Software

Put Word's recent documents list to work for you

Use Word's Recent Documents list to quickly open the files you use most often.

Word's Recent Documents list offers an easy way to manage the documents you're currently working on. Unfortunately, most users fail to take full advantage of it. We'll look at a few ways to put this list to work for you.

When you want to open a Word document, you have a choice: you can work through the hierarchy of folders and files until you find the file you want to open or you can use the recent document's list. Depending on your system, the latter might not be the most efficient way to go, but let's take a quick look. If you're using Word 2010, click the File menu and click Recent in the left pane. In Office 2007, click the Office button to display the recent documents. In Word 2003, click the File menu, which lists the four most recently saved documents at the bottom.

Word 2010 displays a list of the most recently used files and locations. The first item in the list is the last item you saved. Not only does this list (17 by default) supply easy access to your most recent documents, it's a great way to find a lost document. I sometimes save documents to the wrong folder and this page helps me find them quickly.

To open a document, click it. To remove a document from the list, right-click it and choose Remove From List. If you're using Word Web Apps, you may see many versions of the same file. Be sure to compare the paths to make sure you open the correct file.

Pinning a document to the list makes it a permanent item in the list. This gains you quick access to the documents you use frequently - just pin them to the list! Word 2003 doesn't have a comparable option, but you can use the Work menu.

You can control the number of files listed, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help) in the left pane. In Word 2007, click the Office button, and then click Word Options. In Word 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu and skip to step 3.
  2. Select Advanced in the left pane.
  3. In the Display section, enter the appropriate number in the Show This Number Of Recent Documents option. If you choose 0, you disable the feature and Word will remove all items from the list. In Word 2003, click the General tab (you can increase the list to 9).
  4. Click OK.

If you work on the same document most of the time, it's probably also the most recent document in the list most of the time. When that's the case, you can bypass repetitive steps by opening that file immediately upon launching Word, as follows:

  1. Press [Alt]+[F11] to open the Visual Basic Editor (VBE).
  2. Find the Normal project in the Project Explorer (the left). If it isn’t visible, display it by selecting it from the View menu.
  3. Choose Module from the Insert menu.
  4. Enter the code shown below.
  5. Click Save Normal on the toolbar and return to your document.
Sub AutoExec()
'Open most recently used file automatically.
  Application.RecentFiles(1).Open
End Sub

After adding this macro to the Normal template, Word will automatically open the last document that you saved, when you launch Word. The RecentFiles object represents the collection of most recently used files - the one Word displays in the Recent Documents list. Each item on that list has an index value (an integer). The most recently saved file is always 1. The second most recently saved file is 2, and so on. Admittedly, this macro has limited appeal for most users - but it will help a few of you. In fact, none of this information is rocket science, but most users aren't taking advantage of this quick access feature to files.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

9 comments
psauve
psauve

In Windows 7, I also use the Start Menu to accomplish this. Right-click in [b]Start Menu[/b], select [b]Properties[/b] and [b]Start Menu tab[/b]. Click [b]Customize[/b] and set the [b]Jump list[/b] to, say, 30 for the mumber of recent files. However, for some reason, not ALL recent files make it to the list!

sheila
sheila

Also useful is the tickbox at the foot of the File screen "Quickly access this number of recent documents". Tick the box and enter the number of documents you want to see - these will now appear on the File navigation pane above Info.

sparent
sparent

I suggest that you prefix the Open method with [i]If RecentFiles.Count >= 1 Then[/i]

ian
ian

I have Word pinned to the Taskbar. Right mouse shows recent files. You can also pin those you use often to that list, such as Templates. I find this to be faster although the number of files is limited to 10. If I need to go back a-ways, I use your process of going through Word Options/advanced. In Office 2007 the maximum Recent Files is 50, but it will only show the maximum your screen is capable of holding (in my case, 33 files) there is no scroll option to utilize the maximum number of files, which is a shame.

iskaggs
iskaggs

Susan, thank you for spotlighting another arcane Word feature that could have saved me a lot of time and gray hair over the years. I'm putting my "new" tools to work immediately. Thank you for a hugely helpful column!

Full Tao-er
Full Tao-er

Office 2010 has it. Also, folders can be pinned for permanent access to those you use most. Very helpful if you organize documents in folders by project.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thanks for mentioning this feature -- it's especially great for temporary files!

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm glad you found this useful!

ssharkins
ssharkins

I like pinning in the taskbar for files I'm working on at the moment -- you can pin them, have quick access, and then unpin them when you're done -- it's a great feature. Thanks for mentioning it!