8 steps to retrieve a lost SharePoint document

SPdocgone-header2We frequently get calls from colleagues whose documents have “disappeared” from their SharePoint site. Over time, we have come up with a few steps to investigate and (often) find them.

They are comparable with the steps taken when you misplace a OneDrive document, but finding lost documents in SharePoint is a bit more complicated than finding them in OneDrive:

  • Other people can edit or delete documents
  • You only have 1 OneDrive (which is one document library), but you probably work in multiple document libraries in multiple SharePoint sites
  • Permissions can vary within and across sites

On the plus side, there is a Site Owner and a SharePoint admin who may be able to help you out!

What could have happened?

These are the most frequent “disappearing acts” of documents:

  • Deleted (deleting a synced folder without disconnecting it first also deletes the documents from SharePoint!)
  • Renamed
  • Moved to another folder in the same document library
  • Moved to another library in the site
  • Moved to another site. This means the original document has been deleted.
  • Moved to your OneDrive
  • Permissions have changed and you no longer have access
  • Metadata have changed so it appears in a different view than usual

Which tools are available?

  • Search
  • Recycle bin
  • The document details pane
  • The site owner or your SharePoint admin

Where to start?

Just like my post about the disappeared web parts and lost documents on OneDrive, I have thought about the best possible order to use the available tools. It may appear to be fastest if you go to the Recycle Bin first, but that may be quite a chore if your site is active, your document has been deleted some time ago and/or document name, the author or the suspected deleter starts with M or N. Sadly you can only Sort, and not Search, in the Recycle bin.

My suggestion would be to first try and find the document in the original library. But please, feel free to disagree! It also depends…:)

1. Search in the Document Library where it used to live

Found it? Open it to see whether this is the document you are looking for. It has most likely been moved from one folder to another, or metadata has changed so it appears in a different view. Take step 2 to find the location if you do not see it straight away and/or confirm with step 7 to see what exactly has happened if you are curious.

SPdocgone-searchlibrary
There are two documents in this library. You can click to open them from there or click “Show more results”

No luck? Move on!

2. Search in the SharePoint site

You can easily do this by clicking “Expand search to all items in this site” on the bottom of the Search results page from step 1.

SPdocgone-searchlibrary2
You do not get any more results in this case, nor the exact location of your documents, but this view allows you to expand search and that will give you more info.
SPdocgone-searchlibrary3
So there is another result if you search in the site. If you get too many results, you may want to use the Files tab and/or the Filters to narrow down. And…this view will show you the path of the document!

Found it? Note down the path and navigate to it to confirm this is the correct document. The document has been moved to another library. Confirm with step 7 if you feel the need.

No luck? Move on!

After this, you can do what is most easy for you.

3. Search from the SharePoint landing page

Found it? Well you are lucky! Unless your document has a very unique name, it will be hard to find between all the other documents in your organization. (Of course, using the Files tab and the Filters should help a little). So, it has been moved to another site. Note down the path and confirm it is the correct document. Confirm with step 7.

SPdocgone-spsearch
Results from SharePoint search. In this case you get results from all of SharePoint, so it will be necessary to narrow down the results by using the Files tab and the Filters. You see there is also a result from OneDrive.

Results from OneDrive are also shown in SharePoint search, so if you have accidentally moved the document to OneDrive, you will find it there as well. Unless you want to know WHEN you did this, there’s no need to confirm with step 7 as you are the only one who could have done this. 🙂

No luck? It has probably been deleted, renamed or had its permissions changed (with or without moving). Take any of the next steps to find out.

4. Search in Office365

Frankly, chances are slim that you will find it here but you can try! If it is not in OneDrive and not in SharePoint (including Teams) it may be in Outlook or Yammer but would you not remember if you have done that? But, just to be on the safe side, give it a try.

Found it? Congratulations! Now move it back to where it belongs!

No luck? Well, you really did not expect to find it after all your other trials, right? Time to look in the Recycle bin.

5. Check the Recycle bin

Found it? Restore it.

No luck? Move on!

6. Ask the site owner if they know, or to search in Library or Site

Found it? It has probably moved to a place to where you do not have access, or you have actively been removed from the access group. Discuss with the site owner to give you access again, if possible.

No luck? Move on.

7. Check the Document Library’s details pane

In some cases you may want to do this earlier, but especially in a busy SharePoint site you need to scroll a lot! If someone knows a good way to export the data into a nice Excel file or something, please let me know.

The details pane is context-sensitive and will display different details depending whether you are on the document library landing page or in a folder.

DisappearedDocs-infopane
Nice icons, clear descriptions and clickable links for documents that are still in this folder or library. Deleted documents are not clickable.

Found it? Confirm it is the correct document and note down the path and/or new name.

No luck? There is one last option…to be done when all else fails.

8. Ask your SharePoint administrator

Your SharePoint admin will likely have permissions to everything so if they can not find the document in Office365 search, it will not exist in its original shape anymore.
Additionally, they can also check the 2nd stage Recycle bin to see if it has been deleted.

Found it in Office365 Search? Confirm it is the document, note down the path and ask the site owner to give you permissions again.
Found it in the 2nd Stage Recycle bin? Ask your SharePoint admin to restore it.
Confirm what has happened with step 7 and give your SharePoint admin a compliment on Yammer or Teams for everyone to see! 🙂

No luck? Sorry….

Any other thoughts?

Did I miss something? Do you think there is a better order? Any other tricks to share? Please let me know!

Image courtesy of ronnieb on Morguefile.com

8 thoughts on “8 steps to retrieve a lost SharePoint document

  1. Ciaran Fletcher November 25, 2019 / 11:59 am

    I think the order is good. I also sometimes get requests to find documents where several people are syncing a document library and someone moves a folder and someone else who is syncing is offline for a while. When they come back online, strange things can happen about which location gets priority, and the documents can be close to the top of folder structure in the library.

    • Ellen van Aken November 25, 2019 / 12:10 pm

      Oh, good one, thanks! Synching can cause confusion indeed – I have had an occasion where someone deleted the synched folder from their PC, not knowing it would delete the online equivalent as well. That was fun as it was hundreds of documents…

  2. Nancy Skaggs (@Nanskatoon) November 25, 2019 / 12:02 pm

    Good stuff!! I’d also add- perhaps it’s checked out to someone else? One of the places I always check is under Library Settings, “Files that have no checked in version” – often there are items here that have been dragged/dropped in, or otherwise not checked in, and others cannot see them.

  3. Jason Brownhill November 25, 2019 / 12:37 pm

    What about the second stage recycle bin, or site collection recycle bin? In Office365, all owners of sites get site collection administrator access and can see the 2nd level recycle bin that standard members can’t.

    • Ellen van Aken November 26, 2019 / 6:33 pm

      Ooh, I have never done that before, sounds interesting! Although the cause is generally “I deleted it by accident” or “someone has moved the file”.

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