How to Recover an Unsaved Microsoft Office File

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You just closed an Office document and accidentally clicked Don’t Save. Or maybe Word crashed or his laptop ran out of power before he remembered to save what he was working on. We have all felt that pain, but all is not necessarily lost. By default, Office applications automatically save temporary backup copies of your documents while you work, and there’s a good chance you can get them back.

We’re not talking here about when you actually deleted a file in Windows, though there are ways you can recover from that kind of mishap as well. Also, it would be good if you implemented some additional preventative measures before you actually run into this problem. Back up your computer regularly and consider turning on the file versioning feature in Windows. That said, if you have a problem with an unsaved Office file, here’s how to get it back.

RELATED: Why deleted files can be recovered and how you can avoid it

How to recover an unsaved Office file

For these instructions, we’re working with the version of Microsoft Word included with Microsoft 365, but the steps are almost identical in other Microsoft 365 apps like Excel and PowerPoint. It will be the same in Office 2021 as well. Also, the recovery feature has been around for a long time, so if you’re using an older version of an Office app, like Word 2016 or even Word 2007, you can still try recovery. You may have to do some searching for the actual commands.

Note: There are some differences between the different versions of the Microsoft Office programs. The user interface may be a bit different between versions.

There are two easy ways to recover an unsaved file, and we will describe both of them.

Recover a file with the Recover Unsaved Documents button

This is the fastest way: open Word, or any other Office program, then click the “Open” tab. Click the “Recover Unused Documents” button near the bottom right of the window.

Then all you need to do is select the unsaved file you want.

Retrieve a file with the Manage Document button

You can also use the Manage Document button. Start by opening whatever Office app you were working in where your file was not saved. Click on the File menu.

Click “Info” on the File menu.

Note: You may need to press “New” or “Open” to make the “Info” button clickable.

On the information page, click “Manage Document” and then select “Recover Unsaved Documents” from the drop-down menu. Also note that you have an option to delete all unsaved documents if you wish to do so.

The UnsavedFiles folder contains all unsaved files that Office has created temporary backups for. Select the file you need and then click Open.

Select your unsaved document --- you will have a "TORCH" file format.

Office applications automatically save temporary backup copies of files at regular intervals (every 10 minutes, by default), so your file should contain most of the work you missed.

Change how Office apps automatically save files

You can also change how each Office application saves these temporary files, including where the files are saved, how often they are saved, and whether a temporary file is saved if you close an unsaved document.

Back on the File menu, click Options.

On the Options page, click Save, and then find the “Save Documents” section. The first options are what you are looking for.

If auto-saving every 5 or 10 minutes seems too long an interval (it seems to us), change that setting to whatever you want. You can set it to automatically save anywhere from every minute to every 120 minutes. We found that the background save doesn’t really interrupt anything, so I usually set it to around two minutes. We recommend keeping the other two options at their default settings, unless you have a good reason to change them.

And that’s it! Office Recovery won’t save you from every mishap you might have with your files, but it can certainly come in handy during those occasional moments of panic.