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.
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.

By Susan Harkins

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.