One Document, Many Revisions, Different Versions

combining tracker changes and comments
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Last week I gave you some timesaving tips for collecting proposed revisions from multiple document reviewers.

Hopefully everyone gave you a thoughtful review, used track changes, and turned in their edits on time.  Now it is time to consolidate and review every last one of those changes (even sneaky ones that can be hard to notice like spacing and formatting).


Multiple Versions, Lots of Overlap

Let’s assume that you received a marked up document from a group of interested reviewers.  For example, if you had drafted an Informed Consent Template and then circulated it to your team you might have one set of comments from legal, regulatory would weigh in, maybe your medical monitor has some edits, and some of the Clinical Research Associates had a few comments and suggestions.  Let’s also assume that everyone made their comments and markup in their very own version of your document.  You now have the daunting task of combing through and reviewing everything and deciding which edits to keep and which to ditch.

You could step through every proposed edit/comment one-by-one in each individual document or perform a split-screen compare (or printed – acck!).  You would have to manually type in or copy and paste each revision into your original, if accepted.  Not only is this time-consuming, this manual method of review is prone to errors because some edits are pretty subtle. You might miss a hyphen here, a subscript there, a carriage return or other formatting. You could lose your place and miss an entire chunk of edits (this is sure to annoy your reviewers because they’ll assume you just ignored their proposed changes).

How to Combine Edited Document Versions From Multiple Reviewers

I’m going to be honest. This process is a bit cumbersome because you can only combine two versions of an edited document at a time using word.  Plan to combine everything before you accept or reject and edits or suggestions because there will undoubtedly be conflicts and some rewriting involved.

So, let’s begin this horrible process. I recommend you take the messiest, most exhaustively revised document and combine that one first with your original draft.  Here are the steps to get the ugly monster combined into your original draft.

Go to the “Review” tab > Click the caret under “Compare” > Click “Combine” > Choose your documents > Set your preferences > then click “OK”.

  1. Find the Combine function in the Review tab under the Compare drop down caretreview tab in word has the compare and combine options
  2. Combine your first reviewer’s document with the original.
    1. Under Original document, click the arrow and then click the document that you would like to ultimately contain the combined changes (If you are repeating this for subsequent revisions combine into your step 4 document that you created previously rather than the original).
    2. Under Revised document, click the first edited version that you want to merge in.
    3. In the Label unmarked changes with box, type a name or phrase to remind you this is the original and then repeat for the revised document so you’ll know who suggested the changes. It can be very helpful to edit how each reviewer’s comments will be labeled in the combined document.combine the first reviewers edits and comments into your original
  3. Click More.
    1. Under Show changes in, click Original document.
    2. Click the changes in the original document
  4. Save the combined document that is produced as your new can save your changes in the combine result

If you have two or more individual documents with revisions, you’ll need to continue the combine process.  Just repeat the steps above to bring every revised document one-by-one into your new draft revision from step 4.

If you’re looking for a shortcut, then technically, you could have taken that super messy version of the document we started our combine with (you know, the edits and comments from your most extensive reviewer) and just merged everyone else’s edits on top of that person’s document.  This would save you the step of combining the big reviewer with your original draft.  The risk here however, is that you are trusting that they used track changes and didn’t just obliterate entire sections of your original document. My advice is that shortcuts in combining lots of edited versions rarely actually save you time; just be methodical and drink lots of coffee before you begin the combine process.

Need to see that again?  Check out Microsoft Word’s step-by-step help instructions, too.

One Document to Rule Them All

Now that you have every comment and edit combined in one massively marked-up document, you can proceed with your review. I like to print out just the markup and then move those crazy callout comment bubbles inline on top of the text for easier review.

Print Just the Markup

My first step is usually to print all the markup.  I like to have a printed list of just the edits and comments to mark off with a pen in one easy-to-digest, stand-alone list as I step through each change electronically. Microsoft will walk you through how to specify the option to just print the markup in this short step-by-step.

Pop the Comment Bubbles

I like to see the comments inline and in boxes instead of those stupid little bubbles to the left of the document.  Those are a pain to hide before printing anyway and make the document so small and difficult to read.  If you would like to try this format next time you are reviewing changes just follow these steps in Review > Tacking > Show Markup Options to display changes inline and use screentips instead of balloons (Microsoft how-to Link).pop the balloons and show comments displayed as inline

Now just go through and accept or reject each change individually or in chunks. Sometimes I find it helpful to hide individual reviewers if the screen is too cluttered.  In the example below I had comments from four reviewers but hid the edits from the last one because he was just drumming up controversy.

hide reviewers that you don't like

Don’t Make Others Suffer, too

Combining edits from multiple reviewers into the next draft or a final document can be a total pain.  Don’t hold a meeting to have others watch you do this. Reviewing markup can be tedious and painful; generally it is a poor use of resources if you have others sit in the room while you step through every change. Combine all edited version of the document on your own and incorporate or reject as many changes as possible. If you truly need to meet to discuss any of the conflicts or changes you aren’t sure about then, by all means, schedule a meeting after you have completed your first pass.

balloons show insertions deletions and format changes from multiple reviewers

Sanity Check

Once I have a revised document with all comments deleted and all changes accepted, I typically run a quick MS Word compare against the original document just to review all the markups.  We actually use a third-party software at work to compare versions and check that we did everything right.  If you are just doing a compare in word this process is recommended:

  1. Accept all changes in your new draft document and save it as draft_clean.doc or something similar
  2. Go to Word and choose to compare to your original documentfind the compare button in the review tab
  3. Every change you made to the draft_clean version will get marked in track changes

You can save the comparison document and send it out to the team for a quick once-over as well (one caution here, use your judgement to decide if re-sending the document is worth all the risk.  Some eager-beavers may give you a new round of conflicting comments and edits and put you back to square one on your combining and reviewing.

Are we Saving Any Time Yet?

This week was Part 2 of consolidating document edits from multiple reviewers.  I hope you found at least one tip in here that will save you time.  The cool thing about a Clinical Operations Toolkit is that there is no “one right way to finish a task”.  If you have a more efficient method or other timesaving tips, please send me a note at [email protected] or just leave a comment on the blog.  Have fun with your document reviews!

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About The Author


Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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