When important files disappear from your computer, your first instinct may be to take immediate, frantic action. While it is important to act quickly, doing so without taking the proper steps can actually worsen your chances of recovering your data. So, before you do anything else, take some time to read these tips.
First and foremost, don't panic. Take some relief in the fact that there's a very good chance that your files are still intact and can be easily recovered. If, that is, you go about it properly. That's because when you delete a file (e.g. by emptying it from the Recycle Bin or Trash Bin), it isn't eliminated right away. Instead, the file system simply flags the disk space as available for use by another program. So, if no other program has used that space yet, then 100% of your file is still there. The same is true even if you repartition or format a disk or drive.
The key is to avoid any read/write activity on the disk at all costs. Surfing the web, downloading programs, installing them and rebooting your machine are all very read/write intensive activities. For this reason, scouring the web for file undelete programs and trying them until you find one that works is about the worst thing you can do. It's entirely possible that the data recovery software you download will actually overwrite the file you are trying to salvage.
You can do a couple of things to prevent this from happening. If the data you are trying to recover is on a removable disk, such as flash card or USB drive, disconnect it for now. If the file you deleted was on your system disk (usually C:\) or an internal hard drive, stop using that computer. Use another machine to download and install a program such as R-Undelete or R-Studio. If you have the technical know-how, go ahead and remove the internal disk from the computer and attach it to a computer running your file recovery tool. Do not install your file recovery software to the same disk that you are trying to recover from. If you cannot remove the drive from the computer, then try using a portable version of R-Studio or R-Undelete installed on removable media.
If your data is lost because the hard drive is failing or being attacked by a virus, then you may want to create an image of the disk. This is a good tactic because it essentially "freezes" the disk in time, preventing any further loss of data. You can then perform your file recovery on the disk image, rather than the disk itself, which may be undergoing further damage as time goes on. Oftentimes, the very act of data recovery can cause further damage to a disk, particularly when the drive is physically damaged. A disk image stops this from happening. Disk images are also useful for complex recovery tasks, such as RAID recovery.
In summary, when you lose a file, make sure you do the following: