How to recover unsaved Word documents

Microsoft Office is not only key to the working life of plenty of professionals, but also the private life of many people. Above all, the popular Word writing program is responsible for the development of the “paperless office” that has recently become standard for most companies. This is why important documents are now only available in electronic form on a computer hard disk. Generally speaking, this is safe practice. Digital documents don’t go missing any more than print documents – assuming there is a good organisation system in place. An essential advantage of digital text documents is that, unlike paper documents, they can be edited, adapted, and reorganised at any time and with little effort.

However, there are also situations that may illuminate the disadvantages of exclusively storing your texts digitally. A system crash or a power cut can interrupt work on an important document, a program error can corrupt DOC files, or indispensable documents can be accidentally modified or deleted, all of which render hours or even days of work a complete waste of time. But don’t worry, Microsoft Word offers a number of solutions that can help you recover data you thought you lost. Additionally, the Windows operating system offers some helpful tools for such cases.

AutoRecover of Word files

In the case of your computer or Word crashing before you’ve had the chance to save your work, don’t panic just yet! In most cases, there’s no cause for concern: Word has a built-in lifeline that allows you to undo the damage.

AutoRecover” is a function that is activated by default in the newer versions of Word (from 2010). When activated, the program automatically saves all current data of a Word document every 10 minutes as a backup in an ASD file (advanced streaming format description). This backup is usually saved as “AutoRecover of [filename].asd.” The function can be found in the “Options” under the “Save” menu item.

Tip

Depending on the version of Word, the “Options” section can be found under the “File” tab, under the Microsoft Word button, or in the “Extras” menu.

In the menu, both the boxes “Save AutoRecover information every [xx] minutes” and “Keep the last auto-saved version if I close without saving” must be ticked to activate the function. Here, you can also adjust the time interval and select the destination folder for the ASD files.

As soon as you save your current Word document and exit safely, the ASD file will be automatically deleted. “AutoRecover” is therefore only used if a file is lost or damaged due to a serious error such as a system crash. How to proceed in such a case depends entirely on whether you have saved the respective file in another version or whether you’ve saved it at all.

Recovering Word documents that have already been saved

With each start or restart, Word will automatically search for any existing AutoRecover files and display them in the “Document restore” area. If for some reason this is not the case, you’ll need to search the relevant document manually:

  • Click on “Info” under “Files” or the Microsoft Office button (depending on your version of Word)
  • Under “Versions,” select the document titled “[Creation date](when closing without saving)”
  • Now click on “Recover” in the bar at the top of the Word workspace

Recover an unsaved Word document

The procedure is very similar for files that have not yet been saved since you’ve already started writing the text:

  • Under the “Info” tab, (see previous instructions) select “Manage versions” and then the “Recover Unsaved Documents” option
  • The AutoRecover destination folder will open; according to the date and time of the document, check which of the listed ASD files is the most recent version of the lost Word document and open it
  • Save the file as usual in Word

Recover Word documents manually

If the procedures described above don’t work, or if you are working with a version older than Office 2010, you can alternatively locate the respective ASD file manually. Open the Windows Explorer (for example, with the shortcut [Windows] + [E]). Depending on the Office version, you can find the AutoRecover files in one of the following paths:

  • C:\Users\YourUsername\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles
  • C:\Users\YourUsername\AppData\Local\Temp
  • C:\Windows\Temp

If your drive name matches the above information, you can also conveniently copy the destination paths into the address line of Windows Explorer. If in doubt, check the AutoRecover destination folder in the Word options. It’s also possible to use your computer’s search function by entering “*asd” in the search bar and sorting the results by date. As soon as you’ve found the ASD file of your Word document, simply open it in Word and save it as a DOC or DOCX file as usual.

Automatically create backups

In addition to AutoRecover, Word can automatically back up your documents if you wish. However, you need to activate this function first:

  • To do this, go back to “Options” and click on the “Advanced” tab
  • Scroll down to the “Save” area and check the “Always create backup copy” box

From now on, Word will create a backup copy every time you save a document with “Save As.” These copies will be stored as so-called WBK files in the same folder as the original document and will be titled “backup copy of [Original Filename].wbk.” Each saving process is followed by an update. But remember, the backup copy is the next-to-last saved version of your Word document, and the latest changes are not included. If you accidentally delete or replace an important paragraph and then click on save, you still have the option to restore the paragraph in question.

