How to compare documents

By Wesley Hartman

Q. I sent some Word documents to a partner to review. They reviewed and made changes, but I forgot to turn on Track Changes. What is an efficient way to find the revisions?

A. Turning on Track Changes is one of the best ways to review revisions, but all is not lost if you forget to turn it on. Conveniently, Word has a function that is specifically for comparing two documents. In the Ribbon, go to Review and then click on Compare. You are given two options, Compare and Combine (see the screenshot below). Note: Three additional options (Major Version, Last Version, and Specific Version) are available if the files are on a SharePoint Server or on OneDrive. Click on Compare and a pop-up window will appear asking for the two documents that you want to compare. If you already have both documents open, then select each in the drop-down list: your original in the first field and the new version in the second. Otherwise, click the folder icon to browse for the original in your file system to place in the first field. Repeat this for the second field, browsing for the version your partner revised. Click OK and a new Word window will open.


By default, you will see four sections. The top right will be your original document. The bottom right will be the version the partner marked up. If you do not see the two right sections, click on Compare again, go to Show Source Documents and select Show Both. The left will be a summary of changes, from additions and deletions to formatting changes. The center will be the combining of the two documents, as shown in the screenshot below. There will be strikethroughs for the deletions and colored underlines for additions. From here you can review and accept changes. Right-click on the change and choose to Accept or Reject the change. Treat it like reviewing a document where you are tracking changes. If you want to add the markup balloons in the margin as Track Changes does by default, then click the Show Markup dropdown, highlight Balloons, and pick your favored option.


If you want to have more control over which features of the text you are comparing, there are options you can uncheck, and the Compare function will ignore them. Say that you want to focus on just the content changes and not the formatting. While you have the Compare window open, click on the More >> button to expand the options. Uncheck the formatting options and changes to bold, italics, underlines, etc. will be ignored when the documents are processed.

One final note I want to mention is the difference between Compare and Combine. Functionally they are the same in that they will find the differences in two documents and display those changes for you to approve. The one difference, though, is that for Combine, you can label who authored the two documents.

This function is very narrow in its application, but it can save you time when Track Changes was not turned on from the beginning.

About the author

Wesley Hartman is founder at Automata Practice Development and director of technology at Kirsch Kohn & Bridge LLP.

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