Losing an important Microsoft Word document due to a crash, corruption, or accidental deletion can be incredibly frustrating. Fortunately, Word 2016 has some built-in recovery options you can try before resorting to third party software or data recovery services. This tutorial will walk you through some troubleshooting steps to rescue your lost or unopenable Word documents.
What Causes Word Document Corruption?
Before looking at solutions, it helps to understand what causes Word documents to become corrupted or unopenable in the first place. Some common culprits include:
- System crashes/reboots – If the system crashes, reboots, or loses power while Word is open with unsaved changes, the open document can easily become corrupted.
- Sync errors – If you have a cloud sync folder set up (like OneDrive or Dropbox), sync errors can sometimes result in corrupted copies of your documents getting synced.
- Disk errors – Problems at the hardware level, like bad sectors on a failing hard drive, can also lead to document corruption.
- Software incompatibilities – Certain combinations of software, drivers, and updates have been known to cause Word crashes leading to corruption.
- Too much bloat – Over time, documents with too many revisions or unused backup info can become bloated, leading to corruption.
Knowing the common corruption causes can help you avoid issues in the future through preventative measures like more frequent saving, disabling autosave features, and proper file maintenance.
Troubleshoot Errors Trying to Open Corrupt Files
When you try to open a damaged Word document, you will usually get an error message like:
“Word found unreadable content in filename. Do you want to recover the contents of this document?”
- If you get the error message above, click Yes to launch the built-in Text Recovery Converter. This will allow you to try extracting just the text contents of the damaged document.
“Word cannot open the existing file.”
- This generic error usually means the document corruption is beyond the scope of what Word can repair through standard means. You may need to try more advanced recovery options.
Before giving up entirely on the original file, it’s also worth checking a few common locations that Word stores backup files just in case there is another intact copy available.
Check Backup Locations and Temporary Folders
When Word detects issues saving files or crashes unexpectedly, one of the first things it will do is try to create a temporary backup copy. You also may have older versions from automatic backups available. Here are some places to check:
Recent Files List
- Open Word, and click File > Open > Recent. Check if the file shows up here without errors.
Temporary Files Folder
- Open File Explorer and go to
C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Temp. Search for files like
Word Backup Folder
- Go to
C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Wordand check for files like
Backup of Document1.wbk.
- If you have Word configured to save to OneDrive, check the online portal for older synced versions and restore if available.
With some luck, Word’s autosave and backup mechanisms may have kicked in during a crash and preserved a working copy you can recover. If that still fails, third party software provides more options.
Use Data Recovery Software to Rescue Documents
When Word’s built-in recovery options come up short, your best bet lies with dedicated data recovery software that can scan the drive and extract contents from corrupted document files. Here are some top options to try:
1. Disk Drill
Price: Free – $89
Disk Drill can recover lost or corrupted Word documents from hard drives, external drives, flash drives, and more. It offers free scanning and previews so you can see if your file contents can be successfully recovered before paying.
2. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
Price: Free – $69.95
This data recovery app provides a simple interface for undeleting and extracting text and media files. Like Disk Drill, it lets you preview recoverable files before purchase.
3. Stellar Data Recovery
Stellar offers deep scanning for lost or deleted Word documents. One advantage over cheaper software is it repairs corrupted Word documents for directly editable recovery instead of just text/media extraction.
Most paid versions of these software cost less than $100 and can save you significant time and frustration trying to manually reconstruct complex documents requiring lots of formatting, images, footnotes and citations.
Restore from Backups or Shadow Copies
Another option you have as a last resort is to revert the storage device itself to an earlier state to recover the Word file. This gets more complicated, but can work when all else fails.
Use System Restore
If System Restore is enabled on your Windows PC, you may be able to roll back the system to an earlier restore point before the Word document was lost to retrieve it.
Restore from Volume Shadow Copies
Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) preserves older versions of files as backups you can access from the Windows’ Previous Versions tab. It allows restoring a limited number of older copies of your documents.
Both System Restore and shadow copies provide a way to pull files from the past as they existed on your system’s drive prior to being lost or corrupted. But system-level restore options become less likely to succeed the longer ago the file was originally lost or damaged.
Prevention of Document Corruption
While the recovery tips in this article can help mitigate damage after corruption has occurred, taking some basic preventative measures will always be preferable to dealing with lost documents using post-hoc solutions:
- Save early and often – Get into the habit of manually saving your Word documents to minimize losses from crashes, power loss, or errors. Set autosave to save every 2-5 minutes for additional protection.
- Maintain local and cloud backups – Keep regular backups of important Word documents in multiple locations in case one copy becomes corrupted or lost.
- Limit bloat over time – Avoid document corruption from oversized files by periodically starting new docs rather than endlessly updating a single file over many years.
- Isolate problematic software – If some software or combination of installed programs seems to frequently cause Word crashes on your system leading to corruption, try isolating the culprit and removing or updating as needed.
What If My Word Document Can’t Be Recovered?
Despite your best efforts, there may still be rare cases where an important Word document cannot be recovered through any means. When all else fails, here are some constructive ways to move forward:
- Rewrite from notes – If you kept notes or an outline, recreating the bulk of the document’s text may be easier than starting completely from scratch.
- Check email attachments – Emailing versions of the document over time may have preserved content you can pull from, even if older.
- Discuss with co-authors – If you collaborated on the document, co-authors may have portions stored locally you can stitch together in a group effort.
- Reflect on key learnings – As frustrating as data loss is, there may be important backups and security practices you can start implementing to safeguard other important files in the future.
Losing documents can be incredibly disruptive, but by understanding common causes of Word file corruption and following responsible backup practices, most cases can be avoided. When disaster strikes, this guide should help provide some options for document recovery or recreation. Let us know if you have any other tips for rescuing lost Word docs!