How to compare two Word documents with track changes

Tracking changes in a document is very useful, especially when more than one person is working on it.

By doing so, you can follow your document’s progress and quickly spot new areas which may need your attention.

However, sometimes documents get altered without changes being tracked.

It’s very easy to forget to click the “track changes” button, and sometimes people may just not appreciate the need to monitor alterations.

Luckily, if you have two versions of a document (one original, one altered), it’s easy to merge them in a way that shows tracked changes in Word.

Let’s explain how to compare two Word documents with track changes.

Track changes explained

There’s a helpful feature that helps you to monitor the alterations made to a document in Microsoft Word.

It’s called Track Changes, and it does exactly what you’d expect it to.

When you turn on the Track Changes feature, Word will log any new activity within the document until you turn it off again.

If the document is shared with another person to be edited, Word will log changes under their name/user handle.

This makes it very easy to see who’s done what within a document and when.

However, if something is altered without the Track Changes feature enabled, there’s still a way to compare two documents for differences in Word.

How to compare two Word documents

Microsoft Word does provide a way to make a side-by-side comparison of two documents.

If you have two versions of the same file—one earlier, one with additions, edits, and revisions—and you want to be able to track the changes made, you can use the Compare Documents feature.

Compare Documents generates something called a “blackline comparison”. Essentially, it compares the two Word documents and highlights points of difference.

But, the result won’t be as nuanced as a document edited with changes tracked in the first place.

For example, a blackline comparison doesn’t tell you exactly who did what and at what time. However, it can give you a broad understanding of what changes have been made.

Let’s take a look at the steps needed to compare a pair of Word documents using the Compare Documents feature.

Steps to create track changes in a Word document

  1. Open Microsoft Word and open a new document.
  2. Head to the banner menu at the top of the page and find the Review tab.
  3. In the Review tab, click Compare. A drop-down menu will appear. Click the Compare option within this drop-down menu.
  4. At this point, you will be given the option to compare documents in Word. Head to the Original Document section and click the Folder icon on the left. This will open your files. Search through them until you find the original version of the document that you want to compare, and select it.
  5. Now, head to the Revised Document section. Just as you did with the Original Document section, click on the Folder icon and find the new version of the document you want to compare.
  6. Click OK, and wait for Word to compare the two documents for differences.
  7. Once Word has compared them, it will show you a three-pane Word document:
  • The center pane will show you the document with changes highlighted. You can edit the central pane as needed.
  • The right pane will show you the original document and the revised document superimposed over one another. You cannot edit this pane.
  • The left pane lists all the differences that Word has found between the two documents. By clicking changes, you can make the right and center panes zoom to the appropriate point in the document. 
  1. Accept or reject changes, and edit the center pane as needed. 
  2. Save the new document file.

Keeping a document safe for tracked changes

You may want to keep the process of tracking changes secure, especially if you’re working with sensitive information.

A single document with changes tracked is much easier to keep safe than multiple edited versions.

When you compare Word documents, the most secure thing to do is to consolidate the two into a single file with changes tracked and delete the original and revised versions.

From then on, work from that singular document.

To keep your most important documents safe, use a platform like PandaDoc to organize, manage, and transfer them.

PandaDoc’s enhanced security features will keep your document and all its tracked changes safe from cyber criminals and data breaches.

As well as making collaborating on documents much simpler in the first place.

Compare and keep track of edits as you work 

The easiest and most useful way to track edits as you work is to enable the Track Changes feature in your original Word document.

However, if that’s not done (or not possible), you can use the Compare Documents feature in Microsoft Word to pinpoint and highlight changes between an original and a reviewed version of a document.

To keep your documents secure and well organized, whatever version or versions you’re working from, use PandaDoc.

PandaDoc is the perfect platform for secure document control.

Learn more about how PandaDoc could benefit your business by scheduling a 15-minute demo today.