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Email I Was Composing has Disappeared. Can I Get it Back?

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I was responding to an email, but my response disappeared. Do you know a way I can retrieve it?

The longer, original question was a disaster waiting to happen. Before I get to that, though, I want to address a very 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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Undo

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.

What The ???!!!!The scenario that’s 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.

Draft folder

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. 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.

Restart

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, likely being 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:

 %TMP%

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 as close to the time of loss as possible. 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 indefinitely, assuming it would always be there and ready to resume.

Sorry, but that really is asking for problems. Keeping windows of work in progress open — any work in progress — without at least a couple of extra steps is just asking for that work to be lost. Be it through an unexpected reboot (hello, Windows 10 updates!), a crash, or perhaps 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 that 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.

Podcast audio

Play

Video Narration

Footnotes

1: Yes, this happens to me too. More often than I care to admit.

2: ESC “:w” in my text editor, Vim.

69 comments on “Email I Was Composing has Disappeared. Can I Get it Back?”

  1. I sometimes lose what I was composing and can’t find it anywhere. I discovered that when I type too fast I accidentally hit the key under the shift key with my fingernail as I was capitalizing and everything disappears.

      • What a life saver you are thank you, I spent quite a bit of time online panicking, Reading through different people solutions to no avail until i came across your solution several repeated ctrl+z and it magically appeared bravo thanks for sharing.

      • I also was composing an email to a cruise line today. I went to remove a letter in a word and all of a sudden I was looking at one of my folders. Don’t know how this happened but I have lost my email which I spent a lot of time on. I just now tried control Z but nothing happened. Any suggestions please . I was not answering an email I was composing one.

        • As the article described, you are very likely out of luck. Looks like your email program or browser crashed, and if there’s no automatic copy in some kind of “Drafts” folder, then there’s little to nothing that can be done.

  2. I’ve had a few e-mails disappear before I could finish them and hit send. The reasons varied. Some were just short replies and easily rewritten, but after it happened to a long, detailed reply I’d spent some time on, I decided that in future, when I have to write an e-mail like that which would be hard to re-create, I write them in Notepad, then paste the finished reply into an e-mail’s body. That way, even if the computer crashes, I’ve been clicking “Save” all along while writing and have only lost a couple of sentences at most. I only do this for e-mails that would be a real pain to have to start over, but it’s paid off a couple of times and I was glad I’d adopted that way of doing it.

  3. I was composing an email and I saved it several times. I got called away from my work, and when I came back I had timed out. How can I find what I had saved?
    Thankou

    That depends entirely on what email program you use. Most place auto-saved messages into a “Draft” folder.

    -Leo

  4. I, too, have suffered by having a lengthy email accidentally disappear just as I was finishing it. Now, if I know it’s a long one, I compose in Word and then copy and paste it into my Hotmail email. I’ve never figured out which key is the culprit, but it’s one at the bottom of the keyboard and if I just brush it, everything is gone. Aaaaarrgh!!!! So save, save, save……

  5. This disappearing email as I compose it is becoming a big problem now for me in outlook express. It use to happen periodically. Now the cursor jumps at random into another part of the email continually and emails under composition totally disappear. I have figured out that if I open a ‘create’ new email to compose rather than a ‘reply’ to compose & DON’T put the address or subject on until just before I send, it seems to NOT disappear. Also sometimes I highlight the whole email and hit copy just to be sure I don’t loose it.
    What a mess.

  6. I don’t know what email service you are using, but this has happened to me MANY times with my Outlook Express. All I do to get my message back, is hit Ctrl Z …..and voila!
    Maybe this will help YOU, too. Good luck.

  7. It happened to me multiple times that my drafts would suddenly be highlighted and in a flash disappear. I know the panic.
    Then a friend showed me how to retrieve the draft.
    Answer: Ctrl Z. Hit at the “same” time. If you hit one first, even if you hold it down while you hit the other, it won’t work.

