Technical Writing Tip - Comparing Documents

I’ve written before about using track changes in Word and marking up PDFs, but what if these tools weren’t used and you need to see what changes have been made to a document? You can use some of the compare tools available to you! In this blog, I’ll discuss the options in Word and Adobe Acrobat. 

Comparing Documents in Word 

Word’s Compare tool can be found on the Review tab. 

When you select the tool, you are given two options: Compare and Combine

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  • The Compare tool enables you to compare two versions of the same document to see what changes have been made.  
  • The Combine tool is useful if you have more than one author working on a document. You can consolidate changes from multiple authors into one document in order to capture everyone’s work. 

In the Compare Documents or Combine Documents dialog box, you can click More to select the desired Comparison settings and indicate which types of changes you want compared. 

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With either option, once you select the original and revised documents, the tool will produce a new document with the differences marked up like they would be if tracked changes had been used. This can become your new working document, allowing you to accept or reject the changes as needed.  

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Comparing PDFs in Adobe Acrobat 

Adobe Acrobat also has a function that enables you to compare two versions of a PDF. The Compare Files tool can be found in the View menu. 

It works similarly to Word’s compare function, allowing you to choose an old file and a new file. 

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However, there are couple differences to keep in mind since you are working with PDFs instead of Word docs: 

  • This tool highlights changes as annotations rather than inserting them into the document as tracked edits. Changes (if required) will still need to be carried over manually into the source files for your document. 

  • It produces a Compare report rather than a new combined document. 

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Similarly to Word, you have different options for filtering the type of changes that will be highlighted. You can also view the pages side by side, or only look at the annotations in the old or new file. 

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Whether you are checking your version control, need a record of changes made, or need to combine different versions of a file, either of these comparison tools can help! 

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is an avid volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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