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Tech Matters: Finding, restoring and recovering files – A how-to guide

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 11, 2023

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Leslie Meredith

Losing a document can be a frustrating and sometimes scary experience. Last week, I was waiting on a coordinator to finish a spreadsheet for the head of another department. He said he’d have it to me by the end of the day. Two days went by and during our Friday catch-up, I asked to see the document. He shared his screen and the spreadsheet was mostly a sea of empty cells. As it turned out, he’d lost it.

So now what? There are several actions to take before the last resort, which is simply starting over. First, try a search of both your computer and your shared drive if you use one. This could be OneDrive, Sharepoint, Dropbox, Google Drive or a similar platform. Start specific and then broaden your search. Choose a word that you’re certain is in the title of the missing doc and search for it. Try a few more title word options — there have been times when I’ve used the wrong word and failed to find a document and then when I found it in a broader search, the title was entirely different than I had remembered.

You can also use advanced search options. In Google Drive, click on the slider icon in the search box and add information you are sure about to narrow your search, such as document type. Sharepoint and OneDrive offer fewer options. In OneDrive, you can only sort, unless you’re searching in Recent Files where you can filter by type: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF. In Sharepoint, you can select a date range, author and type (Word, Excel and Other). You can also search your email if the document was sent as an attachment.

The next place to look is in the trash. To restore files from your Recycle Bin in Windows, open the Recycle Bin and search for your missing file. In Windows, Microsoft offers a slew of ways to filter a search from your desktop. Click “View” on the top navigation and then “Sort by” to open a dropdown with all of your options, including by Type, Author and Original Location. If you find it, right-click the item and select “Restore.” The file or folder will be restored to its original folder, which you can see by hovering over the file name before you restore it.

For cloud platforms, the options are similar, but again, Google Drive offers the most filters for your search. Go to “Advanced Search Options” and simply click “Trash.” Any other filters you’ve added will be applied to this search. In OneDrive and Sharepoint, your options are limited to sorting by file name, date deleted, deleted by, Created by and Original Location. In both Microsoft platforms, files are automatically deleted after 93 days, while Google deletes them after 30 days.

You may want to rethink your trash strategy. For files that you could want in the future, instead of dragging them to the trash, store them on a flash drive, label the drive and put it in a safe place. That way you aren’t using any of your allocated storage in the cloud and you don’t have to worry about the files being deleted. If you need a file later, it will be there, tucked away in your desk drawer.

A related issue is finding older versions of a document. Maybe a previous version had information you cut but now want to reinsert or you discover you’ve been working on the wrong version of a document. Most apps including Microsoft Office and the Google office suite, save previous versions of documents, you just need to know how to access them.

In Google Docs, Slides and Sheets, open the document and click on “File” at the top of the page. Select “Version history” and then “See version history.” A list of stored versions will appear on the right side of your screen. Notice the three dots next to each item. Here you can restore the version as the current version, name it or save a copy.

The same functionality is built into Microsoft OneDrive and Sharepoint. Find the document in the list and then click the three dots next to it. Choose “Version history” from the pop-up menu. Office files will open up in a new browser tab with the version list next to them. For all apps, a new version is saved periodically or when you’ve saved your document and come back later to work on it further.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


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