recover unsaved word document on mac

The Microsoft Word document format is extremely popular and is considered the de-facto standard by many users. Many document requests include a reminder to send the work as a DOC or DOCX Microsoft Word file. An inability to create documents in this format can definitely hinder your ability to get your work done.

There are some features of Microsoft Word that make it more useful in certain collaborative situations and some users find easier to work with than Pages. You might also have Word files on your Mac if you are an Office 365 user.

The Reason a Word Document was Lost Solution
The document was recently deleted by the user. Search your Mac Trash for the lost file.
I have accidentally deleted an important Word file that is no longer in the Trash. Use data recovery software or try recovering the file from a backup.
I had to force quit Word and need to recover files. Use the AutoRecovery feature.
Word froze and I did not save the document. Search in the Mac Temp folder or try AutoRecovery.
Word crashed while I was working on a document. Use AutoRecovery or look in your Mac Temp folder.
I need to recover an unsaved Word document but AutoRecovery was not enabled. Try searching the Mac temp folder or recovering from within the Word app.
I want to restore an earlier version of a Word document on my Mac. You can recover an earlier version of a file with a backup copy or from within the app.

You might need to recover a Word document on a Mac for a number of reasons:

  • ❌ Accidentally deleting files from your hard disk.
  • 💥 The application crashes while you are working on a file.
  • 🔨 Damage to your hard disk or storage device that leads to corrupt or missing files.
  • 🦠 Infection with a virus or malware that causes data loss.

#1 Recover Unsaved Word Docs on a Mac with AutoRecovery

Microsoft Word for Mac has an AutoRecovery feature that can help you recover unsaved Word documents. This option is turned on by default when you install the application and automatically saves a copy of open documents every 10 minutes.

You can modify this setting to have the app save at a shorter or longer time interval if you like. If the application or your computer happens to crash while you are working on a Word document, you can recover it to the state it was in when the last automatic save was performed.

Steps to recover an unsaved Word document on Mac:

Step 1. Open a Finder window on your Mac.

Step 2. Select the entire computer as the location.

That will be searched and enter ‘AutoRecovery’ in the Search field. You will be presented with a list of files. It begins with ‘AutoRecovery save of’ followed by the name of the Word document you are trying to recover.

recover unsaved word doc mac

Step 3. Double-click on the file to be recovered. This will open the file in Microsoft Word.

Step 4. Select the File menu and choose Save As. Pick a new name for the document and a folder in which it will be stored and click the Save button.

save word auto recovered file

#2 Recover Deleted Word Files from a Backup or the Trash

Once you have exited Microsoft Word and saved your document there are no longer any means to automatically recover a lost or deleted file. If you accidentally delete some files or are subject to a data loss scenario due to a faulty disk, there are ways that may allow you to get your files back.

Way 1. Recover deleted Word documents from a Trash Bin

Files that have been deleted from the folder will no longer be visible in that location. They are, however, not totally removed from your Mac until you empty the Trash.

  1. Open the Trash folder by clicking its icon in the lower-left corner of your Mac’s screen.recover deleted word files
  2. Right-click on the file name and select “Put Back”. This will return the file to its original location.recover lost word files

Way 2. Recover deleted Word documents from a backup

Hopefully, you are in the habit of taking regular backups of your Mac. You can use your backup to recover lost Word documents as long as the backup was made prior to the file deletion. You will need to use the media on which you save your backups and the program, perhaps Time Machine, that you use to back-up your computer.

There is still a way to recover deleted Word files even if you do not have a backup of the file in question, and it is not available through AutoRecovery or your Trash bin, by using data recovery software.

#3 Recover Deleted Word Documents using Disk Drill

Word document recovery software can prove to be instrumental in recovering those important Word files that have mysteriously vanished from your computer. It employs deep scanning technology to find deleted files and file fragments that are still physically on your computer’s storage but are no longer visible to the operating system.

