There are many ways you can lose computer documents.
You can delete them accidentally. This happens when your fingers slip and you click the wrong mouse button.
An application crashes. Today’s software is more robust than in the past, yet things can still fail, sending your last hour’s work to electronic oblivion.
Occasionally catastrophic hardware failures trash data. My last major document disaster happened when a fuse blew.
Prevention is better than cure
Before we look at finding lost documents, you should know there is an easy way to avoid the problem altogether. Use cloud apps. They store everything up to the last keystroke.
If your computer fails, the cloud doc is still there. Hit delete by accident and, unless you are seriously clumsy with the keys, you should be able to go back a step.
There are cloud versions of Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages. Google Docs was born in the cloud and has lived there ever since. Almost every major app has either a cloud version or a cloudy functional equivalent.
Cloud isn’t foolproof and it isn’t perfect. Yet it can be far less trouble than desktop apps.
In most cases, recovering recently lost files is straightforward. You might not get everything back, but you can limit any damage.
Your first line of defence for lost documents may be simple. After staring open-mouthed at a suddenly blank screen, you can magically restore everything in an instant by pressing Control-Z.
This is the standard Undo command. It also repairs some, not all, software stuff-ups.
Document recovery tools
Many applications have built-in recovery tools. Microsoft Word takes a snapshot of your document every ten minutes — you can change the time setting.
If things go wrong, you’ll only have a little catching-up to do.
When Word restarts after a crash, you’ll see one or more saved versions of the document. You can save this file and continue working.
If you’re nervous about your work, change the auto-recovery setting to, say, automatic back-ups every five minutes.
The Windows Recycle Bin is a helpful backstop. Instead of instant obliteration, deleted files are sent to the Recycle Bin where they sit in limbo. You can open the bin and recover any file. It is the most likely destination for any unexpectedly absent file.
Things get harder if you’ve emptied your Recycle Bin. The missing files are probably still on your hard drive – somewhere. However, they are not normally accessible. To get them back you need a undelete or file recovery application.
Commercial file recovery programs are often overkill for restoring the odd deleted document from a small office computer. PC Inspector (www.pcinspector.de) is one of the neatest free file recovery tools – be warned the website is in German but the English translations are good and the software can recover most lost documents in seconds.