Compare Documents in Word

The Compare Documents function in Word is probably one of the least used features despite being very powerful because it’s not easy to figure out the first time, or even the second or third. However, I’ve been using it for years, and was asked to guide another author through it, so thought I’d post the results for everyone’s benefit. If you have a different use for this powerful feature, or something to add, please leave a comment so others can benefit.

First of all, what are some of the reasons to bother learning how to use the Compare Documents? Skip to instructions

1) A big issue with manuscripts is versioning. If you ever lose track of what is the most recent copy, you can compare documents to see what the differences are between the two you suspect of being the latest.

2) If you have an RTF document with a later date than the most recent Word document, you can compare to see if you made any last minute edits before submitting in the magazine/publisher’s preferred format.

3) If you are working from two versions, say you’ve got a book chapter you think would make a good short story, you can compare the two after your changes to make sure you didn’t accidentally leave something important out.

4) The suggestion of keeping deleted material for later reuse either in the manuscript or as part of your promotion activities is a great one, but what if you didn’t do it? Well, you can pull an older version from your backups (you do keep backups don’t you?) and do a document compare to see all the differences between the older and latest version.

5) What if you get your edits/feedback electronically? You can use document compare to bring all the comments together in a single document to make it easier to review the responses. Note: There can be difficulties if the same section of text is edited differently by multiple people.

6) If you have changes you want to incorporate selectively, you can do the compare into a third document and use it to skim through changes.

So, you’re ready to take on the challenge of learning something new, but are still wondering just what Compare Documents does? This function takes two documents and either incorporates the changes into one of the documents or creates a new document that is a merge of the two. How do you know what changed? This is one of the nice parts. Whether in the new document or one of the originals, any changed content is marked using Tracked Changes.

And now down to brass tacks. I will be providing the full directions in Word 2010, which should be the same as Word 2007, but the Word 2003 and 2000 setups are very similar once you substitute “menu” for “ribbon.”

1) Decide which is your “original” and which is the “revised” document. This is critical, because it determines the directions of the track changes. If you choose incorrectly, all the new text will show up as a delete, annoying, but not a crisis since you can just redo the comparison in the other direction.

2) Click the Review tab to open the Review ribbon.
Compare Documents Step 1
3) You have two options: Compare two versions, or Combine revisions from multiple authors. Select Compare two versions.
Compare Documents Step 2
4) Here’s where you select your documents.
Compare Documents Step 3a) Click the drop down arrow to see recent documents.
b) Click the folder to browse your system.
Note: If you accidentally do the files in the wrong order, use the double arrow symbol under the document selection to swap them.
c) Label changes with a unique set of initials if you want.
d) Change what kind of changes show in Comparison Settings (Note: Click the More button if you don’t see this part). As you see here, I’ve removed most of the formatting because they distract me from what I’m looking for.
e) Under Show Changes, select what level and where. Note: I always choose New document. You can save over the original if you wish, and this way you don’t risk corrupting the original.

5) Click OK and review the results. This image is a glimpse at the differences between an earlier version of my short story Forged and the one that one the SF Reader contest. You can read the final version online of Forged if you want to see that the changes were worth it.
The result of a Compare Documents

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