The case of the disappearing message.
Type CTRL+Z. It may not work, and I’ll have some other things to try in a moment, but start there.
The longer, original question was a disaster waiting to happen. Before I get to that, though, I want to address a common scenario: you’re typing a nice lengthy response in email, and all of a sudden it’s gone.
There are many reasons this can happen — some benign, some disastrous.
With so many possibilities, though, there are a few things to try to see if you can get it back before you panic.
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When email you’re working on suddenly disappears:
- Type CTRL+Z for “undo”.
- Check your drafts folder.
- Restart your email program or browser and check the drafts folder again.
Most importantly, save your work often while composing your message so it’s been saved somewhere should something happen.
The very first thing I do in these situations1 is type CTRL+Z. That’s the keystroke sequence for the “undo” command. Many times, whatever just disappeared returns just as quickly. If it doesn’t, I type it more than once, just in case.
The scenario being “undone” is usually something like this:
- Somehow everything in your message got selected. Accidentally typing CTRL+A for “select all” is the most common cause.
- Before noticing that everything’s selected, you type another character, which replaces the current selection.
Undo undoes that replacement. Problem solved in a single keystroke.
Most email services and programs have a “drafts” folder into which they periodically save a copy of what you’re working on. That’s the next place I look.
You may find your work in progress. You may find most of your work in progress. You may find some of your work in progress. You may find nothing at all. It all depends on how often your service or program updates what you’re working on to the drafts folder.
This, too, has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
Particularly if the CTRL+Z trick didn’t work, I’m tempted to restart my mail program, or, for web-based email services, close and re-open my web browser.
The thinking here is that occasionally they get confused. Web browser caches sometimes provide what can only be termed “unexpected results”. While it’s a bit of a long shot, restarting your browser can sometimes fix display issues with the email service you’re using, and your partially completed message might reappear in the drafts folder.
I do have to reiterate that this is a long shot.
Recovering from crashes
If your computer, email program, or web browser crashes while you’re composing your email, you have few options for recovery.
Naturally, you’ll restart the program and return to your email interface. CTRL+Z is exceptionally unlikely to work here, having been erased by the crash. Your best hope is that the email system you use has a copy of your message in its draft folder.
A complex & geeky straw to grasp
Type the Windows Key plus “R”, and then type:
Click OK. That will run Windows File Explorer opened to your temporary files folder. Examine the contents of this folder for anything that looks like it might be a draft of your email in progress.
What that might look like I can’t say, but keep an eye out for files that carry the name of your email program, subject line, or anything else relevant, as well as files with a date/time stamp close to the time of loss. You can generally view their contents using Notepad, though it will likely be a binary mess.
The chances are low, but for the desperate, it is one more straw to grasp at.
The disaster waiting to happen
The original question included:
I clicked on “reply” and would write some, then clicked on the “minimize” box and it would be at the bottom of the screen ready to work on later. I did this several times; but over the weekend …
The technique being used was to keep the email compose window open forever, assuming it would always be there and ready to resume.
That is asking for problems. Keeping windows of work in progress open — any work in progress — for that long is just asking for your work to be lost. Be it through an unexpected reboot (hello, Windows 10 updates!), a crash, or even an “ESC” key typed in the wrong place at the wrong time (which closes the window), you are setting yourself up for data loss.
Save early, save often
Regardless of what technique you use to edit your email, the single most important thing you can to is periodically save your work in progress. Don’t assume someone else will save it for you.
It can be as simple as typing CTRL+S every so often while you work. In fact, I’m fairly convinced you can measure someone’s experience with technology by watching how often they type CTRL+S while working.
If you need to step away from the computer, type CTRL+S before you go. Even better, don’t just minimize; close the window, making sure to say “Yes” when it asks if you want to save your work in progress. That way you don’t have to worry about someone else answering “No” while you’re not around, and when you return, you’ll find it in the drafts folder.
Another preventative approach
Another technique I use from time to time is to compose not in my email program or web interface, but in an actual text editor or word processor. Those tools have frequent auto-saves, so I’d be hard-pressed to lose anything — not to mention that I keep hitting CTRL+S (or its equivalent2) periodically to save my work to disk.
1: Yes, this happens to me too. More often than I care to admit.