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I just wrote an extensive essay, ironically the last one of my academic career, and then, for the first time in my life, saved over it with an empty document by accident.

Is all hope lost?

Is there any way to restore it to its last version?

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could do a system restore to before you saved over it but that seems like it should be a last resort –  MalwareManiac Dec 6 '12 at 20:10
First, don't do anything!! Do all your web browsing, etc, on a different box, so you're less likely to further mess up things. Next, find a guru. With luck your file is in the "Recycle Bin", but if not someone with the right smarts will need to scan your disk to see if they can find it. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 6 '12 at 20:10
What version of Windows? What have you tried already? –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Dec 6 '12 at 20:13
Windows 7. I tried screaming and crying, but Windows has no soul, and therefore felt no sympathy. –  Aerovistae Dec 6 '12 at 20:16
Echoing Daniel comment with some explanation. If your essay is still on disk you might be able to recover it. But if you overwrite it with other data (e.g. some cache files while browsing the Internet) then it will be lost forever. So do not use that disk/computer until you have recovered it. –  Hennes Dec 6 '12 at 20:16

4 Answers 4

If you are using Windows 7+ perhaps try the in-built Previous Versions feature; it's intended for use in this situation.

Previous versions are either copies of files and folders created by Windows Backup or copies of files and folders that Windows automatically saves as part of a restore point. You can use previous versions to restore files and folders that you accidentally modified or deleted, or that were damaged.

Right-click on the file and select "Restore previous versions". You'll get a popup that may say "There are no previous versions available" but if you're lucky, it'll start out reporting that it's searching (for possibly many seconds) for previous versions and then list the ones it's saved. Here's what it showed for me on a source file I've been working on recently but for which I had never requested any automatic backup.

Previous versions for a file I've been working on recently

NTFS is a journaling file system, meaning it's one that can track changes in files. That got turned on in Win7. Consistent with that being the start of the journaling, I found that it had snapshots of files I'd changed going back to my installation of Win7 but not of files that were older.

Here's an example how-to: Use Windows 7’s Previous Versions to Go Back in Time and Save Your Files

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+1 Wish I could give you more points. I don't have a present need but had no idea this feature was there and so useful. I just tested it on a source file I've been working on, convinced Win7 would never have stored a previous version since I'd certainly never asked it to do so. But sure enough, it had several snapshoted at restore points going back 9 months. Copying one to a new location and diffing, yup, there were the changes. Great answer! Thank you. –  Nicole Hamilton Dec 6 '12 at 20:30

I had the same problem as the OP. I overwrote the entire contents of a very important Word file by accidentally pasting whatever text was in the clipboard and then saving the file.

None of the solutions suggested above (or in other websites I checked) worked for me: nothing in the MS Word built-in versioning list, no "Previous Version" tab in the file's Properties dialog, no System Restore (disabled here)…

HOWEVER I just managed to recover the contents of my file using the following procedure. (Note: I'm using Ms Word 2003. It may or may not work with later versions.)

1. If you don't have it, get Funduc's Search and Replace utility. (It's shareware, though perfectly usable as is. Other similar utilities might work, but that's what I had.)

2. In Funduc S&R, in the 'Path' field, type the path to the folder containing your overwritten file. (If unsure, you may start the search from higher up in your folder tree and select the 'Search Subdirectories' flag.)

3. In the 'File Mask' field, type: *.*

4. In the 'Search for' field at the top, type a word, name, phrase, any character string that you know appeared in your original file. (If you can't remember anything specific, try your luck with some common words.)

5. Click 'Search'.
The Funduc S&R utility should display one or several .tmp files, probably a bunch, depending on how often you saved your original file. If you couldn't recall anything specific in step 4, you might have to skim trough the results.

If you have many .tmp files, like I had, the latest to be saved is likely to be the one with the lowest file number (e.g. ~WRL0003.tmp should be more recent than ~WRL3456.tmp).

6. Once you have found the .tmp file containing the latest temp copy of your original file, right-click on it in the results, select 'File Operations', and copy the file to a different folder (or on a USB flash drive).

[Warning: be sure to select 'Copy'; DO NOT move the file, as I suspect you may lose it permanently if it disappears (see below)!!]

7. Open that folder or drive, and rename your .tmp file to remove the heading tilde character (~). You need to be swift in doing so, as temporary files (marked by the heading tilde) disappear quickly. If this happens, just repeat from step 6 and be quicker to rename.
You should now have a non-vanishing .tmp file.

8. Now open MS Word and Click on File > Open. Browse to the folder/drive containing the .tmp file you renamed in step 7. Select your .tmp file. Now click on the small down arrow next to the Open button, in the lower right corner, to display the drop-down menu. There, select 'Open and Repair'.

Your file should display in its latest saved version.

Save it under its original name, with the .doc extension, and voilà!

Note: for some reason the .tmp files in my original folder did not show anywhere but in the full-text search results in Funduc S&R: not in Explorer with hidden files displayed, not even when listing the directory from the command line; actually if you use *.tmp as a file mask in Funduc S&R, it will not find them! It seems to only work with a full-text search.

As a security precaution it may be advisable, as suggested above and elsewhere, to stop doing anything else with the computer until the procedure is complete, so as to avoid further disk writing operations. That said, in my case the accidental overwriting-then-saving happened 4 days ago and I have used the computer constantly in the meantime…

I hope all is clear and that this will help someone someday!

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A file recover utility did the trick for me in a similar situation. Recuva has very good reviews and actually was able to recover several older versions of a power-point presentation I had inadvertently overwritten.

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up vote -1 down vote accepted

Start using Dropbox for everything you care about even remotely.

  1. It's free.
  2. Your computer could explode and you'll lose nothing.
  3. All your files will exist simultaneously on all your computers.
  4. You can access your files via dropbox.com effortlessly and interact with them the same as you do in the Windows explorer.
  5. EVERY TIME YOU HIT SAVE, dropbox records a new version of the file but KEEPS THE OLD ONES. So no matter what you do, unless you go out of your way to scrub your dropbox history, you will never lose anything again, ever.
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