After password resets, perhaps the second most common reason for users calling the help desk is to request that a file be restored from a backup. And one of the most frequent reasons for users losing a file is accidental deletion. Every computer user has been there. You delete the wrong file, or you delete a file you thought you didn’t need, and then realize after the fact that—oops—you needed it after all.

Another common reason for needing a file restored from a backup tape or backup drive is because a user has inadvertently overwritten information on a file. The user opened an existing file, made changes to it, and then forgot to save that file under a new name. The file is still there, but the information needed is lost.

So what can you do to help end users avoid losing files in this way? Try sharing these tips with your users. Of course, passing along tips doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get any more calls requesting that a file be restored. But the users who pay attention to the tips may call less frequently.

Tip #1: Empty the Recycle Bin only once a month
It doesn’t hurt to keep your deleted documents in the Recycle Bin for a reasonable period of time. Don’t make the rookie mistake a lot of Windows users make—as soon as they delete even a single file, they feel compelled to empty the Recycle Bin. If you empty your Recycle Bin only once a month, you’ll have a better chance of restoring a file you may need.

Let’s walk through an example to illustrate how the Recycle Bin works. When you delete a file, Windows displays a reminder like the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Some users click Yes too quickly when they see this prompt, and they don’t realize they’ve authorized Windows to delete a file.

Click Yes, and Windows will delete the file and store it in the Recycle Bin. A reasonable question to ask is: Why wouldn’t Windows go ahead and permanently delete the file instead of sending it to the Recycle Bin? That’s easy—so you’ll have a chance to restore the file if you later change your mind about having deleted it.

To restore a file from the Recycle Bin, double-click on the Recycle Bin icon. When the Recycle Bin opens, click on the file you want to restore. At this point, you can click the Restore button (in the bottom-left corner in Windows 2000), or you can go to File | Restore (in all flavors of Windows), as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
To restore a file, select it and choose Restore.

When you restore a file, Windows will return it to the location where it was when you deleted it. Of course, it’s possible that you could have created a new file with the same name as the deleted file. When that happens, you’ll see a prompt like the one shown in Figure C.

Figure C
If you try to restore a document that has the same name as another document, Windows will warn you, so you don’t accidentally overwrite another good file.

If you don’t want to overwrite the existing (undeleted) file, click No. Then rename that file, and you’ll be able to restore the old (deleted) file.

Tip #2: Learn how to use File | Save As
Many beginning computer users just don’t get the concept of Save As. Here’s one way to explain it: Tell your users it’s like making a photocopy of a paper document.

Suppose you open an existing file, and you want to modify the contents and save the revised file under a new name. If you want to keep the original file intact, go to File | Save As, type in a new name for the file, and click Save or OK.

When you do, Windows creates a brand new file using the name you entered. The original file—the one you opened—is safe and sound on the hard drive. That’s the leap of faith that’s hard for some beginning computer users to make—they erroneously assume that when they save one document under a new name, they’ve somehow destroyed the original.

Tip #3: Learn how to create templates
Perhaps the best way to avoid overwriting a file you want to keep is to create a template. When you save a file as a template, the application (e.g., Word, Excel, or PowerPoint) will let you open the file any time you want. However, if you edit the contents of the file, you won’t be able to save it under its original name. The application will force you to save the file under a different name.

A great example of a common use for templates is a timesheet. If you have a standard timesheet document that contains fill-in-the-blank sections, you’ll probably want to create a template. That way, if the timesheet template is stored on a network drive where all employees can get to it, you don’t have to worry about someone overwriting the boilerplate template with their timesheet information. Each person who opens the template will have to save his or her changes under a new name.

So if you can’t overwrite a template, what do you do when the template itself needs to be updated? That’s easy. You save the updated template the same way you created it in the first place. When you save your file, click on the Save As Type drop-down list and choose the Document Template option. Figure D shows the options available when you’re saving a Word document as a template.

Figure D
Saving a document as a template prevents you from accidentally saving over top of the original text.

Getting your users to read tips
Passing on these easy tips should help your users keep track of their files, but the instructions won’t help if your users won’t read them. Use the advice from one of my recent Help Desk Advisor columns to encourage users to read and use the help desk documentation you provide.

Helping your customers be smarter users

To comment on these tips, or to share your own advice for teaching users to avoid losing or overwriting files, please post a comment or drop us a note.