Mac Data Recovery
Recover Deleted, Lost, or Unsaved Word Documents on a Mac
Last updated: August 2, 2022

How to Recover Deleted, Lost, or Unsaved Word Documents on a Mac

Many Mac users use Microsoft Word and it’s easy to accidentally lose or delete a file. You may need to recover a deleted, lost, or unsaved Word document for multiple reasons including human error, accident, or malware infection. We are going to show you a variety of techniques for recovering a lost, deleted, or unsaved Word document.

Some of the methods we demonstrate use native Word functionality or features of the Apple operating system. We also look at recovery methods that use backups or third-party software. With any luck, one of them will be just what you need to get that important file back.

How to Recover an Unsaved Word Document on Mac

First, let’s look at the issue of recovering an unsaved Word document on your Mac. You might need to do this if the app or your computer suddenly crashes. If this happens, you can lose a lot of work in a flash.

Method #1: Recover an Unsaved Word Document with AutoRecovery

Microsoft has built the capability to recover unsaved Word documents with its AutoRecovery feature. The Microsoft Office apps, including Word and PowerPoint, automatically save versions of your file if you have the AutoRecover feature turned on.

If your Office for Mac is configured to autosave your work, the following procedure can be used to recover an unsaved document:

  1. Make hidden folders visible using the Command + Shift + Dot (.) keystroke combination.
  2. Navigate to this folder: /Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.Microsoft/Data/Library/Preferences/AutoRecovery.Navigate to autorecovery folder
  3. Search for your file and open it in the Word application.Open Doc in the Word application.
  4. Save the Word file to a new location to protect it.

Method #2. Recover a Lost Word Document from the Temporary folder

You might be able to recover a lost or unsaved Word document by searching your Mac’s temporary folder. Use the following steps to access the folder to see if it holds your file.

  1. Open the Terminal app.
  2. Type: cd $TMPDIR.
  3. Type: ls to list the files in the directory.
  4. Look in the TemporaryItems subfolder for temporary files.
  5. Search for the missing Word file. If you identify a Word doc you want to keep, save it to a new location.Recover a Lost Word Document from the Temporary folder

How to Recover Deleted Word Files on Mac

If you have accidentally deleted a Word file from your Mac, you have several options for getting it back. The method you use will be influenced by how and when the file was lost and if you have been backing up your computer.

Important Note: Stop using the storage device that held the Word file until after you have recovered the document. Continued use of the device risks overwriting the file and making it difficult or impossible to recover without a backup. Check out this page for some methods of recovering a version of an overwritten file.

Method #1: Recover Deleted Word Documents from the Trash Bin

The first thing you should do whenever you are looking for a lost or deleted file is to check the Trash. The Mac Trash is a dedicated folder that temporarily stores items that have been logically deleted from the system.

Users can configure the Trash to be emptied automatically or manually empty it at any time. This recovery method will only work if the Trash has not been emptied after the file was deleted. If it has been emptied, you need to use other methods to recover the lost files.

Use the following steps to recover a lost file from the Trash.

  1. Open the Trash by clicking on its icon.
  2. Search the folder for the lost Word file.
  3. Right-click on the Word file you want to retrieve and click Put Back. The file will be recovered to its original location.Put back Docx file.

Hopefully, that procedure got your file back. If not, keep reading for other methods of recovering your document.

Method #2: Recover an Unsaved Word Doc with Time Machine

The next recovery method we will discuss requires that you have a Time Machine backup available. The backup has to have been taken when the Word file you want was still on the disk. Of course, it will be an older version of the file if you modified it after the backup, but that’s better than no file at all.

Time Machine is the built-in backup and recovery solution Apple supplies with its operating system. We strongly recommend you regularly back up your computer and Time Machine is a convenient way to do it. The following procedure shows how to recover an unsaved Word document from a Time Machine backup.
  1. Connect the storage device that contains the Time Machine backup files to your computer.
  2. Open a Finder window in the folder that last stored the lost Word file.
  3. Start Time Machine by clicking the Time Machine icon on the menu bar.Enter time machine.
  4. Search through the snapshots and backups available using the Time Machine interface to find the Word document you want to recover.
  5. Select the file you want and click the Restore button. The Word file will be restored to its original location in the designated folder.Restore Docx file with time machine.

