How to Manually Back Up Your Data in Windows

You don’t need to run a backup program to make a backup. In fact, anytime you copy a file, you’re essentially making a backup; the duplicate file is a safety copy of the original. As long as the copy is saved to an external storage device or media, it’s an official backup.

These steps demonstrate how to manually create a backup copy of one or more files. These steps work for any version of Windows, and you can use them whether or not your computer has a backup program. To complete these steps, you need an external storage device, such as a media card, USB thumb drive, or external drive:

  1. Open the folder containing the files you want to back up.

    If you’re backing up a folder, that folder’s parent folder must be visible.

    Backing up your account, or user profile folder, by using the file-copy method is not advisable. That’s because your account folder and all its subfolders is probably larger than any storage media you have. You may run out of room on the backup media and won’t know about it until it’s too late.

  2. Click to select the files or folders you want to back up.

    To select more than one icon at a time, press and hold the Ctrl key as you click each icon.

  3. Press Ctrl+C to copy the files.

    The Ctrl+C key combination places the file(s) into the Windows Clipboard until you paste them into another folder, which completes the entire copy operation.

  4. Insert the removable media into your PC.

    Plug in the USB thumb drive or stick a media card into your PC’s media card reader. If the removable storage device is already there, you’re set to go.

    You can also use an optical disc. Ensure that the disc has been inserted and prepared by Windows for use as a data disc.

  5. If you see the AutoPlay dialog box, choose the option Open Folder to View Files; skip to Step 8.

    When the AutoPlay dialog box doesn’t appear, manually open the external storage device by using the Computer window:

  6. Open the Computer window.

    In Windows XP, it’s the My Computer window. The window lists all storage devices attached to your PC. One device should represent the storage media you’re copying the files to.

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  7. Open the icon representing the removable media.

  8. Create a new folder for the backup: Right-click in the media’s window and choose New→Folder from the shortcut menu.

    You will find life easier to deal with if you create a special backup folder.

  9. Name the folder to reflect the backup contents and today’s date.

    You can use something like work.2009-06-01.bak. That’s the name work for the content, and then the date, and then the letters bak for backup.

  10. Open the folder.

  11. Press Ctrl+V to paste in the files, which effectively copies them from your PC’s hard drive to the backup media.

  12. Properly eject the media and keep it in a safe place, such as a fire safe.

For backups to be effective, you must keep making them. You should back up on a regular schedule to catch new or modified files.

Another valid way to back up is to place all your file duplicates into a compressed folder. A compressed folder is also a Zip file, which is also an archive. The advantage of using a compressed folder for your file-copy backups is that it takes up less space on the backup media.

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