Troubleshoot Microsoft Word printer problems

When documents fail to print or print incorrectly, the solution could be in Word, in Windows, or in a printer-driver update.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
2 min read

A colleague contacted me the other day with an odd problem: Microsoft Word 2003's default paper size was stuck on A4. Every time he changed the paper-size default back to Letter, it reverted to A4 with the next print job.

My first thought was that his printer driver needed an update. But driver updates often spell trouble, so I recommended that he look for the fix first in Word itself, then check Windows' print settings, and install a new printer driver only after the first two options come up empty.

Try a new normal.dot template
One potential cure-all for Word printer woes is resetting the normal.dot template (it's called normal.dotm in Word 2007). Microsoft provides instructions for doing so in Word 2000, XP, 2003, and 2007 in the inaccurately named article "How to troubleshoot printing problems in Word 2007 and Word 2003."

Interestingly enough, Microsoft offers another support article with information on finding the source of print failures. But the step-by-step approach in "How to troubleshoot print failures in Word 2007 and Word 2003" takes more time than some people will want to spend to find a solution. For deliberate types, though, it might be just the thing.

Reset Windows' own print settings
Microsoft tries to make it easy to troubleshoot Windows print problems by offering a one-click Fix it routine. The Help & How-to article also provides instructions for resetting the Print Spooler service when you receive an error message referring to spooler problems.

If the problem is with a network printer, check the FAQs in Microsoft's aptly named Help & How-to article "Troubleshoot network printer problems." Of course, uninstalling and then reinstalling the printer is a trick that predates Windows. (You also tried turning the printer off and then back on again, didn't you?)

Look for a printer-driver update
It's no surprise that Microsoft suggests you let Windows update your device drivers automatically. Instructions for doing so are provided in the Help & How-to article "Update a driver for hardware that isn't working properly." The company also offers the article "Find and install printer drivers," but the information there is pretty basic.

To take matters into your own hands, visit the support or download section of your printer vendor's Web site and search for the most up-to-date driver for your model. If the driver has a version number later than the number of your current printer software, download the newer release and save the file where it's easy to find.

Next, open the Printers Control Panel applet, right-click the printer whose driver you want to update, and choose Properties. Select the Advanced tab, click New Driver, and browse to and select the new driver you just downloaded. (The Printers applet in Vista provides an option to "Go to the manufacturer Web site" on the toolbar when a printer's selected.)