After hours of writing and editing, your computer decides to crash, or you accidentally delete the very same file you’ve been working on so hard. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Unfortunately, anyone can experience it, which is why we’ve put together this list of tried and tested ways to recover a deleted Word document on Windows and Mac.
Well guess who accidentally deleted his add maths project word file
— Wai Han (@pikachanwh) June 19, 2018
Before We Start
If you’ve just lost a Word document, and you desperately want to get it back, the first thing you need to do is calm down and collect your thoughts.
To increase the chance of successful Word document recovery, we recommend you limit the usage of your computer, especially when it comes to writing data to the storage device on which the lost Word document was located.
Recover a Word Document on Windows
As a Windows user, you’ll probably recognize at least some methods to recover deleted Word documents described below, and you’ve probably already tried a few of them. Still, it’s a good idea to give them another try before you move on to some of the more complicated Word document recovery methods.
1. Check If the Word Files Are Actually Deleted
The Windows operating system has a powerful search feature capable of finding a Microsoft Word document located anywhere on your system. You should use this feature to verify that the missing document is really not present on your computer anymore and not just hiding in some unexpected folder.
To search for your MS Word document:
- Open the Start menu.
- Type the document name in the Start Search box.
- Click Documents.
- Look for the missing MS Word document.
No luck? In that case, there’s one more place where you should look for it.
2. Recover Deleted Word Document from Recycle Bin (Before Empty)
It’s easy to accidentally delete the wrong file in Windows—all it takes is an accidental press of the Delete key. Fortunately, accidentally deleted files are not immediately deleted. Instead, they go to the Recycle Bin, and you can easily recover them from there until you empty the Recycle Bin.
To recover a deleted Word document from Recycle Bin
- Open the Recycle Bin.
- Find the accidentally deleted Word document.
- Right-click on it and select the Restore option. Alternatively, you can simply drag the document to any folder you want.
If you haven’t found your Word document in the Recycle Bin, fear not because there are still several other ways to undelete Word documents that you can try.
3. Try the Undo Delete Feature
Just like most other operating systems, Windows has a global undo feature, which provides the possibility to undo any past action, including delete operations. You can think of the undo delete feature as a more convenient alternative to the Recycle Bin since it allows you to recover any file with a single shortcut.
To undelete your Word document using the undo delete feature:
- Open File Explorer.
- Go to the folder where the document was located.
- Press CTRL + Z on your keyboard.
The document should immediately appear in the folder. If it doesn’t, it’s time to take advantage of Word’s recovery features. You might also be interested in learning other Windows keyboard shortcuts.
4. Check Whether the File Was Autosaved
All recent versions of Microsoft Word feature multiple automatic backup mechanisms that allow users to easily recover their documents after their computer restarts unexpectedly or after a crash of Word itself.
Some of these automatic backup mechanisms must be first activated and configured to work properly, and we explain how near the end of this article.
4.1 Recover from Temporary Files
Microsoft Word keeps unsaved Word documents in a special folder dedicated to them. Normally, these temporary files are deleted when you save your document and close Word, but they often remain in the folder after a force quit on PC or after a computer shutdown caused by a sudden loss of power or hardware/software error.
To recover your Word document from temporary files:
- Open File Explorer.
- Copy the following address: C:\Users\%USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles
- Click the address bar and paste the address.
- Hit Enter on your keyboard.
- Look for ASD files and open them in Word to see if any of them is your Word document.
4.2 Check the AutoRecover Folder
To protect users from their own negligence, Word saves AutoRecover files every 10 minutes (you can change the frequency in Options), making it possible for users to recover a closed Word document that hasn’t been saved properly. You can find all AutoRecover files in the AutoRecover folder.
To check the AutoRecover folder:
- Open the File menu and select Options.
- Go to the Save section.
- Copy the address next to AutoRecover file location.
- Open File Explorer.
- Paste the address into the address bar and press Enter.
That’s how easy it is to check the AutoRecover folder manually. If you see any ASD files in it, you can open them with Word.
4.3 Recover with Document Recovery
When you open Word, it automatically searches for AutoRecover files and displays all that it finds in the Document Recovery pane, making it really simple to recover them.
To recover your Word document with Document Recovery:
- Launch Word.
