Recovering Deleted Documents,
Spreadsheets and Presentation

Office documents are among the most important files for any computer user. Accidentally deleting or otherwise losing a single document may require days or even weeks of work to re-create. Yet unsuspecting computer users around the world are losing hundreds of documents every day. Why does this happen, and what can be done about it? Let’s try to find out.

Recovering Deleted Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentation

Why Documents Can Go Missing

More often than not, lost documents, spreadsheets, presentations or databases are the result of a user error. Keeping working copies of documents in the Recycle Bin (just because the icon looks nice) or sending a copy to a colleague and deleting the original are among the top reasons of losing files. Keeping all documents on removable media (e.g. a pen drive) and losing the removable device is another reason causing the documents go missing.

Other causes of file loss are less exotic. In some organizations, computers are used to death, literally. When a computer finally breaks down, it often means that all documents stored on its hard drive become inaccessible – or lost.

We’ve seen the following situation more than once. An employee is transferred, or leaves the organization. The system administrator copies the content of the employee’s “Documents” folder, then goes ahead and deletes the account – only to discover later that the user stored her documents anywhere *but* the “Documents” folder. This situation becomes even worse if automated backup settings made the backup application to only copy the content of the “Documents” folder and not, for example, the “Desktop” folder.

Storing all documents in a proper, dedicated location is essential. If your organization has a document server, use that dedicated remote location to keep your files. If you are working locally, keep your documents under the “Documents” or “My Documents” folder, depending on your version of Windows. Not on the Desktop, and definitely not in the Recycle Bin.

Making Regular Backups

Everyone is talking about making backups, and we’re not exception. Having a recent backup copy of everything you work with is essential. Make sure your documents are backed up to a remote location at least daily, and make sure that you or somebody in your organization knows how to restore files from the backup.

Recovering Documents that Go Missing

If no recent backup is available, using a data recovery tool is your last chance to get the documents back. Today’s data recovery tools are highly advanced, allowing recovering documents deleted a long time ago or stored on damaged, corrupted and inaccessible media including formatted and repartitioned hard drives. However, the basic principle is the same: all data recovery tools are based on the fact that when a file is deleted, Windows does not destroy its contents, but merely marks the space it occupied as free and available for other programs to write to.

Data recovery tools such as Hetman Uneraser come equipped with two modes that they could use to analyze the disk. In the Quick mode, these tools read the file system, displaying a list of recoverable documents in just seconds. The other mode called Comprehensive Recovery is the most technically challenging. In this mode, the tool employs a signature search algorithm. This algorithm will read the entire surface of the hard drive, looking for characteristic persistent signatures identifying supported types of files. Once a familiar signature is encountered, the tool will discover and analyze the file’s header in order to determine the exact beginning and end of the file. This, in turn, allows the tool to calculate the exact physical location of the file even if the file system is badly damaged or completely missing.

Office documents are among the easiest to work with. They have clear and repeatable persistent signatures allowing the signature search algorithm to work. Here is a brief list of file signatures available in documents produced with the various versions of Microsoft Office.

  • Word 97-2003 document (*.doc): “D0 CF”;

  • Word 2007-2013 document (*.docx): “50 4B”;

  • Excel 97-2003 spreadsheet (*.xls): “09 08”;

  • Excel 2007-2014 spreadsheet (*.xlsx): “50 4B”;

  • PowerPoint 97-2003 presentation (*.ppt): “00 6E”;

  • PowerPoint 2007-2013 presentation (*.pptx): “50 4B”;

Conclusion

Using proper locations to keep your office documents and making regular backups are great preventive measures against data loss. If you’ve lost a document or the whole bunch of them, do not despair. Modern data recovery tools can reliably detect, locate and restore documents even if they are stored on a badly damaged, corrupted, formatted or repartitioned hard drive or other storage media.

Author: Michael Miroshnichenko

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