Word’s Save Options

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My article at http://wordmvp.com/faqs/general/AutomaticSave.htm asked the question “How can I make Word save or back up my document automatically?” and offered this answer:

You can’t! You may have heard that Word can automatically save your document at specified intervals or create a backup copy for security. Do not believe this! If you look at the Save tab of Tools | Options, you will see several check boxes whose state is very important to your document security, but none of the options will protect you from your own imprudence, laziness, or folly!

The referenced article was written for Word 2003 and earlier (slightly updated for Word 2007), and, although much of what it said is still true, recent versions of Word have changed the landscape a little. This article will discuss some of the options Word offers with regard to saving and how they can and cannot protect you from your own imprudence, laziness or folly. Select your version of Word below, but note that much of the explanation is provided in the initial section about Word 2003.

Word 2003 and earlier
Word 2007
Word 2010
Word 2013 and above
The closest thing to AutoSave

Word 2003 and earlier

Figure 1 shows the Save tab of the Options dialog (accessed from the Tools menu) in Word 2003. We'll discuss a few of the options it offers.

The Save Options dialog in Word 2003

Allow fast saves

This was once an important subject—important because the Fast Saves feature was one of the top three causes of document corruption and data loss (the other two were Master Documents—still an issue—and saving directly to a floppy, which you’re unlikely to do, but saving to removable drives is still not recommended). The Microsoft Knowledge Base article “WD2002: Frequently Asked Questions About ‘Allow Fast Saves’” (no longer available) explained the theory behind Fast Saves, but this is not something you need to worry about, even in Word 2003, provided your copy is patched up to date; as the article “The Fast Saves feature in Word 2003 no longer functions after you install Office 2003 Service Pack 3” explains, this dangerous feature has been disabled. It has also been removed from subsequent versions. It never made saving much faster, anyway, as even Microsoft admitted.

Always create backup copy

You can’t enable this option without disabling fast saves, but that’s not an issue because fast saves has already been disabled.

  • What it does: When you have this option enabled, Word retains the previous version of your document every time you save it. Obviously, the first time you save, there is no previous version, but on the second save, Word will create a “Backup of <Filename>.wbk” file that is the first version you saved. When you save again, your <Filename>.doc will be the third version, and Word will keep the second as a backup. This can be a lifesaver in any of a number of situations where you do something rash or stupid.

You’ll need to open Windows Explorer from time to time, open your Word document folders, and clear out all the .wbk files, which do tend to accumulate (to facilitate selecting them, sort by file type). If your hard drive space is limited, you may choose not to enable this option, but it’s saved my bacon just often enough to make it worth the effort of an occasional clear-out.

  • What it doesn’t do: “Backup” is probably a misnomer for the .wbk file. “Fallback” would be a better term. It does not take the place of saving duplicate copies elsewhere (CDs, DVDs, external hard drive, The Cloud, etc.) because (a) the backup file is saved in the same folder with the document itself (and continually overwrites the previous backup file), and (b) it’s not even the most recent version.

Allow background saves

Word’s use of “background” in this context is sometimes misleading, especially in the Print Options dialog, where users often think that “background printing” means printing the graphic background they’ve applied to the page. In both cases, however, Word is talking about performing a task “in the background.” That is, it can go about its business while you continue working. If you didn’t allow background saves, you’d have to wait till Word finished saving before you could continue typing or editing. In most cases, this wouldn’t be a noticeable delay, but unless you experience some problem with background saving, you should leave this option enabled. (I have found that, even with background saves enabled, saving a very long and complex document can take an appreciable time, and Word actually may hang while saving.) The important thing to understand, however, is that enabling this option doesn’t mean that Word will save “automatically”; Word does not save your document unless you tell it to, either by pressing Ctrl+S or by using the Save button on the Standard toolbar or the Save item on the File menu.

Save AutoRecover info

This is perhaps the most misunderstood option in the whole dialog. Many users learn too late, to their deep chagrin, that this is not an AutoSave option. Yes, AutoRecovery can be very useful in the right circumstances, but it is not a substitute for regular manual saves.