- Look for your file in the Document Recovery pane on the left.
- Click the arrow next to the file.
- Select Open.
Now that we’ve exhausted all automatic backup mechanisms present in Microsoft Word, let’s take a closer look at one useful recovery feature of the Windows operating system.
5. Try to Restore Word Document from Previous Versions
You can tell Windows to keep previous versions of files on your system so that you can go back in time and restore an earlier version of a Word document or get back an overwritten Word document.
To restore an old version of a Word document from Previous Versions:
- Open File Explorer and navigate to the folder where the document was located.
- Right-click anywhere inside this folder and select Properties from the context menu.
- Select the Previous Versions tab and look for an earlier version of the document.
- Select the document and click Restore.
Since the Previous Versions feature requires a backup drive to be connected, many users never activate it. If that’s your case, try our next method.
6. Restore Deleted Word Documents in OneDrive
The most recent version of Microsoft Word can automatically save documents to your in real-time. After a crash, you can simply reopen your file, and every last word should be there. OneDrive also provides an extra layer of protection against accidental file deletion because it has its own Recycle Bin from which you can restore deleted files.
To restore deleted Word documents in OneDrive:
- Go to: https://onedrive.com/
- Sign in with your username and password.
- Select Recycle bin in the navigation pane.
- Select the document you want to recover and click Restore.
If none of the methods we’ve described so far helped, it’s time to analyze your hard drive using data recovery software.
7. Use 3rd Party Recovery Software for Windows
Have you tried all previously described methods to recover a deleted Word document but found no luck with any of them? There’s no reason to throw in the towel just yet because you can still use a third-party data recovery software application to scan your storage device at the file system level.
Disk Drill is a great choice for Windows users because it can recover hundreds of file formats (including all Microsoft Office formats, such as .DOC, .DOCX, .DOTX, .DOTM, .DOCB, .XLSX, or .PPTX) from both internet and external storage devices. You don’t need any expert knowledge to use Disk Drill because it makes the entire data recovery process straightforward and intuitive.
To recover your missing Word document using Disk Drill for Windows:
- Download Disk Drill from its website and install it.
- Launch Disk Drill and click the Search for lost data button next to your storage device.
- Locate the lost Word document.
- Click the Recover button to begin the recovery process.
As you can see, Disk Drill makes it very easy to recover permanently deleted Word documents. With the free version of Disk Drill for Windows, you can recover up to 500 MB, which should be more than enough for at least a hundred of Word documents.
Recover a Word Document on Mac
Mac users who’ve accidentally deleted the wrong document or closed Word without saving their work properly can choose from several different recovery methods, some of which are probably less obvious than others.
1. Check If the Document Is Actually Deleted
Before you try a bunch of recovery methods to get back your lost Word document, you should check if it’s actually deleted and not just hiding somewhere on your disk.
To search for your document:
- Press Command – Space bar to open Spotlight.
- Type the name of the document.
Alternatively, you can use the search bar in Finder, but it’s unlikely that it will retrieve different results. If you have time, consider learning other Mac keyboard shortcuts since they may come in handy when trying other recovery methods.
2. Check the Trash Folder
When you delete a file on a Mac, it goes to the Trash folder, where it stays until you empty it, or until the file is automatically removed from it after 30 days. Before that happens, you can easily recover it.
To recover a Word document from Trash:
- Open Trash by clicking on its icon, located on the right side or bottom of the Dock.
- Go through Trash and look for the document you want to recover.
- Select the document and drag it to another folder or your desktop.
Haven’t found the document in Trash? Then, you need to look for it in folders used by Word for temporary recovery files.
3. Recover Word Files from Temporary Folder/AutoSave
As we’ve described in the section dealing with the recovery of Word documents on Windows, Word features multiple automatic backup mechanisms that can help you recover your Word document without using any special tools.
Since the automatic backup mechanisms are more or less identical in the Windows and Mac version of Word, you can follow the step-by-step instructions in the Windows section and make small adjustments when you see fit, such as using Finder instead of File Explorer.
Pro tip: Microsoft provides a detailed guide on how to recover a lost Word document on its website, so don’t hesitate to check it out.
