How can I make Word save or back up my document automatically?
Article contributed by Suzanne S. Barnhill
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,
This article will discuss some of the more often misunderstood options in the
Save Options dialog (shown below: some of the options on the dialog vary between
Word versions, but the ones discussed here are present in all versions).
This figure shows the Save tab of the Options dialog as seen in Word 2003 and
earlier; in Word 2007, these options are divided between Office Button | Word
Options | Save and Office Button | Word Options | Advanced: Save
Allow fast saves
Although this is the second option, we’ll tackle it first because (a) in
Word 97 and earlier it is checked by default (which it should not be), and (b)
it is one of the top three causes of document corruption (the others are
Documents and saving directly to a floppy).
What it does
The theory of Fast Saves is explained in several Microsoft Knowledge Base
articles, the most recent of which is
WD2002: Frequently Asked
Questions About “Allow Fast Saves.” According to this article, “If
you turn on the Allow fast saves feature, Word appends any changes to the
end of the document file rather than re-writing the entire file. The Allow
fast saves feature thus takes less time than a full save of the document.
The difference in time is only noticeable when you are working on very large
What it doesn’t do
Well, it doesn’t save noticeably faster, as Microsoft admits. Moreover, you can
imagine the possibilities for corruption when Word keeps tacking edits onto the
end of your document, intending to straighten the whole mess out later when you
do a full save. Meanwhile, your file size keeps getting larger and larger. You
can see why we advise you to turn this option off!
Note: Partly because of its potential for causing corruption but
largely because it was no longer needed, this option has been removed from Word
Always create backup copy
You can’t enable this option without disabling fast saves; they are mutually
exclusive. And we do advise you to enable it.
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 on removable media
(floppies, CDs, tape drive, 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. 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 (Office Button | Word Options | Save in Word 2007).
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
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
One caveat: Word does create temp files while you’re working, and
it creates 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
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
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.”
Note: I have observed that the switch from Standard to
Daylight-Saving time (or vice versa) always occasions 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.
The closest thing to AutoSave
I’ve said that there is no AutoSave feature in Word. But you can
accomplish the next best thing by downloading the
Automatically save Word documents add-in from
Mayor’s site. 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.
Word's Save Options