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TechNote #103: Last modified: 07/28/17

Equations have become non-editable "pictures" in Microsoft Word

The information in this document applies to:

MathType 6.x (Windows)
MathType 6.x (Macintosh)
Microsoft Word 2002 and later (Win)
Microsoft Word 2008 and 2011 (Macintosh)
Does not apply to Word 2016/365 for Mac.


After opening a previously saved Word file containing MathType equations, you discover all or some of the MathType objects have become non-editable "pictures." This is associated with the Auto-recovery function in Word. We know the bug is in Word, because the same issue happens with other embedded "objects", such as Excel charts.


  1. Attempting to edit an equation by double-clicking on it will bring up the Format Picture dialog instead of MathType.
  2. Copying and pasting the equation into a MathType window results in the error "The Clipboard contains no equation data"


Microsoft recommends turning off the Auto-save function in Word. Note however, this is a prevention step and will not repair equations that have already become non-editable pictures. The steps to disable auto-save are different for each version of Word whether on the Macintosh or on the Windows platforms. Simply look for the "Save" preferences for your version of Word and remove the check mark from "Save Auto-recovery data every x minutes."


In many cases, the equations will display and print correctly. If you don't need to edit the equations, it is possible to simply leave them as they are. If you only need to edit a small number of equations, it may be more expedient to delete those equations and recreate them in MathType.

It's rare, but in some cases it may be possible to recover the equations by running the Convert Equations command within Word:

  1. Open the document in Word and save it as an RTF (Rich text format) document.
  2. From the MathType menu (or Tab), choose Convert Equations.
  3. Choose the following settings in the Convert Equations dialog:
    Under "Equation Types to Convert", select (as a minimum) "MathType or Equation Editor Equations" and "Microsoft Word EQ Fields". Set the Range to "Whole Document".
  4. Under "Convert equations to" select "MathType equations (OLE objects)".
  5. Click the "Convert" button to start the conversion process.
  6. When the conversion is complete, a dialog will appear confirming the number of equations converted.
  7. Save the document from Word as either a .doc or .docx file. (When it comes to this issue, .doc seems to be more stable than .docx.)
  8. The document and hopefully all equations might be editable now using any version of Word along with MathType. Note that sometimes this conversion method cannot recover all equations in a document. If this is the case, equations will have to be re-created and there is nothing MathType can do to auto-recover them.

MathType's "Convert Equations" dialog

Getting This Problem Addressed by Microsoft

It's important for Microsoft’s customers to report their experience of this problem so that Microsoft can appreciate how widespread it is and appreciate the need to devote their programming resources toward resolving it. We’ve reported the details of this issue, including sample documents to Microsoft, and we encourage all users who experience this problem to do the same.

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