How You Can Restore Unsaved Excel Files and Avoid Data Loss

It's an unfortunate but common occurrence for Microsoft Excel to close before you've saved your file.
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How You Can Restore Unsaved Excel Files and Avoid Data Loss

It's an unfortunate but common occurrence for Microsoft Excel to close before you've saved your file. Your computer could have suffered a power outage, might be having trouble with its graphics driver, or suffering from application errors resulting from an Add-In or a virus. Whatever the cause, you're now potentially facing hours or days worth of work if you can't restore the work you've lost. Fortunately, you do have a few options.

Restoring your unsaved files

When using Microsoft Excel, you can attempt to recover your unsaved work using the AutoRecover, the Recover Unsaved Workbooks, or Manage Versions features.

The AutoRecover feature

Found in all Microsoft Office products, AutoRecover is a simple feature that allows you to recover unsaved files automatically. AutoRecover only works if you have saved your file at least once. When you relaunch Microsoft Excel, you'll see a Document Recovery pane on the left-hand side of the application window. You'll see a list of unsaved Excel files in this pane, each with the last time and date they were saved. If you find your file there, click on it to open it and then save it immediately.

The Recover Unsaved Workbooks feature

You can also try to restore your file using the Recover Unsaved Workbooks feature. To use it, first, click File, then click Open. You'll see an option for Recent Workbooks, and upon selecting it and scrolling down, you'll see an option to Recover Unsaved Workbooks. By clicking on this option, you'll be taken to an Unsaved Files subfolder stored locally on your device. You may see your unsaved workbook there. If so, select it, click Open and upon its opening, save it immediately.

The Manage Versions feature

This option won't let you save unrecovered revisions to a workbook. However, it may help you restore a file that has been corrupted by human or system error. If your workbook data has begun to appear like gibberish and your workbook is still open, do not save it. Instead, go to File, click Open, find the existing workbook, and open it. Doing so should restore the last saved version, which should not be corrupted.

Avoiding the use of recovery tools

While these tools are there if you need them, it's better not to need them in the first place. You can avoid the stress and time it takes to recover files by using Excel's AutoSave feature. To do so, select File, navigate to Options and select the Save option in the resulting Excel Options dialogue box. Under the Save workbooks feature, you'll see an option to Save AutoRecover information every, with a default option of 10 minutes. To minimize the risk of losing your work, reduce that time down to 2 minutes or even 1 minute. This way, if Excel closes unexpectedly, you should be able to use the AutoRecover feature to restore all but the last minute or so worth of revisions.

You'll see where your AutoRecover files will be stored locally on your computer in the Excel options dialog box. You should also be able to see if and where they are automatically stored on a shared server. Take note of this location. If your hard drive crashes, you should be able to restore at least some of your most recent work from that folder to a new device.

Avoiding corrupted Excel workbooks

Opening and using corrupted Microsoft Excel workbooks can result in unexpected file closures, as well as render your data, calculations, and other workbook content unusable. Often, you won't even be able to open a corrupted workbook to try to extract your data and recover your work. If you're having difficulties opening a corrupted workbook, you can try disabling automatic calculation, using Microsoft Tools, opening the file in WordPad, or using external references.

Disabling automatic calculation

Excel automatically recalculates all formulas in a workbook upon opening, and sometimes formula issues in a workbook may make it difficult to open. You may be able to overcome this by opening up Excel and disabling automatic calculation, then reopening the workbook. To start, open a new workbook in Excel, then select Options from the Tools menu. Select the Calculation tab you find, and then select Formulas in the pane that appears. You'll be able to select Manual in the resulting Calculation section, which will disable automatic calculation. Then try opening your workbook. If it opens, double-check your workbook formulas to pinpoint the problem.

Using Microsoft Office Tools

You can also use Microsoft Office Tools to help you close non-responsive Office applications and recover your work if possible. You'll need to choose Microsoft Office Tools from the Start menu, then choose Microsoft Office Application Recovery. You'll be taken to a dialog box where you should see open applications. Select Microsoft Excel, and then Recover Application. It may take several minutes. You should also opt to send the report to Microsoft for further support when prompted.

Opening your workbook in WordPad

If recovering the data in your workbook is your top priority, try opening it up in WordPad. You may be able to recover your data in text form using this method. You'll lose your formulas, but you'll also be able to recover any macros which should appear in the text as well. With this information, you may be able to restore your work in a new blank workbook.

Using external references

You also may be able to recover your data by opening a new workbook and referencing the cells in the corrupted workbook. To begin to do so, you'll want to select a cell in the new workbook and enter a formula in the following form: =nameofinitialworkbook!cell. For example, if your corrupted workbook was named Equations2 and included data in A1, you'd select cell A1 in the new workbook and type: =Equations2!A1. Again, you should be able to recover your data in this manner. However, you'll lose all formulas, functions, and macros.

Losing work in Microsoft Excel can be a painful process. But using these tips can help you minimize the risk of doing so or mitigate the amount of data lost. You can learn more about Microsoft's products at Velocity IT, a leading managed services provider in Dallas with deep experience in the Microsoft environment. If you have questions about how to use Microsoft products more efficiently or deploy new solutions, reach out to us today and let's schedule a time to chat.

Kenny Riley

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