You've been working on an important document in Microsoft Word, and now it's missing. You've searched your default document location, your entire hard drive, and the Recycle Bin, but the Word document is still nowhere to be found. Is it gone for good? Do you have to recreate the document from scratch? No, at least not yet. You may still be able to locate and revive the Word document by taking certain precautions ahead of time and looking for the right files in the right places.
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Your Word documents, like other files, can lose their way. Sometimes you may create or revise a document and simply forget to save it; other times, your computer may freeze, crash, or otherwise hiccup, preventing your document from saving properly. In these cases, you may lose the entire Word document or just the latest changes, or the file itself may become corrupted and unreadable. Whatever the scenario, you can often recover the entire file—complete with the latest changes.
To start, let's assume you've already checked your hard drive and your Recycle Bin for the file, either by the specific name or a wildcard combination, but you came up empty. Here's one tip: Do you use File History in Windows 10 to back up important folders, including those for your Word documents? If so, open your backup drive to look for the document in the proper location.
Here's another tip: Do you sync your documents through OneDrive or another online service? Most cloud-based storage sites offer a Recycle Bin or Trash folder where you can restore deleted files. In the case of OneDrive, open your online storage space. You can search across all folders for your document by name or wildcard combination. Otherwise, click the entry for Recycle Bin. OneDrive and other storage sites hold onto your deleted files for up to 30 days—you can sort your deleted files by name, location, deleted date, or size. If you find the document, select it, and click the Restore button (Figure A).
Next, there are steps you can take in Word before you lose a document so that you can more easily find a backup version of it. In Word, open the File menu, select Options, and then click Advanced. Scroll down the Advanced screen until you see the section for Save. Check the option for Always Create Backup Copy (Figure B).
If a document ever goes missing, open your default document location. Browse or search for files that start with the name Backup of and have the extension wbk. If you find the appropriate backup of your lost document, just double-click it to open it in Word (Figure C).
Here's another setting in Word that should be enabled. Return to the Word Options menu and click Save. Make sure the option to save AutoRecover information is checked—this option can come to your rescue if a document is ever saved without its latest changes. Set the number of minutes to save the file. Note the AutoRecover file location (Figure D).
If you find your lost document but without the latest changes, click the File menu in Word (2016 or 2013). Click the Manage Document button and select Recover Unsaved Documents (Figure E).
In the Open window, look for any files with an ASD extension. Open the right file in Microsoft Word to see if your document appears with the latest changes (Figure F).
Through File Explorer, you can also check the AutoRecover file location, which is typically C:\Users\[your username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Word. Look for and open a folder with the name of your document. You can open the ASD file itself in Word, or more easily click on the shortcut with the docx extension to open the recovery file (Figure G).
Sometimes a lost or unsaved Word document may still exist as a temp file. Open File Explorer and search your hard drive for *.tmp files. Switch the view to Details so you can sort the files. After all the results appear, click the Date Modified header to sort the files by date, starting with the latest ones first. Look for files tagged with the date your document went missing. Avoid any files with a size of 0KB. Open each potential file in Word to see if you find your lost document (Figure H).
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Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books—one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.