your Windows Registry file in your backups, since Word stores many settings in the Registry. The intricacies of the Windows Registry are beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll simply point you to some useful guidelines: How-to Geek's "How to Backup and Restore the Windows Registry".

Backup message

It takes a bit of time to develop a backup strategy to protect these important files. If you’re already using automated backup software—and you should be—you only have to do this once; thereafter, your backup software will generally do all the hard work for you. The more time you’ve spent customizing Word to meet your needs, the less you can afford to lose those customizations. Imagine having to do so in the middle of a tight deadline and you’ll see why this is so important.

©2004–2017 Geoffrey Hart. All rights reserved