It happens to the best of us. You've just written than all-important, crucial urgent document, and then - wham! Word freezes. Or doesn't respond. Or you get what folk call the "blue screen of death" - a fatal error page. Sweating, you furiously try and click save. Sure, the autosave feature was turned on but you're so brilliant you did rather a lot in the last ten minutes since it quietly saved your work in the background. If you're a writer, oh no - will you be able to revisit the inspiration, the 'groove' you were just in? There's the handy built-in recovery tool, but will it work this time in the way you're hoping? Panic, panic panic.

No software is faultless - no matter how much a program is debugged, it won't always operate smoothly 100% of the time. It must be pointed out that this isn't the fault of the makers - very often, some other software you have installed, or even just your default PC settings, can cause an error. Fortunately, the major ones get ironed out with update releases. All that's left for you to do is try to work out what's happening, and try to troubleshoot it the best you can without losing or compromising your work.

Word stores a lot of the error-causing parts of itself outside the program itself. There are global templates and macros all held in one file, then some registry settings that load with the PC, and some that load with the software. Spellcheck, language and other settings are actually in a shared folder.

You may notice that Word 'remembers' your template preferences when it starts - you get the same 'view' mode, sometimes a saved font and size, whether you like to see page breaks or not, and so on. If the file that does the 'remembering' gets corrupted, Word may not even start. The template is saved as a '.dot' file - search for it, (bearing in mind it might be a hidden file, so choose to include them), and delete it. Then when you launch Word again it will realise it doesn't exist, and make a new file by default.

Another source of potential problems (not just for Word, in fact) is the Startup folder. All Office programs have one. If you find the one that belongs to Word, you can see if there's anything else in there that could be conflicting (unofficial Microsoft add-ons or plug-ins are sometimes to blame in this respect).

What to do if Word starts up all right, but goes wrong while you're working? Arguably more annoying than it never starting at all!). The Registry is key - but playing around with it can have worse consequences and make more trouble than you started with, if you don't know what you're doing. Seek the advice of an IT professional or an advanced user, or brave it by looking up solutions online, but bear in mind they are not guaranteed to work!

Temporary files (ones that begin with a wavy tide line) can also be a source of Word problems. If you see any, you can safely delete them - they are usually fragments of data autosaved or not wiped out during the 'proper' save of a document.

If nothing obvious seems to be the matter, and Word is still acting up, the long way around would be to uninstall Word and reinstall it (this will usually solve 99% of problems, by the way - simply because it rewrites the registry and starts afresh). Bear in mind that this is quite drastic if you have a lot of saved macros or settings, because you'll lose them. In post-2003 versions of Word, you may be able to choose a 'repair' option rather than a complete delete and reinstall- always try this first.

Like all programs, Word will have its temperamental days, but keeping a clean system, decrementing and running a disk scan is good practise for keeping all software programs smoothly. Knowing that small tweaks and fixes are all you need is sometimes a favourable option than throwing the install CD across the room! Happy writing, happy saving, and happy loading.