How to Recover a Word Document Quickly and Easily: a Short Guide

Word processors have been around for decades, and many of them have become really good at preventing problems. Losing unsaved data is a common issue, so office software often comes with ways to recover files. In this article, we’ll go through how to recover a Word document, even if you haven’t saved it.

Robin Barber
By Robin Barber (Assistant Editor)
— Last Updated: 2018-12-14T10:48:05+00:00

The best way to keep your data safe is to save it and create a backup. However, knowing how to recover a Word document with either the autorecover feature or third-party data recovery software can reduce the number of headaches you get trying to replace that important work document you need to submit tomorrow.

Key Takeaways:

  • The best way to protect your data is with saves and backups.
  • Unsaved Word documents usually leave behind temporary recovery files.
  • Recently deleted files can often be found with data recovery tools.

If you’re using Microsoft Office, the best way to recover unsaved documents is through the autorecover feature. Even without saving the file properly, it will save the autorecover information every 10 minutes to an ASD file — Microsoft’s own file type for backups. This will stop you from losing too much data, although you should turn on the autosave feature to keep files safe.

However, even if you save your file, you can still lose it. A deleted Word document or one that was lost during a disk format can seem like it’s gone forever, but there is still an option. Data recovery tools can scan your hard drive for files that haven’t been overwritten yet, and you can then restore them to get your work back.

  • 09/23/2021 Facts checked

    Cloudwards.net updated this article to include a wider variety of methods and rearranged it to a step-by-step structure.

  • Yes. There is an autorecover tool built into Microsoft Word. By default it will save your document every 10 minutes, and you can find it stored as a temporary file in the “appdata” folder by going through the “local,” “Microsoft” and then “Office” folders.

  • The desktop app for Word lets you open autorecovered files. You can either open it like a normal Word document by clicking “open” and finding it in the file explorer, or you can use the autorecover dialog box that opens after Word detects a crash.

  • The document recovery pane should appear on the left of the window when you open Word after a crash. However, you may still be able to recover the files manually, even if it doesn’t open.

How to Recover a Word Document in a Few Easy Steps 

There are two main reasons why you would need to recover a Word document: either you didn’t save before it was closed or the save data was lost because of an accident or software failure. Both will result in lost Word documents, but the way to recover your files will depend on the issue.

If you hadn’t saved your work, you’ll need to rely on the temporary files that stick around after you close the app. These can help you recover any recently deleted files, and there are even built-in autorecovery features that help with this method. On the other hand, to recover accidentally deleted files, you’ll need to use a third-party recovery tool to find it on your disk and get it back.

Recover an Unsaved Word Document on Mac & Windows  

Getting back unsaved documents isn’t guaranteed. However, it happens often enough that most office software — including Word — have made recovery tools for this exact situation. There are also autosave features built into Office 365, so you should check OneDrive first in case you have a save file you didn’t know about that you can recover your data from.

Recover Documents Using Office 365 Autosave 

By saving Word documents to your Sharepoint or OneDrive account, Office 365 will turn on autosave for them. This is great for files you can’t risk losing and it’s also a decent cloud storage — as our full OneDrive review shows. To turn it on and make sure your document is being saved automatically to OneDrive, follow these three steps.

  1. Click the “Autosave” Button

    There will be an “autosave” switch in the top-left corner of the screen. Click it to turn it on.

    recover word document autosave turn on
  2. Select Your OneDrive Account

    Select the OneDrive or Sharepoint account you want to use to save the file.

    recover word document autosave select account
  3. Save the File

    Choose a name for your document and then click “OK.” As long as you’re connected to the internet, it’ll autosave every few seconds. You can then access this file from inside your OneDrive folder at any time.

    recover word document autosave save the file

Recover Using Word AutoRecover

If you’re in the middle of editing a document and your computer freezes, crashes or turns off for any number of reasons, Word AutoRecover will be your best option for getting it back. This holds onto your unsaved documents, even if autosave isn’t on, so you can get them back later.

  1. Find Your Lost Files

    When you open Word after a crash, you’ll find that an extra section titled “document recovery” appears on the left of the screen. In this list of files that the autorecover system has held onto, find the unsaved Word document you want to recover.

    recover word document autorecover find the file
  2. Restore Your Data

    Click on the down arrow next to the unsaved Word document you want to recover to open a dropdown menu. You can either open or save the file from here.

    recover word document autorecover restore the file

Manually Restoring From Temporary Files

If the document recovery pane doesn’t open, or you prefer doing things the more manual way, you can also open the unsaved Word document from your temporary files. This is useful for recovering unsaved Word documents after closing the app manually, as the recovery pane won’t open if you pressed “don’t save.”

  1. Go to Open a Document

    When you start the Word app, click on “open” from the sidebar.

    recover word document manual restoration open a document
  2. Choose to Recover Your Documents

    Along the bottom of the screen, there will be a button labeled “recover unsaved documents.” Click this to open a file explorer window.

    recover word document manual restoration recover a document
  3. Open Your File

    The new window will take you directly to the autorecover file location, which is in the C:\Users\“your username”\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles folder by default. Here, you’ll find the ASD files that you can open in Word to recover the lost data.

    recover word document manual restoration open the file

Recovering Saved Word Documents 

If you just deleted the document, it’s probably in your recycle bin and you can just move it out. However, even if you permanently deleted it, lost it during a disk format or damaged your operating system, the data is probably still on the disk — it’s just much harder to access.

Use Third-Party Recovery Software 

As long as the data hasn’t been overwritten by a new file, you can often recover deleted Word documents with third-party recovery software. These can scan your disk and find anything that looks like a file, allowing you to recover it. We’ll be using Disk Drill — read our full Disk Drill review here — but other options like EaseUS and Stellar Data Recovery have similar steps.

  1. Download the Data Recovery Software

    Go to the website of any decent data recovery program, click download and install the app.

    recover word document third party download the app
  2. Look Through the Found Files

    Choose to “review found files” to get access to a breakdown of everything the app found. If you want to do a full drive restore to recover everything, simply click the “recover all” button instead.

    recover word document third party review the files
  3. Recover Your File

    Scroll through all the files it found until you find your lost Word document, select it and click “recover.” 

    recover word document third party recover your files
  4. Choose a Recovery Location

    Select a folder for the deleted Word documents. You should put this on a different drive, if you have a second storage device like an external hard drive available, to stop the new file from overwriting the old one halfway through.

    recover word document third party choose a save location

Final Thoughts: Recover Lost Word Files

Whether you’ve deleted a file you shouldn’t have or forgotten to save after hours of work, there’s no need to worry. As long as you know what data recovery apps and features are available to you, and you follow the right steps to recover that data, it isn’t hard to restore a lost or deleted Word document.

However, regardless of how good Microsoft Word and third-party tools are, it’s always better to save your files than it is to recover unsaved Word documents. Between Microsoft’s autosave feature and the great online backup services that are available, there’s no reason you should have to suffer a catastrophic data loss again.

Did you need to recover deleted or unsaved Word documents? Did our methods to recover a deleted Word file help? Have you now created backup files for your computer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.