Using Time Machine or an alternate backup solution regularly protects your valuable data and should be an important part of maintaining your Mac.

Method #3: Recover Deleted Word Docs with a Software Solution

You may need to recover a deleted Word doc that has not been backed up and is no longer in the Trash. Once the Trash is emptied, the files are considered permanently deleted and the space they formerly occupied is marked as available for use. Until they are actually overwritten by new data, the deleted Word files can be recovered with specialized data recovery software.

The software works by scanning your device for files that have been logically deleted. This means the links that make them available to the operating system have been removed, but the physical data still exists on the disk. Data recovery software repairs these links and makes the files accessible again.

There are many data recovery solutions on the market. We like Disk Drill for multiple reasons.

  • 🤗 User-friendliness – Disk Drill features an intuitive interface that makes it easy for anyone with general computer skills to recover lost data in just a few simple steps.
  • 🏅 Recovery capabilities – Disk Drill employs advanced scanning algorithms that provide exceptional recovery capabilities. It can recover data that other tools miss.
  • ⚙️ Device and file format compatibility – Virtually any type of disk-based storage device can have lost data recovered with Disk Drill. It supports Word document recovery as well as files created in hundreds of other formats.
  • 💸 Free data protection tools – In addition to its exceptional recovery capabilities, Disk Drill features free tools to help manage and protect your data.

The following procedure shows you how to recover a Word document on Mac using Disk Drill data recovery software.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac on a different device than the disk that contained the lost Word file. This protects the Word file from being overwritten by the application. We suggest a USB thumb drive as a good choice for the download and installation.Install Disk Drill on Mac.
  2. If necessary, connect the storage device that contained the lost file to your Mac.
  3. Launch Disk Drill and select the device with the deleted file from the list provided by the app.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to initiate the scanning process.Click the Search for lost data button.
  5. Search for recoverable Word files found in the Documents folder. You can preview a file before committing to recovery to ensure it’s what you want.
  6. Select the file you want to retrieve and click the Recover button.Click the button to recover docx file.
  7. Provide a safe storage location to save the file when prompted by the app.
  8. Click the OK button to complete the recovery to your designated location.Provide safe location for docx.

You can download a free trial version of Disk Drill to scan your device and identify the files that can be recovered by the tool. If you are satisfied with the results of the scan, simply upgrade to the paid version of the application and recover your lost Word files.

Recover a Previous Version of a Word File on a Mac

The last method we look at attempts to recover a previous version of a Word file from within Microsoft Office. You have two options.

If the file has been saved, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file.
  2. Click File > View Version History.
  3. On the Version History tab, select the desired version.
    Open doc previous version on Mac.
  4. Click Restore in the bar at the top of the file to use the current version or save it to another location.
    Save previous version.

Use these steps if you have not saved the file:

  1. Open Microsoft Word and the unsaved document will be opened.
  2. In the bar at the top of the file, select File > Save As… to save the file.
    Open recovered document on Mac.

FAQ

Use the following procedure to recover an unsaved Word document on your Mac if you have AutoRecovery turned on in the app.

  1. Make hidden folders visible with the Command+Shift+Dot (.) keystroke combination.
  2. Go to this folder: /Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.Microsoft/Data/Library/Preferences/AutoRecovery.
  3. Look for the unsaved file and open it in the Word application.
  4. Save the file to a safe location to protect it.
You can find the Word files saved by the AutoRecovery feature in the /Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.Microsoft/Data/Library/Preferences/AutoRecovery folder.
If you don’t have AutoRecovery turned on, you may be able to find an unsaved Word file in the temporary directory. You can also recover an earlier version of an unsaved document from a previously created backup.
You can find temporary files on your Mac by opening and searching the TMP directory with this procedure:

  1. Launch the Terminal app from /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. Enter the following command: open $TMPDIR.
  3. Search the directory for your missing files.
Jeff Cochin has spent a better part of his writing career helping users recover lost data from their personal and work devices. When not describing the best way to avoid a costly data loss, Jeff likes to spend time outside and go on short cycling adventures.
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