    Try it. It works.
    littleray

  8. I am a touch-typist and found the text of my emails suddenly disappear never to be found again. I assumed that I had hit a combination of keys that represented some kind of shortcut. I use a Dell Desktop. I never experienced this problem before, so tried to simulate it. It did happen once, but I couldn’t work out which keys I had hit. I did try the Ctrl Z solution from above. but sadly that didn’t bring back the lost text. A person I know told me that he used a key combination (which he has forgotten) to hide his text if somebody seemed to want to look over his shoulder. He stated that there is a combination that brought back the ‘Hidden’ text.

  9. One tip to keep from losing what you type into a browser input field, such as emails, FaceBook, article comments etc., is to type them into a program like Notepad or Wordpad and do periodic saves. I’ve lost stuff I was typing into a browser window due to browser or website problems. When done, I copy and paste it into the browser window. Another benefit to this is that I have saved copy of saving what I typed which I can choose to keep or delete.

    Also, If you accidentally erase what you are typing in a browser window or text editor, or for that matter almost any program, Ctrl+z will normally restore what you typed. Ctrl+z is similar to the Undo button, and it often works in programs that don’t have an Undo button.

  10. I lose email stuff when I accidentally hit a key around right Shift key. I have a Toshiba Satellite Laptop. My son has a different brand and hits Ctrl V to retrieve his stuff but I know Toshiba doesn’t use the same letters with the Ctrl key as other computers as I have found out through experimenting.

    • I believe you mean Ctrl+Z. That is the undo key combination, and it works with most computers and most programs.Ctrl+V is the paste command.

  11. I, too, will be in the middle of typing a reply and shazam, gone! This happens weekly, I’m ready to throw Windows 8 and the computer out the window! Is there not a real solution?

    • I’d have to know what email program you’re using. There are so many possibilities for why this might happen that there will never be a single, simple answer I’m afraid.

    • I’m going to guess that you are not using an email program and are using the web interface of an email provider. Unfortunately, data entry on a web form (of which the email writing window is) can be fragile sometimes. Due to either quirks in the web site or quirks in the browser often caused by buggy add-ins. I’ve lost stuff in web forms to the point where if I’m going to type something long on a web form, I type it first into a text editor or word processor. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember and lose data.

  12. Can’t find my letter which got lost in the middle of composition on my yahoo mail. it said i touched view incognito which i didn’t choose to do. It went poofff in thin air. Can i retrieve it pls.?

  13. Just had the same thing happen to me. That is, I replied to an email and then switched to another email for an instant and my message was gone. But I was able to recover it! Initially, I thought it wasn’t in my draft box, but it was actually hidden in there. Since that box has a default sort of ‘Date’, I expected my new response to be at the top. It was just the opposite. Since I hadn’t sent it yet, the date was set to ‘none’ and thus was at the bottom of my draft box.

  14. I lost my e-mail and found it in draft. I was told to send it to myself and to the person it was intended for. I did this but the message itself was not sent. Help!

    • This is just a guess, but from the sound of your question it sounds like you were composing an email, and then deleted it, lost it, the browser closed, or something to that effect. The drafts folder will hold auto-save versions of any email you are composing. Your email client will be set to save on a certain timeframe, like every 5 minutes. So what probably happened is that you found the email in drafts but it wasn’t a complete copy because it was saved before you finished writing. If that is the case it cannot be recovered and you’ll have to write it again.

  15. August 19, 2016
    My problem was that the draft with the “magically” deleted text, saved itself instantly. I sat there flummoxed staring at my laptop mouth hanging open in dismay. Used be the draft didn’t save for quite awhile should you forget to save it yourself

    Now there is no undo. I have mid sentence lost two very important gmails, never to be found again. I had saved some of it to notepad but not enough to make a cogent finish. There must be a middle ground between instant save and long timed save. Aaaarg. HELP GMAIL.

    Window 7, Firefox 48, 64 bit, Toshiba Portege T835R, Intel Core 13

  16. I found this article using “recover draft email after outlook crashes” … So to help others, I am posting my final discovery (whew):

    1) For those like me whose outlook crashed mid-draft… reopen and OLD draft was there not NEW changes (ahhh): Hopefully outlook told you “can’t save… will save in current folder” then look in the header of that draft and you will see the words: “This is the most recent version, but you made changes to another copy. Click here to see the other versions.” When I did that my NEW changes came up in TWO different emails about a minute apart from each as the changes go.

