How to Recover an Unsaved Word Document

Did you forget to save that document? Try these tips to retrieve it

Stress at computer

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Few things incite the same level of panic and terror as realizing you closed or otherwise lost a Word document without saving it. While there's no guaranteed way to recover an unsaved Word document, there are several steps you can take to possibly salvage at least part of the file you so desperately need

The steps that might help you recoup your lost Word document depend on the version of Word you're using, and possibly the version of Windows you're using.

How to Recover a Document in Word 2016 and Word 2013 

For both Word 2016 and Word 2013, you have a few methods that may result in the recovery of your Word document. Each method can be executed quickly, enabling you to search for multiple files easily.

Using Word's Recover Unsaved Documents Feature:

  1. Start Word.

  2. Go to the File tab and select Manage Document.

  3. Select the Manage Document button.

    Manage Document in Word
    Manage Document can help you recover unsaved Word docs.
  4. Choose Recover Unsaved Documents from the drop-down list. The Open dialog box appears, showing you a list of unsaved Word documents that you can recover.

  5. Select the Word document you want to recover, then select Open. Save the recovered document right away.

Note: If that doesn't recover your missing Word file, continue attempting to find and save it.

Using Word to find a backup:

  1. Go to the File menu and select Open.

  2. Select Browse.

  3. Navigate to the location where you saved any version of the document.

  4. Look for a file with the name "Backup of" followed by the name of the missing file or search for files with the extension ".wbk." 

  5. Open any potential backup files you find.

Using Windows Explorer:

Press Windows key+E to open Windows Explorer if you are unable to locate the file.

Navigate to the following locations in Windows Explorer: 

  • C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Word
  • C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Temp
  • C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Word

Look for any recovered or temp files that might be your lost Word document.

How to Recover a Document in Word 2010 and Word 2007

In Word 2010 and Word 2007, you can perform a search on your computer for the missing document:

Go to the Start menu, then type all or part of the file name into the search box and search for the file. Double-click any results in the File list.

To look for backup files from within Word:

  1. Start Word and select the File tab if you're using Word 2010; select the Microsoft Office Button if using Word 2007.

  2. Select All Files in the Files of Type list.

  3. Look for any backup files and select Open to see if one of them is the unsaved Word document you're trying to recover.

You can also perform a search on your computer for .wbk files, which are backup versions of Microsoft Word documents:

Go to the Start menu, then use the search box to search for ".wbk" files. Open any .wbk files that appear to determine which is the missing Word doc you need.

To “force” Word to look for AutoRecover files:

  1. Open Task Manager by right-clicking any blank spot on the taskbar and select Task Manager.

  2. Go to the Processes tab.

  3. Select any instance of Microsoft Word or Winword.exe.

  4. Repeat until all instances of Word are closed.

  5. Close Task Manager and start Word. The Document Recover pane will open if Word finds any AutoRecover files. Double-click a file in the pane to open it and be sure to save it to a safe location on your computer right away.

Search for temporary files, which can help if you downloaded a Word document from an email or the web:

Go to the Start menu and use the search box to search for .tmp files. Select Other on the Show Only toolbar, then look for any files that might be your missing document.

Tip: You can also search for ~ separately, as some temp files begin with the tilde character.

Prevent Future Disasters With AutoSave and AutoRecover

To save yourself the stress, worry, and time of trying to recover an unsaved Word document in the future, take steps now to keep it from happening again.

AutoSave in Word
AutoSave and AutoRecover can prevent you from losing a Word document.

If you have an Office 365 subscription, you can use AutoSave to save changes to documents in real time. AutoSave is enabled whenever a file is saved to OneDrive or SharePoint. Every few seconds, Word automatically saves any changes to the cloud.

To make sure AutoSave is enabled, look for the AutoSave toggle button in the upper-left corner of your Microsoft Word window.

If you are not an Office 365 subscriber, you can enable AutoRecover to automatically save changes to a file in increments of time that you determine:

  1. Go to the File tab and select Options

  2. Select Save in the left pane of the Word Options box. 

  3. Select the Save AutoRecover Information Every X Minutes checkbox and enter a number in the Minutes box, such as 5 or 10. 

  4. Select the Keep the Last AutoRecovered Version if I Close Without Saving checkbox as well. This will allow you to recover the most recently AutoRecovered version, which might not be the complete Word document but will likely be better than no document at all.

  5. You can also change the location of where your AutoRecover files are saved if you'd like them kept in another folder. Select the Browse button next to AutoRecover File Location and navigate to the place on your computer where you would like to save them.

  6. Select OK to save any changes you make in Word Options.

How to Recover a Document in Word Online

If you create documents using Word Online, you're in luck. You might notice there's no Save button; that's because any changes you make to a document are automatically saved.

How to Recover a Document in Word for Mac

By default, AutoRecover is enabled in Word for Mac. If your computer shuts down unexpectedly before you saved a Word document, you'll be prompted to open the recovered file. Otherwise, you can look for the file in the AutoRecover folder.

In Word for Mac 2016, you will first need to show hidden files. Once you've done this, you can search for the lost document.

Just open Finder, click the Home icon in the left column, then navigate to "Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Word/Data/Library/Preferences/AutoRecovery". Any documents saved by the AutoRecover feature will be listed here.

In Word for Mac 2011, you can check for the file from within Word:

  1. Choose File from the menu bar and click Open.
  2. Type "AutoRecover" in the search box.
  3. Double-click the most recently saved AutoRecover file.
  4. Click the file, then click Open. If the file is grayed-out, choose All Files in the Enable menu, then click the file.

How to Recover a Document Using Third-Party Applications

If you are unable to recover an unsaved Word document using any of these methods, you might consider trying a third-party application. However, Microsoft doesn't guarantee or offer support regarding the reliability or performance of any third-party utilities claiming to recover deleted or unsaved Word documents.