  • What it does: When you have AutoRecovery enabled, Word saves an “AutoRecovery save of <Filename>.asd” file at the interval you specify. These files are saved in the folder specified for AutoRecover files on the File Locations tab of Tools | Options. If something untoward happens while you are working in Word—that is, if Word “has encountered a problem and needs to close” (hangs), the system crashes, or the power blinks—the next time you start Word you will be presented with the AutoRecovery files (if any) that had been saved at the time of the event. If the timestamp on one of these is later than your last manual save, you have the option of saving it as your document.

  • What it doesn’t do: AutoRecovery is not a substitute for saving manually. If you haven’t been working long enough for an AutoRecovery file to be created when the unthinkable happens, there will be no .asd file. Moreover, when you close a document or quit Word, all the .asd files are deleted. If you have not saved the document, it is gone.

Our advice has always been to “save early and save often.” Save and name the document within the first five to fifteen minutes of working on it and at five- to fifteen-minute intervals thereafter. Only you can judge how much work you’re willing to recreate if necessary, but if you get in the habit of pressing Ctrl+S every time your hands pause on the keyboard, you will rarely lose much.

One caveat: Word does create temp files while you’re working, and it may create an additional one each time you save. If your hard drive is cramped or your system resources limited, you will want to close and reopen the document periodically to flush out these temp files.

Some of the temp files (especially if you've been pasting or editing graphics or embedded objects) hang around until you quit Word, so when working on long documents, you would be well advised to close and reopen Word periodically as well, especially if your machine starts to slow down noticeably.

Above all, if Word does slow down noticeably or start to behave strangely in any way, don't save your document at that stage, as you're likely to corrupt it if you do. Instead, paste your most recent changes into WordPad and save them there under a new filename; then quit and restart Word; and if Word is now behaving normally, paste the changes from your WordPad document back into your Word document.

Prompt to save Normal template

This option is not enabled by default, but in my opinion, it should be. Sometimes “helpful” advisors will suggest that you disable it if you get a prompt to save Normal.dot every time you quit Word. This has been compared to advising you to take the battery out of your smoke detector because it buzzes when there’s smoke in the room. Disabling this option does not prevent Word from saving Normal.dot; it just allows it to do so without asking your permission. You want to know when something or someone is trying to make changes to Normal.dot; if you made the changes intentionally, fine; if you didn’t, you’ll want to investigate to find out what is causing Word to think changes have been made. If you get a prompt to save Normal.dot every time you close Word, see “You are prompted to save the changes to the Normal.dot global template every time that you quit Word.”

Note: I have observed that the switch from Standard to Daylight-Saving time (or vice versa) may occasion a prompt to save the Normal template. This prompt will be repeated until you finally break down and acquiesce. It seems harmless, so you might as well accept on the first day after the time change.

Word 2007

In Word 2007, the options presented at Tools | Options | Save in earlier versions are split into two locations: Office Button | Word Options | Save and Office Button | Word Options | Advanced: Save as shown in Figures 2 and 3 below. (To access these options, click the Office Button in the top left corner of the screen and then click on Word Options in the bottom right corner of the menu window.)

Figure 2. The Save tab of the Word Options dialog in Word 2007

Figure 3. The Save section of the Advanced tab of the Word Options dialog in Word 2007

Despite the new presentation, the options mentioned above (except “Allow fast saves,” which has been removed) work just the same as in Word 2003. One change in wording (“Prompt before saving Normal template”) makes this option a little clearer, namely, that this is not a reminder to save Normal.dotm but a request for permission to save it. The important thing to note is that there is still nothing in Word 2007 that relieves you of the responsibility for saving files manually if you want to be assured of keeping them.

Word 2010

As shown in Figures 4 and 5, Word 2010 splits the save options in the same way as in Word 2007. Access the Word Options by clicking the File tab and choosing Options from the bottom of the menu on the left of the “backstage.”