4. Recover Word Files from a Time Machine Backup
Unless you’re using a very old Mac that you haven’t updated in ages, you have access to a handy backup tool called Time Machine. Provided you’ve activated it in the past, you can now use it to recover your deleted or lost Word files or a previous version of a Word document that you’ve overwritten or somehow messed up.
To recover a Word file from a Time Machine backup:
- Connect your Time Machine backup disk if it’s not already connected to your Mac.
- Open the folder that contained the deleted Word documents.
- Click the Time Machine icon located in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine.
- Locate the documents you want to recover using the timeline on the right edge of the screen.
- Click Restore to restore the selected document.
No Time Machine backup available? That’s not the end of the world because there are other backup solutions that you might be able to use.
5. Recover Word Documents from iCloud
Apple offers its own cloud storage solution, called iCloud, and many Mac users use it to back up their files, including Word documents. If you’re among them, you’re in luck because iCloud gives its users 30 days to recover deleted files.
To recover your Word documents from iCloud:
- Go to: https://www.icloud.com/
- Sign in with your login and password.
- Go to your iCloud Drive.
- Click Recently Deleted in the bottom-right corner.
- Select your document and click Restore.
If you don’t use iCloud and can’t recover your Word document from it, then you’re only remaining option is a third-party data recovery software solution.
6. Use 3rd Party Recovery Software for Mac
Third-party recovery software like Disk Drill can save the day by scouring your drive and locating any recoverable Word documents. The recovery process is mostly automated, so you don’t need to worry about how Disk Drill’s advanced recovery algorithms work—all you need to do is enjoy the results.
To recover your lost Word document with Disk Drill for Mac:
- Download and install Disk Drill for Mac.
- Launch the application and click the Recover button next to the drive on which your document was stored prior to deletion.
- Wait until Disk Drill finishes analyzing the drive.
- Look inside the recovery folders and locate the deleted document.
- Select the document you want to recover and click the Recover button.
The free version of Disk Drill for Mac can preview all recoverable files, but you need to purchase a license to actually recover them.
How to Enable AutoRecover Function in MS Word?
The AutoRecover function acts as a safeguard, protecting your unsaved Word documents from crashes, power outages, and user errors. With the function turned on, you can easily recover your documents after a crash from the Document Recovery task pane, which automatically appears the next time you launch Word.
To enable the AutoRecover function in Word:
- Launch Word and go to File > Options > Save.
- Select the Save AutoRecover information every x minutes box.
- Select the Keep the last autorecovered version if I close without saving box.
You can change how often Word saves AutoRecover information using the small arrows next to the number in the Save AutoRecover information every x minutes box. The default value is 10 minutes, and you can decrease it to as little as 1 minute for extra safety or increase it to make Word perform slightly faster.
Why Protect Word Documents with Backups?
Even though there are several different solutions on how to recover unsaved or deleted Word documents, none of them is 100% reliable. If you have Word documents that you absolutely can’t afford to lose, you need to frequently back them up.
There are multiple backup approaches that you can choose from:
- Manual backups: By far the most time-consuming and error-prone backup approach, manual backups are easy to get started with, but they can just as easily end in a disaster. We recommend them only as a secondary backup strategy.
- Automatic local backups: You can choose from multiple backup solutions to automatically create local backups of your Word documents. Both Windows and macOS come with reliable backup tools (called File History and Time Machine, respectively), so there’s no reason to spend money on a third-party solution unless it can do something extra.
- Cloud backups: In recent years, cloud backups have emerged as a popular backup strategy, allowing you to access your files from anywhere. Word documents are easy to back up to the cloud because of their small file sizes, and many cloud backup solutions, such as OneDrive and Google Drive, even support online Word document editing.
Each of these three backup approaches has certain pros and cons, which is why it’s typically a good idea to combine at least two of them. If you haven’t yet implemented any backup strategy, we highly recommend you start by activating the native backup feature of your operating system.
To activate File History in Windows:
- Open the classic Control Panel.
- Go to System and Security and then File History.
- Click Turn on to enable the File History feature.
To activate Time Machine in macOS:
- Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
- Choose Time Machine.
- Click Select Backup Disk and add a suitable disk.
- Check the Back Up Automatically box and close the Time Machine window.