6 Ways to Prevent Data Loss in Word Processing Software

Lost Data sign taped to light post in city

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While data loss affects everyone who uses a computer, it is especially problematic for those who use word processing software. Losing the important documents that you've spent so much time creating is frustrating — especially if you're like most users, who create documents directly on the computer and don't have the benefit of a handwritten copy. Questions and tales of woe about recovering lost files abound in online forums and bombard technical support departments. The only surefire way to recover lost files is to restore them from a backup. This is why a system to prevent data loss in the first place is so very important. Here are five ways to keep your word-processed documents safe.

Never Store Your Documents on the Same Drive as Your Operating System

While most word processors will save your files in the My Documents folder, this is the worst place for them. Whether it is a virus or software failure, most computer problems affect the operating system, and often, the only solution is to reformat the drive and reinstall the operating system. In such an instance, everything on the drive will be lost.

Installing a second hard drive in your computer is a relatively low-cost way to take care of this problem. A second internal hard drive will not be affected if the operating system is corrupted, and it can even be installed in another computer if you need to buy a new one; furthermore, you'll be surprised at how easy they are to set up. If you're skeptical about installing a second internal drive, an external hard drive is an excellent option. An external drive can be attached to any computer at any time simply by plugging it into a USB or Firewire port. Many external drives also have the added benefit of one-touch and/or scheduled backups; you simply specify the folders and schedule, and the software takes care of the rest.

Back up Your Files Regularly, No Matter Where They're Stored

Just storing your files in a different location than your operating system isn't enough; you need to create regular backups of your files. And let's face it: Even your backup is subject to failure: DVDs get scratched and hard drives break. It makes sense to increase your odds of being able to retrieve a file by having a second backup of it; if the data is truly important, you might even want to think about storing a backup in a fireproof vault.

Beware of Email Attachments

Even if you're certain they don't contain viruses, email attachments can cause you to lose data. Think about it: If you receive a document with the same name as one on your drive, and your email software is set to save attachments in the same location, you run the risk of overwriting the file that's already there. This often happens when you're collaborating on a document and colleagues send updates via email. So, make sure you set your email program to save attachments in a unique location, or, barring that, think twice before saving an email attachment on your hard drive.

Beware of User Error

We don't like to admit it, but we often engineer our own problems. Take advantage of safeguards included in your word processor, such as versioning features and tracked changes. A common way users lose data is when they're editing a document and accidentally delete portions. After the document is saved, the portions that are changed or deleted are lost unless you've enabled features that will store changes for you.

If you don't want to mess with the advanced features, use the F12 key before you start working to save the file under a different name. It isn't as organized as some of the other methods, but it is a useful trick nonetheless.

Go to the Cloud

Storage of files and their backups in the cloud—meaning, a remote server—is becoming more and more common. It offers many advantages, such as generous space allotments, ease of use, access from wherever you are and whatever device you're using, and reliability. Cloud storage services back up their own servers, so there's a double layer of protection for files stored this way. For these reasons, cloud storage is increasingly the best option for most people.

There are several mainstream free options:

  • Google Drive offers 15GB with every Google account.
  • Mac users get 5GB with iCloud, which is built into every Apple device.
  • Microsoft provides 5BG of space with OneDrive, which comes with Office 365 and XBox accounts.

If you have more than that to store, the services above offer paid options, as do numerous other cloud storage companies

Keep Hard Copies of Your Documents

It's not elegant and it won't prevent you from having to type and format your document again, but keeping a printed copy of an important document will at least ensure you have the contents of the file — and that's better than having nothing at all.