Figure 4. The Save tab of the Word Options in Word 2010

Figure 5. The Save section of the Advanced tab of the Word Options in Word 2010

As can be seen, the Advanced: Save options are essentially the same, but there is a huge addition to the Save tab: “Keep the last autosaved version if I close without saving.” We saw above that in previous versions, AutoRecovery backups (*.asd files) were deleted when you closed a document or quit Word. This new option provides the possibility of saving the last backup. When you close an unsaved document in Word, you get the typical choice:

If you bungle this and choose “Don’t Save,” you can click on the File tab to open the “backstage.” At the bottom of the Recent tab, you'll see this button:

This will open the dialog shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Unsaved Files in Word 2010

Caveat: Be very clear about what is happening here!

  1. The file that is being saved is your most recent AutoRecovery save. If you have the “Save AutoRecover information” interval set to the default 10 minutes and have not had the file open for at least 10 minutes, there will not be a backup. If the last backup was 9 minutes ago, you will lose 9 minutes’ worth of information. Figure 6 shows that a document I had opened, worked in, and closed without saving shortly before taking the screen shot was not saved.

  2. These backups are not saved indefinitely. I open Word 2010 several times a day to test user scenarios and always close without saving. The screen shot in Figure 6 was taken at 5:22 PM on August 15; you can see that it shows files from as far back as August 12. Empirical evidence suggests that files are saved for four days.

Important Note: One significant advancement in Word 2010 is the ability to “fail gracefully”: when Word hangs, it saves an AutoRecovery backup as it is going down; it then immediately reopens and presents you with that backup.

Word 2013 and above

The save options in Word 2013 are similar to those in Word 2007 and 2010. Open the Word Options dialog by clicking the File tab and then clicking Options from the bottom of the menu on the left of the “backstage.” Figure 7 shows the Save tab of the Word Options dialog, which has a plethora of new options (which we will not discuss); the Save section of the Advanced tab is identical to that in Word 2010.

Figure 7. The Save tab of the Word Options dialog in Word 2013

Although the wording of the option to “Keep the last autosaved version if I close without saving” has not changed, its behavior has. When you opt to close an unsaved document in Word 2013, you get this message:

If you bungle this and choose “Don’t Save,” you can click on the File tab to open the “backstage.” At the bottom of the Recent tab (you may have to scroll to see it), you'll see this button:

This will open the dialog shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Unsaved files in Word 2013

The difference here from Word 2010 is that, when you choose not to save, an AutoRecovery backup file is created on the spot. The circled file in Figure 8 is one that was created and closed within seconds. It would not have been saved in Word 2010.

Word 2013 also offers a simple way (through File | Info | Versions) to access previous AutoRecovery backups while you are working on a file, and this also applies to backups of files that have been previously saved but closed without saving changes made during the editing session. For more on this, see “Recover an earlier version of an Office file.”

AutoRecovery backups more than four days old are deleted when you open Word, but you can go to the UnsavedFiles folder before opening Word on the fourth day and copy the ASD file to another folder to preserve it.

The closest thing to AutoSave

I’ve said that there is no AutoSave feature in Word. This is no longer entirely true. Office 365 offers an AutoSave option, but only for files saved to OneDrive or SharePoint. This feature is not available in perpetual-license versions such as Word 2013, 2016, 2019 (it is available in Word 2021, however). If you are using one of those versions (or an older version), Graham Mayor offers two add-ins that can help:

  1. One is the SaveReminder add-in. According to Graham, “This add-in will remind you to save your work at intervals, and can also be configured to automatically save the document.” I personally would find it very distracting to have reminders popping up when I am trying to concentrate and downright scary to have Word saving my document without my permission (and it may also slow Word down a little); but if you need help to get into the habit of saving regularly as you work, perhaps this add-in is just what you need.

  2. Graham also offers the Save In Two Places add-in, which allows you to save to an external drive every time you save to the internal one.

Both add-ins are for Word 2007 and above, though the zip file for the SaveReminder add-in includes a version that will work with earlier Word versions.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to MVP Jay Freedman for information about AutoRecovery backups in Word 2013.

This article copyright © 2014, 2019, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.