How to open an existing document

Updated: 04/02/2019 by Computer Hope

Before a document can be opened, its location and file type must be known or identified. For example, if you want to open a document you created using Microsoft Word, it's likely located in the My Documents folder and is a Word document (.doc or .docx file extension). On this page, we give you tips and help with finding, identifying, and opening a document file on your computer.

Finding the document file

If you have lost a file, or are not sure where a file is saved to the computer, you have a few options that can be done to help locate and open that file.

Recent documents

If the document was recently opened, you can use the recent documents feature. Open the program you previously viewed the document in and click File and then Recent.

Windows Documents

My Documents

If you use Microsoft Windows, by default it saves all documents into the My Documents or Documents folder unless you have changed where you want to save the file. If you are trying to find a lost file that was created on the computer, start by looking in this section of the computer.


If the document you are trying to find was downloaded from the Internet, the file is most likely in the default Downloads folder. We recommend that, if this is a file you want to keep after downloading it, you should move the file into My Documents or a location you will remember in the future.

E-mail temp directory

If you have opened the file from an e-mail attachment in an e-mail program running on your computer (e.g., Microsoft Outlook), it is likely that the file was saved into a temporary location. Unless the file is saved to the computer most programs treat any attachment as something temporary. If it's been a while since you opened the file, unfortunately it may have already been removed and should be opened again from the original e-mail containing. After opening the attached file again, save it to a location for future access.

Find and Search

Finally, if none of the above suggestions helped or you still are having trouble finding the file you can use the Windows or operating system find feature to find files on your computer.

Identifying the file


Once the file is located, it needs to be identified to determine what program is capable of viewing the file. When the file is a known file type by a program running on the computer, the file is associated with that program. For example, a file with the .DOC or .DOCX file extension is associated with the Microsoft Word program, but can also be opened with programs capable of opening that file type.

The easiest method of identifying the file type in Windows and most computers is by using the file extension. Below is a listing of the most common file extensions used with documents and their associated programs.

File extension Associated program
.ABW AbiWord document file.
.DOC, .DOCX Microsoft Word document. Most word processors today can open these types of files, but may not have all the features available in Microsoft Word.
.HTM, .HTML A web page that can be viewed using any browser. However, to edit the file a text editor or HTML editor is needed.
.ODT Open document file type most often used with open source word processors like OpenOffice Writer.
.PDF Adobe PDF file that can be opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader and any PDF reader. However, not many programs support the ability to edit a PDF.
.RTF A rich text file that can be opened in most text editors and word processors.
.TXT A .txt file is a plain text file that can be opened in any text editor.
.WKS, .WPS Microsoft Works file that can be opened in Microsoft Works, Microsoft Word, and some word processors.
.XLS, .XLSX Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that are opened with Microsoft Excel and most spreadsheet programs.

Opening the file

Once the program is found and identified, double-clicking the file opens the document in its document viewer. If the file does not open or displays an Open with box, the computer does not have an associated program that is capable of opening the document. A program or viewer must be installed before that file can be opened.

You can also open the file through any program capable of opening that document by clicking on File and then Open or pressing the Ctrl+O keyboard shortcut in the program.

Additional information