Online Document Collaboration with Track Changes

Online document collaboration means that instead of emailing documents back and forth to multiple parties you can now send a link and people can edit the document in a browser window – no software necessary! However, while Word Online and Google Docs do maintain versions, they do not show tracked changes. So, how do you take advantage of online editing AND use tracked changes to review and finalize the document? Read on!

Office 365 – The Set-Up

When you are ready to send a document to be reviewed and edited online, first open the document in Microsoft Word software on your laptop or desktop. Go to the Review tab in the Ribbon and click the “Track Changes” button to turn on the feature.

To share the document online for editing click File – Share. A dialog box will appear. The default is “People You Specify Can View” but you will need to allow access to editing so click the arrow next to the default to see more options. The last option (default) is “People You Specify”. Check the box to allow editing and click apply. This option does require the recipient(s) to log in or create a free login to Office.com. Note that if the recipient has an Office 365 account at work but you have sent the link to their personal email they will have to create a free Office.com account to access the document since the permissions to access the document are based on the associated email address. You can instead choose “Anyone With The Link” and while the recipient will not need to have or create a Microsoft Office.com account the link can be shared more broadly than you anticipate.

Office 365 Sharing Options
Office 365 Sharing Options

If at any time if you decide to remove access to the online document, open the document in MS Word software and go to File – Share and click the ellipses (…) at the top right of the dialog box. Click “Manage Access” and then on the next dialog box click the ellipses next to the link. You can either set an expiration date for the link or click the “X” to remove access to the online document immediately. Note: if the person who had access to the document downloaded it there is no way to remove access to their local file copy.

MS 365 Revoke Document Access
MS 365 Revoke Document Access

Office 365 – Staying on Track

Recipients you have chosen to share the document with for collaboration can make changes to the document in their browser. However, these changes do NOT show up as tracked changes in Word Online. But, don’t worry. When you open the document in MS Word in the software on your desktop or laptop the edits will show up as tracked changes because you turned on Track Changes before you shared it. Additionally, you will be able to see any comments made by the collaborators that were added to the online document.

Office 365 – What If…

If you forgot to turn on track changes before you sent the link to the document out for collaboration you can still take advantage of the track changes features through document comparison. Open the document in MS Word software and click File – Info – Version History. You will see a history of all the changes you have made, as well as any collaborator’s changes. The document you have opened is the most recent version so in the panel on the right look down to the oldest document by date and click “Open Version”. The oldest (original) version will open and towards the top of the screen (between the Ribbon and the document) you will see options to “save this version as a separate file”, “Compare” or “Restore”. If you choose “Compare” you will see three panes. The largest pane is a copy of the two versions of the document combined with tracked changes turned on. In the side panes to the right you will see the most recent version of the document at the top and the older version of the document (“backup version”) at the bottom. You will also see a Revision panel on the far left that lets you scroll through to jump to changes. Now you can go through and accept or reject changes made to the document in the Track Changes group in the Ribbon as well as review (and remove) any comments.

MS Office 365 Version History
MS Office 365 Version History

Google Docs – The Set-Up

Google Docs and G Suite have powerful online collaboration tools and you can leverage them with or without using Microsoft Word since Google has a browser-based word processor. If you typically use Microsoft Word to draft a document but don’t have Office 365 for online collaboration you can leverage Google’s online tools.

Create a document in Microsoft Word and save it on to your local drive or shared drive. Since you will be converting the document to a Google docs format do not bother to apply Styles, footnotes or any advanced formatting until you are ready to finalize the document in MS Word. Next, go to a web browser and log in to Google Drive. Choose “New” and “File Upload” then find the Word document that you just created. (Note: you can skip this step if you already sync your local drive with Google Drive). To allow for the best multi-author collaboration experience you will need to convert the Word document to a Google document. In Google Drive open the file you just uploaded. It will open in a viewer. At the top of the viewer click “Open With” and choose Google Docs. Then go to the File menu and choose “Save As Google Docs”. The file will open as a Google Doc. Next, look to the far right of the screen and click on the blue “Share” button. Like Microsoft’s online collaboration, you have several options to choose from including “share with specified people” or “anyone with the link”. In the Share popup box look in the lower right corner and click “Advanced” to see all the options for customizing how and how widely your document is shared. Like Microsoft, the defaults are set up to share with a specified person or persons and they will need to log in with a Google account associated with the email address they received the invitation from.

Google Drive Sharing Settings
Google Drive Sharing Settings

Google Docs – Getting (Back) on Track

Once the document collaboration in Google Docs is finished go Google Drive and right-click on the Google Doc file and rename the file something like “XYZ_collab”.  Then right-click on the renamed file name and choose “Download”. The file will convert to MS Word format and appear in your Download folder in Windows File Explorer.

Open the MS Word software on your desktop or laptop. Go to the Review tab and choose “Compare” and find the original file and the revised file (“XYZ_collab.docx”). The Compare tool will generate a track changes version of the two documents and you can accept or reject the changes. Then you can finalize the document and format it.

MS Word Compare Documents
MS Word Compare Documents

Conclusion

Whether you use Office 365 or Google Drive you can leverage multi-author online real-time collaboration tools and still use the familiar track changes in MS Word to finalize the document. Want to learn more about using Track Changes? See “Collaborate Using Track Changes