    2) For those who lost an attachment… Find you temp folder and hopefully it’s there: C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Outlook\13N8K4SD (you can either google search on “where is my outlook OLK file” or you can open another attachment in your email somewhere and look at it’s properties which should show you the path which is usually hidden so you’d need to copy and past the path without the file name… Side Note: a long time ago I simply added this folder to my Favorites bar in my Windows Explorer file manager so that I wouldn’t have to keep searching for it… Great place to clean up stuff if you are running out of drive space for those with older computers).

    3) Search google on how-to-recover-outlook-e-mail and click the one on the techwalla site

  17. CNTRL + Z ……………………………Laptops are notorious for erasing full paragrahs. Don’t fiddle with it before hitting CNRTRL + Z (Undo). (If page changes, don’t think you will get it back. Doesn’t matter whether on Windows or on an online form. Get your nicely- worded sentence or paragraph back. So good to use!!!!!

  18. I have an Android.I had written an email and it said sending your request but froze and didn’t go through. I tried to get it to send by going to another place and I lost it. Is it lost forever?

  19. I wrote an email with out internet as my email page was open and I was over seas. it took hours to write it. When I got wifi I clicked save draft and it just loaded me back into the email page… nothing in my drafts… is there anyway for me to find this now?

    • Did you look in the trash folder? I’d check all of the email folders on the page. If it’s not in one of them, it might be lost.

  20. If it’s the contents of the Email that have gone, If you are very quick, you can press control and Z and it will jump back – you do have to be quick but it works.

    • Yes. Ctrl-z is undo. So the exact way it works is that if you have done something in the email program (or almost any program for that matter) Ctrl-z will undo the last action. Many programs allow multiple undo’s so you can keep hitting ctrl-z until you get back to the point you want. In fact, you can also hit “edit” in the top bar and select Undo there. Often that screen will show you all the undo points available to you.

  21. I accidentally deleted my entire Drafts section contents in Gmail 5 days ago – Is there anyway to restore those drafts? Thank you –

  22. An interesting thing I found today. I have just migrated to office 2016 (64Bit) and a peculiar problem has shown up.
    If I reply to an email (inline – not pop out) and I start typing. If I were to go to my “calendar” for example to validate that the information I am putting in my reply is valid, when I return to my draft, the content has disappeared.
    I have been able to reproduce this problem consistently so I think that there is a bug in the microsoft outlook inline reply mechanism that causes this behaviour to occur. Steps to reproduce my problem are:
    1. read the email in the reading pane on the right
    2. select “reply” at the top of the screen.
    3. type your reply in the place provided.
    4. change to the “calendar” section to check your appointments.
    5. return to the “mail” section and your draft copy has disappeared.

    • Usually if you go back to your inbox, you will see the email you were replying to with [DRAFT] next to it and you will be able to continue your response.

  23. I’ve had 31 emails, some with photo attachments, autosaved in my draft folder – until last night. Upon opening the draft folder to rework one of the drafts, I found all of the drafts still saved, including the ‘Subject’, and attachments, but the 31 drafted texts are gone, although it still says they are “saved”. There is only an empty page with the command to “Write something”. Nothing in the trash or other folders – nowhere! So I tried to add an address and ‘write something’ but this didn’t work. The entire mechanism is shut down. Please tell me – what may have happened here? Is there a way to restore my texts?

    • Without knowing exactly what email system you’re using it’s impossible for me to speculate. But in general I can think of no way to recover. Unless you somehow had a backup of what you’d been saving in drafts folders, if they’re gone they’re gone. One of the reasons I’m very reluctant to rely on any email system’s draft folders for anything more than a few minutes or hour or saving.

  24. If you originate a REPLY from an email in Windows 10 and you did not POP OUT then you’ll find the email in that file where you replied from.