Follow these steps to recover a Word document:

1. Download and install the free version of Disk Drill.

install disk drill for word document recovery

2. Launch the application and select the disk on which your lost files were last seen.

begin word document recovery with disk drill

3. Click the ‘Search for lost data’ button to start a scan of your storage device.

recover lost word doc mac

4. Use filters to search for specific types of files and speed up the scan. The application will return a list of the files that can be recovered using the tool.

recover word document mac

5. If the preview indicates that the files you need can be recovered, you need to upgrade to the Pro version of Disk Drill to perform the recovery.

restore word document mac

6. Select a location where you will store the files.

choose location to restore lost word document

7. Click ‘Recover’ a second time to restore your lost Word files to the new location you have selected.

recover word document on macOS

#4 Recover Lost Word docs from the Mac Temporary Folder

Your Mac’s temporary folder may have the lost Word file you need. Try the following procedure to check the contents of the temporary folder.

  1. Open Terminal.
  2. Type: cd $TMPDIR.
  3. Type: ls to display the files. Look in the TemporaryItems subfolder for your document.
  4. Search for the lost file. If you find the Word doc you are looking for, protect it by saving a copy to a new storage temp folder for lost word document

#5 Restore a previous version of a Word file from within the Word app

☁️ OneDrive Method

The following steps outline the procedure you should use to attempt a recovery of a previous version of a file from within Word using OneDrive.

Use these steps to perform the recovery : 

  1. Open the most recent version of the Word file you want to recover.
  2. In Word go to File > Browse Version History.locate previous version of word file
  3. You will see a panel displayed that shows all previously saved versions of the file.
  4. Select the previous version you wish to recover and choose Restore to complete the process.restore previous version of world document

🩺 AutoRecovery Method

If Word crashes you have not saved the file and AutoRecovery is turned on, use these steps:

  1. Restart the Word application.
  2. The app will automatically recover and display the saved document.recovered word document

#6 Recover a Lost Word Document From a Time Machine Backup

If you’re using Time Machine to back up your Mac, you may be able the recover your lost Word doc from the backup media.

Use the following steps to recover a lost Word file from a Time Machine backup.

  1. Connect the storage device that contains the backup files created by Time Machine to your computer.
  2. Open a Finder window in the folder that previously stored the lost Word file.
  3. Launch Time Machine by clicking the Time Machine icon on the menu bar.
  4. Search through the snapshots and backups with the timeline and arrows to find the Word doc you want to restore.
  5. Highlight the file you want to recover and click the Restore button. The doc will be restored to its original location.recover word document via time machine

Recover text from a damaged file in Word

You can attempt to force Word to try to repair a damaged file. Use the following steps to try this recovery method.

  1. In Word, click File > Open.
  2. Select the damaged file from the dialog box.
  3. Click the arrow on the Open button to display the submenu.
  4. Click Repair or Recover Text damaged word document

Check out this Microsoft support page for more information on handling damaged Word documents.

Tips to Help Avoid Losing Important Word Files

Here are a few tips that might help you avoid losing Word files. If the files contain important data and hold value for you, we suggest you take the necessary steps to protect them against accidental loss.

  • ⏸️ Pause before manually emptying the Trash – Take a minute to see what items you are about to delete. It’s very possible that you can rescue a mistakenly deleted file easily from the Trash at this point, rather than with data recovery software after it has been emptied.
  • 🛡️ Run Antivirus software – Malware and virus infections can lead to data loss. Run a reputable antivirus tool and make sure it’s always kept updated.
  • 🔋 Consider a surge protector – Power spikes and surges can lead to unexpected system crashes that cause you to lose data. Using a reliable surge protector can help eliminate that source of lost Word documents. 
  • 💾 Turn on AutoRecovery – This Microsoft document explains everything you need to know about this feature. You should turn it on and use it to automatically protect your Word files.
  • 💎 Configure Guaranteed RecoveryGuaranteed Recovery is a free data protection tool available with the trial version of Disk Drill. It allows you to configure specific files and folders for additional protection from accidental deletion and provides a one-click data recovery method.

Video Tutorial:

Disk Drill will find any lost files that can still be recovered, in some cases, even overwritten data can be recovered. It’s an excellent data recovery tool that will allow you to restore those lost Word files to your machine and let you get on with your work.


Robert Agar

Robert is a freelance writer who graduated from Pace University in New York with a Computer Science degree in 1992. Former computer specialist at IBM. Over the course of a long IT career, he has worked for a number of lar...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.