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:
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.
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.
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’” explains 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.
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.
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.
Prompt to save Normal template
This option is not enabled by default, but in our 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.”
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
Word 2013 and 2016
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.
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.
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.
I’ve said that there is no AutoSave feature in Word. But Graham Mayor offers two add-ins that can help:
Both add-ins are for Word 2007 to 2013, 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 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.