    • This works, but just found out that not always! What just happened to me: I could not, for the life of me, find my draft, not even attached to the original email I was replying to. After two hours composing! I looked EVERYWHERE! Drafts, Deleted, Sent folders. Nothing. I was starting to come to terms with having to retype it… until it occurred to me to look in the DRAFTS folder ON MY PHONE. And there it was!!! You cannot imagine the relief! 🙂 The only explanation I can find why it disappeared on my computer is that I had also altered the subject text, so maybe it could no longer attach to the original?

  25. A minute or two after exiting a half-finished email I was composing to look for information in another document , I tried to go back to the one I was composing and I can’t find it. And ANOTHER THING! Where are ALL OF MY OLD EMAILS. They contain valuable info.
    Gail McL

  26. I can’t find my regular EMAIL file. What’s going on! I don’t like this new version. I need my file of OLD EMAILS BACK as it has valuable stuff I need to refer to OFTEN.

  27. LOOK I AM DEAF PERSON THAT WHAT HAPPENED ON MY EMAIL THAT WAS IT AND PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT THAT TO ME PLEASE THANK U DEAF PERSON

  28. Hello,
    The problem of the moment is also the issue of the year. Sometimes when i am typing an email, (still a hotmail account but needless to say, it is part of OUTLOOK now.) i hit some key…have no idea what key(s), and my email gets shoved to the left hand side of the screen. On the right is something akin to programming language in my estimation., or specifications of some sort. I saw an x at the top right, clicked it, and my email returns. HOWEVER, this morning i am typing on a forwarded email, with my info about what the email is about. Again I hit something, and the entire original message dissappears, except for one ______________________________________ type line, and the letters above it are
    nd ar. yesterday an upgrade on the computer happened…. and it took me forever to figure out that my email might be in draft… it was, but only the stuff listed above NOT the email with all the info. Is there a way to recover it, it’ rather important.

    i think if i ever need to write more than a sentence, i will do it in word and then copy it into the email. also, do you have any idea what key(s) i hit by accident that makes the “programming language” show up, or the dissapearance of a whole email? so i hopefully wont do it again.

    (My longtime question, is when something is working well, why do they tell you that the update or the upgrade will make it better? I find it is almost impossible to find things, or understand their new non-word instructions, and it extremely rare if it is in fact, an improvement. )
    thank you.

    • Using word processor or text editor to compose an email or a long comment in a web-form is a fantastic idea. In most cases, you can use Notepad or Wordpad as they start up much quicker than Word. Word has the slight advantage of autosaving as you type, but it’s so rare that Notepad or Wordpad would lose data, that I stick with Wordpad which opens instantly.

  29. I should have composed in Libre Office, but it started as a brief reply.

    After I was nearly finished (and had been actively editing it for about 20 mins) all of a sudden, Microsoft pops-up saying, “due to inactivity” (WTH?) you must sign out and in again”!!!! It wouldn’t let me do anything except click OK (the background screen was fogged out).

    Keep in mind that I had been working long enough the draft had saved numerous times. I sign out & in, and the draft message is GONE! Then, I go into sent items, nothing there, back to drafts– it’s there, the recipient name flashed up for a split second, then disappears and it says “draft” again??? I open the draft, and the message is BLANK!

    I NEVER have issues with Gmail. Why-oh-why did I trust outlook.com!

    • You were right with your first statement not to trust any online provider not to lose your data. It’s always best to compose in a word processor or text editor. The advantage of a word processor is the auto-save. I keep mine to one minute. It’s operation quite transparent and doesn’t slow up anything.

  30. Add me to the “email lost while composing” list. After reading this very helpful string of messages, I figured out how and why. And the Control Z recovered the lost text!!!!

    What’s happened to me is that when I need to capitalize an “A”, my clumsy fingers sometimes hit the “Control” key and not the “Shift” key. Control A deletes everything. Gone. Goodbye. Scream of frustration :-\

    But, the Control Z does restore it so my sanity is preserved!! Thank you for leading me to the path of understanding WHY, and again for the Control Z correction!! Great message thread!!

