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Guest article: Another article about comparison !

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.


6 replies on “Guest article: Another article about comparison !”

This is an excellent article Kim. I agree that clean versions of documents should be sent, if only to be certain that all changes made in a document are shown (not that I don't trust the sender's version).
Word 2010 track changes has the ability to show changes via whole words or just characters and/or to include formatting. There is no difficulty at all to create a comparison document and in Office 2010 there is a built in wizard removing the need for any customisation. So even lawyers can use it!
In my experience, comparison tools throw in heading styles into the compared document which are not easy to remove or 'clean up'.
Keep to clean versions of Word documents and use the UK DEG standard styles and little can go wrong.

Thanks for writing this Kim. I attended the Sherry Kappel presentation that she did for the NY Word Legal User Group and it was excellent and definitely thought provoking. If clients are demanding documents that they can collaborate on (which it seems that they are) then we need to be able to support this workflow to meet their needs. However I do have serious concerns about switching to native Word comparison (even with Word 2010). When I have seen the results alongside a Change-Pro comparison (our 3rd party tool of choice) there are startling differences with the quality of the output. Each iteration of Word does get better at comparison, but I still don't believe it's ready for use in a top tier law firm where accuracy is critical.
It's a very good point that you make about the corrupt numbering and other fields when out puting from some tools to track changes. We should all be mindfull of this when dealing with documents from outside. But I'm a little dissapointed that you didn't call out the offending comparison tools. As you know from our discussions earlier this month Litera Change-Pro does not have this problem.

Good article Kim. Sending clean documents and being aware whether you've received a clean document is so critical. We've seen several clients tie themselves and their users in knots because they're so focussed on NOT using track changes.
Perhaps a topic for debate at a next UKDEG meeting?

Many thanks for your comments, and Jayne and Sherry for the UKDEG plugs!
Simon, you are absolutely right, I ought to have shared information about the Vendor. It is Workshare. I understand that these issues will be fixed with their next release, but I have not been given a date for this (perhaps someone from Workshare would like to share).
I still stand by my opinion that native Word comparison is the best tool if you want to produce a track change comparison document for continued editing. In order to display some of the document changes in a more granular way, the third party products achieve this by making some formatting or text changes to the document. This works well for a report, but can cause some unexpected results in the track changes document, particularly when you reject changes. For example, inserted flat typed paragraph numbers can be left behind. Third party products are also playing catch up new features in Word 2007/2010, such as Content controls; to my knowledge, all third party products remove the content controls from the resulting Word document, but native Word comparison handles them well.
Please keep the debate going with more comments.

Thank you, Kim, for referencing our content and the venerable NY WLUG; they are such a great group. In fact, we’re presenting there again on February 22nd, 2012 on the realities of document conversion to or from Open XML. Which brings me to the point of this response: “You’re absolutely right, Kim!”
To provide a bit more perspective:
Historically, 3rd-party comparison solutions convert documents before they compare them. Sometimes it’s to their intermediary format, sometimes to lesser versions of the application from which the comparison need arises, or sometimes to PDF or RTF. The technologies then perform the comparison within these ‘unified’ formats, generating a resulting ‘markup’ which opens in the source application or some type of reader.
This is why Microsystems has always offered a “prepare to compare” stage to our facilitated comparison workflows in DocXtools. As everyone knows, file conversion tends to make a ‘previously-perfect’ document, far less perfect when done. Our intervention step ensures underlying file issues are removed or corrected, thus permitting a more predictable conversion. This is likely the cause, Kim, of the numbering disruptions/corruptions you mentioned. Word conceals much of this in the native format, but when converted, these underlying ills are revealed. Additionally, given that RTF has less functionality than Word 2010, it can introduce even further differences from the base document.
This is one of the reasons we have embraced the native Word comparison workflow: there is no conversion. When coupled with a new file format which requires corruption-free numbering, the result increases stability and improves predictability.
To your point about vendors providing added insight to the deficiencies of the comparison workflow: Microsystems has supported, advised and automated native Word’s change tracking functionality since Word 6.0. We help legal and life sciences organizations better leverage the tools – 3rd-party and native – and understand the limitations and sensitivities. In fact, our #1 DocER query is that of the comparison workflow: we resolve the collaboration ‘tangles’, and advise and remediate the known risks. We’ve shared our insights and research on this very topic via Webcasts, DocXcellence presentations and white papers delivered to our customers and prospects, as well as to partners who provide comparison solutions of their own.
With the file format changes released with Office 2007 and the collaboration enhancements introduced in Office 2010, we’ve devoted our extensive expertise in testing and unearthing the newest dynamics of collaboration, and look forward to assisting the industry even further as we go forward.
And finally: are you spot on, Kim, when you state a preference for working with a clean, revised document over a traditional, redline markup for times in the collaboration process when you don’t know what engine performed the comparison, nor the gyrations asked of the compared output. That said, it seems most client matters go through myriad collaboration moments—internally and externally with the client, and externally with opposing counsel. As Word compare and the Track Changes workflow are adopted by more firms (and we know Corporate Counsel are already using Word compare), it is likely your confidence in the source of the tracked changes will increase, allowing you to take full advantage of this evolving workflow. Alternatively, if you compared the revised version – not the marked up version – it’s certainly a more viable Word document from which to generate your compare output.
Thank you, Kim, for your post and your kind invitation to respond. Let us know how we can address any open questions you may have.

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