A message pops up on your computer screen, and you get that terrible sinking feeling; it tells you that your files have been corrupted and you'll need to effect a 'System Restore' operation to retrieve them. This article explains what it means when your files have been 'corrupted' and how, if possible, to restore them to their original state.

Windows System Restore

The Knowhow

What is a corrupted file? Why has my file been corrupted?
What can I do to restore my corrupted files? Autosave vs. System Restore
Autosave How to setup and use Autosave in Windows
Setting up autorecover System restore
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What is a corrupted file?

A 'corrupted file' is any file which cannot be properly interpreted by your computer.

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Why has my file been corrupted?

The 'corruption' may be fairly minor or it may be a significant problem; usually a corrupted file is one which has encountered some form of interruption during the saving process.

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What can I do to restore my corrupted files?

If the files are stored on a USB memory stick or some other form of pen drive, the corrupted files can easily be replaced by the original or master copy on your PC; this will have been automatically saved to your PC's hard drive while the file was in progress. See the guidelines on Autosave settings below for more details.

If the corrupted file was saved exclusively to your hard drive, you may need to initiate the System Restore process in order to retrieve it.

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Autosave vs. System Restore

There are various ways to recover a corrupted file; you can either:

  • Restore your entire operating system to an earlier version (i.e. turn back the clock on the problem which occurred) using the System Restore procedure, or;
  • You can restore a single document to an earlier version of itself (a document automatically saved before the problem occurred which corrupted the file in question). Word Autosaves documents as you work on them, and maintains back-up copies of the document throughout the process which can be accessed in the event of a problem.
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'Autosave' is a Microsoft Word tool which automatically saves versions of a document as you work on the file. Depending on the version of Windows Software you're running, you can go into the corrupted file and select an earlier version of the document from the Auto-save/Auto-recovery function. To do this for Word files, simply visit the main menu and look for the tab marked Versions.

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How to setup and use Autosave in Windows

To locate your Autosaved files, go to the Start menu and open Word:

Windows Start Menu

Click on File:

Microsoft Word File

From File; select the option at the bottom marked Versions (highlighted in red below).

Word Info

On the left-hand-side of the tab, click on Manage Versions, and from there, click on the downwards-pointing arrow for the drop-down menu.

Word Manage Versions

A new pop-up will appear (see below) asking if you would like to Recover Unsaved Documents; click on this option to proceed.

Word Recover Unsaved Documents

A new pop-up will appear (see below); this pop-up shows the location where your Autosaved documents are stored. In the example below, the Autosaved documents are store in the Microsoft Office folder, under UnsavedFiles. There are no files to choose from in the case below, which means either that the Autosave feature has not been properly set up, or that the Autosaved files have expired. In the event that an Autosaved document is there, select the most recent version before the file became corrupted and re-save as a regular Word document.

Word Save As

If no documents are available in the Autosaved folder, the bad news is that you won't be able to recover your corrupted files in this way (don't worry; there's another way to get hold of them listed below). If you can't see any recovered documents, you need to setup an autorecover system so that you don't have to worry about corrupted files in the future.

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Setting up Autorecover

Go back to the main Start menu and from here select the Options tab from the left-hand-side menu:

Word Autorecover

From the Options tab, select Save from the menu (see below):

Word Save

From here, the most important pop-up comes up on screen. This pop-up (see below) allows you to setup and personalize preferences on the Autosave function:

Word AutoRecover Save

The Autosave setup has five main important settings; you can choose:

  • How often Word creates an Autosaved version of the document you are writing (in the example below, the Autosave function is set to create a version every ten minutes)
  • To keep Autorecovered documents in the event that you exit Word without saving by accident
  • The storage location for Autosaved files
  • The default file location for files which will most likely be Autorecovered
  • The location of your drafts (different versions of what is essentially the same document; this is a way to make it easier to access multiple versions of the same document if you aren't working from one primary master document
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System Restore

If you've looked for Autorecovered documents but haven't had any luck, you can use the System Restore function to get hold of an uncorrupted version of your document. System Restore returns your PC to the state it was in at an earlier point in time. This is like travelling back in time with your computer; you simply pinpoint where the problem occurred (i.e. if you accidentally pulled your USB Stick out from the port too early, before it had finished properly saving), then you can restore your computer to how it was just before you tried to save that file.

System Restore is the solution when your corrupted file cannot be accessed. To effect a System Restore, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then finally select System Restore and choose a point in time to restore from.

Please note that all other actions will be restored to how they were before that date (i.e. all other files, software downloads and upgrades will also revert to how they were before).

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Updated On:

May 20, 2014

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