  31. I have found that the only way to safeguard against letters disappearing is to start composing then put it drafts and complete the letter in drafts, works for me when I remember to go that way

  32. DEAR MR LEO,MY COMPUTER DOES NOT WANT TO OPEN THE=EMAIL LIST=….
    LOOKS LIKE ==BLOCKED==…I WOULD VERY MUCH APPRECIATE IF YOU CAN HELP ME..
    I AM 91 YEARS OLD AND I KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT COMPUTER.
    THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY….

  33. I had been working on a draft all day and I would close and click on save draft. The last time I did this it was no longer in my drafts. It disappeared. This was sad as it took me a good portion of the day to create. I have no energy to recreate the email right now so the person will have to wait. It did happen one other time and I was able to retrieve it on my phone. Not this time though (and no I did not click on the wrong option, send or delete; it just is gone). There is definitely a flaw in the system (as again, I clicked on save draft several times throughout the day. This is very unfortunate.

    • I use Thunderbird to manage my emails. It seems to do a good job of saving drafts. I’ve never lost any email I was composing with Thunderbird. Some people recommend composing their emails in a Word or Text processor and copying and pasting. That is definitely the safest as long as you CRTL+S frequently enough to save your work often. CRTL+S also works in Thunderbird. And the advantage over copying an pasting is that your doing it all in one program, composing and sending.

  34. Why is it that oftentimes I fill in all of the required fields that r marked * , but they still will not show???

    Again, how can I retrieve a questionnaire that I was filling out that just disappeared?? I do not remember all of the questions nor my detailed, lengthy answers! I have tried to find it but am unable.

    • Unfortunately, it might not be possible to retrieve. And this not being the same as an email, the chances of retrieval are even lower.

  35. CTRL+S is not only for email but is useful in almost any program which allows you to input text such as word processors, spreadsheets etc. When I’m working on a spreadsheet or a word processing document or just about any program, I’ll hit CTRL+S whenever I minimize it to switch to something else.

    If your program allows you to set the time between auto-saves, set it at a low number, Computers are so fast now that a save every minute is transparent. But I don’t rely only on the auto-save, I still periodically hit CTRL+S

  36. Funny story, I heard my wife yell’n, pitch’n a fit along with some adjectives I cant repeat, then my name. When she calls me by name, its trouble and what ever, its my fault. So, reluctantly, I check it out, she’s even throwing stuff at the cats……when she sees me, (here it comes) “its your fault,” I lost my email message…guys, under no circumstance do you tell your wife “she miss typed,” nope, it will make for a bad day! Been there…calmly walk over and type control + z, peace returns, the cats come back…I gingerly make reference to several labels at the bottom of her screen bezel, one is labeled “control+z,” and duck as something may come flying my direction

  37. I have ascertained that an original email I received could have been “written over” when I changed the SUBJECT line slightly.
    I remember getting a message to the effect that the original has been changed and will not be retrievable.
    Nevertheless, could the original email still be on a server somewhere, cloud, Google office, or whatever!!
    I would be grateful for a collaboration here.

  38. I like the last paragraph of your article. I often preach this to others.

    “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.”

    In my early days of emailing, no one would dream of typing a long email. Training in the various Microsoft Office tools was intended to make us proficient in creating Word documents and other items in the Office suite which would be added as attachments to emails.

  39. I’m running Win 7 using Thunderbird for emails.
    Whilst writing a reply, a small window appeared asking if I wanted to delete; save; cancel. This took me by surprise, and before I could get the cursor over ‘save’, within five seconds of appearing, the dialogue box and the email disappeared; the Thunderbird program shut down, and the computer logged off, shut down, then re-started reconfiguring. It took 17 minutes to get back into my Thunderbird with no sign of the email reply I was writing.

    This happened at precisely 08:00 local (UK). Some kind of automatic update has occurred, and I cannot find a way of controlling same, nor contacting Thunderbird and having a gripe!

  40. Oh my god you are a star! Thank you sooo much!
    I tried the Ctrl Z a coupe of times and it worked. I never knew this action and so many times I have had this happen! You have saved my time today…magical!

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