How to Compare Docs in Word

I don’t understand what Word is doing when comparing two similar documents. The screen is split into four panes. On the upper right, one pane is labeled “original document”, immediately below that, a second pane is labeled “revised document”, a third pane is centrally located and labeled “compared document”. There is a fourth pane on the left for “comments”, which I turned off - see #2a and 2b below.

1a. In the “compared document” pane, Word merely shows a red vertical line in the left margin indicating a change. BUT! I need to see EXACTLY what the changes are! Is there some way to have Word yellow highlight the changes?

1b. What exactly is the “compared document” pane showing, anyhow? I did not select “merge”, so it did not merge the two versions into document. So, what is this? Is the first document I opened or the second? And, is this the version I should be editing to create the 'ultimate" version (shall we say) of my document? Will Word be saving the document of pane 3? I would hate to start editing in the wrong document just to have to start over again.

2a. I turned off the “comments” pane by clicking the “x” in the upper right corner of this pane. When I tried to show comments by using “show comments” button in the ribbon menu at the top of the screen, the button is “highlighted” like it is active (i.e., selected), but the comments pane does not appear. Instead, this button made the reviewer comments appear in the right margin of the third pane.

2b. How do I get the fourth pane (left hand side of the screen) to reappear? Would the comments in the fourth pane indicate the EXACT changes I prefer to see in yellow highlight, per question 1a above?

Thanks in advance!

I use Compares at work occasionally. I’ll tell you what we do and try to answer on your questions along the way.

We use Content Server to store documents. It can show all the previous versions of a document that’s been worked on through development. First copy, editorial changes, TM changes, etc. The Content Management people do their revisions before the document gets to me, and occasionally it will be an update to last year’s course. I keep all the source documents for the past 2-3 years in my Cloud for such occasions, so if an update comes up, I can open last year’s document and do a compare.

  1. In MS Word, go to Review>Compare>Compare. It doesn’t matter which document you currently have open.
  2. In the popup, under Original document, select the 2020 course. Under Revised document, select the 2021 course. Usually, under that field, “Label changes with” will show the name of the person who made the 2020 document. That name will frequently appear in the Markup area on the right when the compare is made, and indicates that they made the 2020 choice of words and formatting. It doesn’t really matter whose name goes in that field. It’s meant to be a guide. Click OK.
  3. This is where my setup is different from yours. By default, the compare shows both the source documents as well as the combined result. I only have one panel showing, which shows all the changes and hides the source documents (otherwise I’d go crazy). In your 2b, you can get those panels back by using Compare>Show Source Documents and check the ones you want.
  4. Save this document and call it “2020-2021 compare” or something similar. Per your 1b, I recommend you use this as a guide. Don’t consider it the new document you’re making changes to. Otherwise, you’ll go insane.

If there are no changes in a section of the document, it will appear the same with no markup. In your 1a, the red lines on the left are showing that a change has been made. You probably have it set up as default. Go to Review>Tracking>Track Changes. In the top field, you probably have “Simple Markup.” Change it to “All Markup.” This will show everything that changed. The original content will be crossed out in red, and the new content will show up as entirely red. If there are a lot of changes, this will look scary and not for the faint-of-heart. Per your 1a, the reason why you can’t show the changes as highlights is because the originals might already be using highlights. In my case, the author highlighted instructions to the developer, which shouldn’t appear in final print. Believe me, the red markup from “All Markup” will be enough. This is what’s showing as per your 1b.

Original and new comments will be preserved in the Markup area. As per my 2 above, the name of the original document maker will appear by all the parts that were changed, like replaced words and formatting changes. Even the small ones, like extra spaces. These look like comments, but they really aren’t.

Your third panel is the revised document that’s showing the changes that you’re currently making as markup. That’s what’s known as “tracking.” Maybe that takes care of your 2a question.

And now, for my final trick. After you have made all the changes you want in the Compare, remember how I said you should only use this as a guide? I just didn’t want to lead you down the wrong rabbit hole. You can go to Review>Changes>Accept>Accept all changes. This will get rid of the markup and preserve all your latest changes. NOW save as your latest 2021 document. Name it as “Final (name of document).”

I hope this helps. I struggled with compares for a while before it finally came together.