by Kim Walton*

Just when you thought the Word comparison debate was finally over, here is something else to consider; this time from a law firm looking at how law firms do comparison now and whether Word 2010 is a game-changer?

For law firms, there is one fundamental question: What do you want to do with your comparison document? Do you want it:
•    as a track changes document to improve efficiency when collaborating on documents with other parties; or
•    in a traditional redline format that  presents some changes in an easier to understand way (eg table structure changes), but that you shouldn’t use as an editable document?

The answer depends on the contents of the document and the purpose of the comparison but, usually, track changes comparisons should meet your needs. If you aren’t yet convinced of the efficiency benefits when using track changes, check out Sherry Kappel's excellent presentation** for the New York Word Legal Users Group (in particular slide 18 and 19).

If I send my first draft to another firm for their comments, would I prefer the amended document to be:
1    a track changes document where I can efficiently accept, reject and change the other firm's amendments; or
2    a traditional redline mark up document showing the changes made to the document, with a clean revised document that I can amend further?

Surprisingly, my preference would be 2. Why? Not because I don't like the efficiency of track changes, or because of concerns over native Word comparison accuracy. It's because I want to recreate the track changes compare document using my original document and the clean revised version.

So if I wanted a track changes document, why wouldn't I just use the one supplied by the other firm? The problem is that most third party comparison products now have an option to save their mark-up document in a Word track changes format. The quality of these documents is variable and one vendor has stated, with good reason, that its track changes documents are not suitable for further amendment. This is because its track changes document often contains serious numbering corruption issues and because the compare process replaces automated features with manual text.

When I receive a track changes document, I have no idea how the sender created it, and therefore whether it is safe to use or not. Even if it is “safe” there is still a risk the sender has selected choices in a third party product that have stripped out some of my document formatting (eg automatic cross-references or table of contents).  

We have warned our lawyers and secretaries to watch out for track changes documents  where the numbering is broken. In these cases, or where there is doubt, we are asking the sender to provide a clean copy of the amended document.

To avoid the problems described above, I create my own comparisons using my preferred choice of comparison software. And if I want to produce a track changes document most suitable for further editing, the best choice is to use the native Word comparison engine.  

Instead of third party vendors explaining the limitations in using native Word comparison, perhaps they could tell us about the deficiencies or dangers of their comparison products when producing track changes documents?

* Kim Walton is the Professional Services Development Manager at SNR Denton UK LLP.  She is also on the organising committee of the UK Document Excellence Group.