How to recover Word documents that are corrupted

Even if the file is damaged, there are methods for a successful recovery. First, you need to diagnose whether the problem really lies with the document itself, or perhaps with Word, or even your PC.

When working on your document, be sure to pay attention to any abnormalities: incorrect layout, false formatting, or the unintended execution of the same command several times (for example, the repeated relocation of page numbers) are possible disturbances. In such cases, try to open the file on another PC or on another version of Word to avoid further sources of error. If the document can’t be opened in the first place, and Word issues an error message such as “Word has detected file corruption when opening [file name],” the case is crystal clear.

Fact

A corrupt file means that a Word document no longer complies with Microsoft Office conventions and is no longer recognised as a valid Word format. Usually, file corruption occurs when Word crashes in the middle of saving.

Recovery if the corrupted file can be opened

During start-up, Word usually detects corrupted files automatically and attempts to repair them. If this does not happen, you can start the repair on your own authority:

  • Click on “File” or the Microsoft Word button and then on “Open”
  • Select the relevant Word document in the “Open” dialog box
  • Click on the arrow next to the “Open” button and select “Open and repair”

If this does not work, you should use the AutoRestore file or your backup copies. However, if the original file is of particular importance or if no ASD or WBK files are available, Microsoft offers further options for file repair. These include, for example:

  • Copying and pasting all contents of the document (with the exception of the last paragraph) into a completely new document
  • Saving the document in rich text format (file extension “.rtf”) and then converting it back to a Word file
  • Changing the activated document template

Recovery if the corrupted file cannot be opened

Microsoft also has several solutions for this in its support section. The “Recover text from any file” convertor in the Word user interface is particularly helpful. However, be careful: during recovery, all document formatting and all non-text elements (i.e. graphics, drawing objects, fields, and others) will be lost.

  • Under “File” or the Office button, click “Open”
  • Click on the “Recover text from any file (*.*)” button under “File type”
  • Select the document you want to restore and click on “Open”
  • After the recovery, you will notice that the document (mainly at the beginning) still contains so-called “binary data text” which you have to delete before saving the file as a Word document

Alternatively, you can try opening the corrupted file with another text program (such as OpenOffice), where all formatting will also be lost. Internet repair tools are also a possible remedy: the freeware File Repair can repair damaged Excel and PowerPoint files, ZIP, and RAR archives, as well as videos, images, music, and databases. Additionally, DocRepair, supported by Office 2016, offers a free trial version.

Recover deleted Word documents

Important files can sometimes fall victim to the overzealous emptying of recycle bins when cleaning up your PC. But even then, your annual report or your bachelor thesis has not really disappeared. Even if files are no longer displayed on Windows, they are still on the hard disk until the entire storage area has been deleted. Only then is a Word document lost. If the entire storage area has not yet been deleted, you can use on-board resources from Windows 7 to perform the recovery:

  • Right-click on the folder in which the deleted file was originally saved before being moved to the recycle bin
  • Click on “Restore previous version”
  • The previously saved versions of the folder will be displayed as well as all files contained in them at the date of modification
  • By clicking “Restore” you can retrieve individual Word documents as well as the entire folder

There are also special recovery tools for recovering deleted Word documents such as Recuva. The freeware not only reconstructs files of various formats on the PC hard disk, but also data stored on SSDs, digital cameras, MP3 players, and other mobile devices that did not end up in the computer’s recycle bin. For this purpose, the tool scans the respective drive and displays the data in a clear tree structure or in a list.

You can also use filters and search assistants to search the results for special formats.

Overview of methods for recovering Word documents

Depending on the scenario, there are several ways to successfully recover a Word file – whether you’re dealing with a lost, damaged, or deleted document. However, it is always advisable to leave AutoRestore and backup activated. This way, you’re always on the safe side and save yourself a lot of trouble and unnecessary work.

 

Scenario

Solution method

PC crash, Word crash, power failure

Use AutoRecover

Unintentional modification and subsequent storage of a file

Create automatic backups

Corrupted file

If the file can be opened: Perform Word repair and copy text to another document

If the file cannot be opened: “Restore text from any file” or use a repair tool

Deleted file

“Restore previous version” or use the recovery tool


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