Why can't I read some files?

If you cannot open a file that has been sent to you, it may be because you don't have a program that is capable of opening that type of file. Without Microsoft Word installed on your computer, you can't read any Microsoft Word documents that have been sent to you. Instructors are recommended to develop a class standard for exchanging files so that students know what kinds of files to send.

  • File Type
  • Save As...
  • I can't tell what type my files are!
  • Guidelines for Exchanging Files

File Types

Many programs save their documents in proprietary formats. That is, a document created by one program may not open in another program. There are universal file formats that all programs of a given type can read.

All modern word processors can read and write the Rich Text Format. For this reason, Rich Text Format (.rtf) is the recommended way to distribute word-processed documents to users who do not all use the same word processor. If everybody uses the same word processor, feel free to use that program's default file format.

A list of free, downloadable viewers


Save As...

When saving a file, usually the default file type is adequate. However, when you want to share documents with other people, you'll need to save the document in a format that other people can view with the software they have.

How to save files as other types


I Can't Tell What Type My Files Are!

Both major commercial operating systems hide file extensions by default. To make your computer show file extensions, follow these steps:

In Mac OS X:

Switch to the Finder and go to the "Finder" menu. Choose "Preferences...". Put a checkmark in the box next to "Always show file extensions".

In Windows:

Click the "Start" button and go to "Control Panel" (or to "Settings" then "Control Panel"). Access the "Folder Options" control panel. Make sure there is no checkmark in the box next to "Hide extensons for known file types." Click the "OK" button.

If you use another operating system, consult its documentation for information about file extensions.

Furthermore, Macintosh operating systems do not require the use of file extensions. Be sure to save your files with file extensions. View the examples below for reference:

Be Sure to "Append File Extension"

But Don't "Hide extension"


Guidelines for Exchanging Files

If your instructor is unsure of how to handle file exchange for the class, refer him or her to this page.


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