My daughter managed to stuff up the boot partition on her Windows XP by resetting the machine while it was still updating files. I added her drive to my PC and tried to access the partition, but after a few minutes of flashing lights Windows declared the whole thing corrupted. It's formatted NTFS, which makes things all the more fun. I couldn't even run the Windows Repair since the partition showed up as zero bytes, no data, no free space.
I do have a couple of backups of her data, one a partition image from March and the other a My Documents backup from last Monday. However, I wanted to salvage whatever I could so I took her drive from my PC and put it into a Ubuntu linux machine. Booted up, mounted the damaged partition and bingo! There are all the files.
I'm copying everything off now via the network, and the moral of the story is this: if you think you've lost everything off a hard drive partition, don't despair. Before you wipe it and start the long reinstall process, try the drive in a Linux machine first. You might be able to get everything back.
Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)