Collaboration Without Headaches

An easy way for a team to edit a memo, spreadsheet or presentation.

nyone who’s been part of a team that had to review a lengthy document knows how hard it is to track—let alone merge—the editorial changes recommended by each member. But thanks to sophisticated word-processing tools such as Microsoft’s latest version of Word in Office XP, the situation situation has improved. While group editing still can’t be considered a joyful activity, it’s no longer as difficult as gathering frogs in a wheelbarrow.
Three of Word’s features— Send for Review, Track Changes and Compare and Merge —make collaboration a lot more tolerable by streamlining the chores of sharing, revising and updating documents. Those features also work when reviewing files in two other Microsoft applications—Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. We’ll illustrate the functions in Word, but they work similarly in Excel and PowerPoint.

Begin by creating a document that will be reviewed by several people. It doesn’t matter where the file is situated—on your computer, a network or even a Web server—the process is the same (see exhibit 1 , at right).


To send this document to the reviewers, go to the toolbar and click on File, Send To, Mail Recipient (for Review) (see exhibit 2 , below).

  An unaddressed, blank e-mail message will pop up with the document you want reviewed attached and ready to be sent to whomever you wish (see exhibit 3 , below). The e-mail also will include a red follow-up flag, to indicate a reply is requested, and room for the sender to write a message. In our example, the lead reviewer stores the file on his computer and sends the document to the two reviewers, Duane Brandon and Aaron Crabtree, who are identified by their initials.

Because the document is being sent via the Send for Review function, the Track Changes function automatically becomes available. The user also can evoke Track Changes via the View toolbar (click on Reviewing ). Track Changes records and highlights any modifications to a document—from additions to deletions to format changes. Earlier versions of Word had this feature, but because changes were shown in the body of the document, users had trouble seeing them. As you’ll see, Word XP displays revisions off to the side of the document so the original is not obscured.

To illustrate, Duane Brandon (DB) makes the following changes to the example document (see exhibit 4 , above), while Aaron Crabtree (AC) makes other changes (not shown). From the exhibit you can see that red markups indicate each change to the document.

When reviewers finish their edits, they simply click on the Reply with Changes button on the Reviewing toolbar and the reviewed document is automatically attached to an e-mail addressed to the person who requested the review (see exhibit 5 , at right).

When the originator opens the reviewed document, he is prompted to decide whether to merge changes from the reviewed document into the original document (see exhibit 6 , below).

If he chooses yes, the original document will then appear with changes highlighted as they were when the reviewer made them. If another reviewer replies with changes, the originator gets the same type of prompt. Each reviewer’s changes are displayed in a different color—in this case red and blue (see exhibit 7 , below).

Now, by using the Reviewing toolbar (see exhibit 8 , at right), the originator can accept or reject changes reviewers made. Holding the cursor over any of the icons will disclose what each does.

Before making a decision on what changes to accept or reject, Track Changes allows you to view the document in a number of ways. Click on the down arrow to the right of Final Showing Markup and you will produce a drop-down menu with multiple choices. For example, you will have the option of seeing the final document with the proposed changes highlighted (see exhibit 9 , below) or what the final document would look like if all changes were accepted by the originator. You also can view changes recommended by particular reviewers or see changes from all reviewers at once.

Similarly, you can choose how to accept or reject revisions: Either accept or reject all of them at once or accept changes one by one with the Reviewing toolbar. Alternatively, you simply can right-click on a specific change in the margin and either accept or reject it.

In our example, if we use the Reviewing toolbar and click the arrow next to the Accept Changes button and choose Accept All Changes in Document , all of the proposed changes from exhibit 7 will be accepted.

When the review is complete, click the End Review button on the Reviewing toolbar and save the document to complete the process. You can see the final document in exhibit 9 .

As you can see, XP makes document collaboration much easier. Not only does it allow multiple users to change, revise and correct documents swiftly and conveniently, it makes the process more efficient for the originator, who no longer has to search for and then manually make reviewers’ suggested changes. With the new application, all proposed changes can be clearly indicated in one document for easy updating. These powerful new functions allow computers to do what they are meant to do—improve employee productivity.

DUANE BRANDON is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Virginia Tech Institute and State University in Blacksburg. AARON CRABTREE also is a doctoral candidate there. Their e-mail addresses are and , respectively.

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