How to track changes without Microsoft Word?
July 13, 2012 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Is there a good way to track changes on a document other than Microsoft Word?

Is there a good way to track changes on a document I'm editing other than using Microsoft Word, Pages, or another word processor?

I'm an editor, and people often send me a few paragraphs of text and ask for my input. I line edit the copy and send it back to them, and it's helpful for the person to be able to see exactly what I've changed and where.

Microsoft Word's Track Changes function does this perfectly, providing a clear visual representation of what I've added, what I've deleted, and what I've moved, as well as showing any comments I've added.

But I hate Microsoft Word. And it's cumbersome to have to create a .DOCX, paste the text in, Track Changes, edit, save, and then send an e-mail back including the Word document as an attachment.

Is there another way to do this? Maybe a web app? Or some HTML tool that will annotate a document and highlight my deletions and insertions?
posted by incandescentman to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Google Docs will do this.
posted by mkultra at 12:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

More specifically, it's simplest to Share the doc with multiple people having editing rights.
posted by mkultra at 12:37 PM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks mkultra. How do I create a document with Google Docs and get it to then track my edits? From what I can tell, Google Docs only tracks my changes to other people's documents. Clicking on "Show more detailed revisions" shows my edits to my own document, but shows each change separately, rendering it useless. I guess I could create a document using one Google account and then edit using a different account—but now it's becoming cumbersome again.
posted by incandescentman at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2012

Create the file in Google Docs, or upload your existing MS Word file. Share it with whomever else is involved. Under the "File" menu there, choose "See Revision History" to see changes.
posted by mkultra at 1:50 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, I see you're sort-of doing that. I think you just want to see the history without the details. It should let you step through each version with color-coded changes.
posted by mkultra at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: I don't think you'll find something that is as clear and easy to read as Word. Besides Google Docs (which I hate almost as much as Word) I can think of two options for tracking text changes. Both of them will require a little more technical know-how than Word, but I know of publishers and authors using both of these.

1) Set up a wiki. There are quite a few options. All of them track changes, most have access control limiting it to you and your authors. But honestly the visual comparison tools are generally horrible. (Go to any Wikipedia page and click "View History") They may have gotten better in the 2 years since I did a through review of them. Though I still think they're a great writer's tool for collecting research.

2) Git. It was designed for tracking changes in computer code, but works for any text documents. (Actual .txt documents, not Word documents that contain text.) Probably the easiest interface for it is GitHub. If the text is really a paragraph or two of plain text then Gist might be enough for you. You can edit right in the browser and compare versions, etc.

Another option is to share the Word doc to ... Whatever Microsofts cloud editing collaborative system is. Skydrive? Sharepoint? At least you'll only have to turn on Track Changes once and won't have to attach anything to an email.

(For what it's worth most publishers I work with still email Word docs around. Even the publishers that specialize in technology books.)
posted by Ookseer at 9:22 PM on July 13, 2012

LibreOffice Writer has a Track Changes feature very similar to Word's, and you might find that you hate it less. I certainly do.
posted by flabdablet at 1:49 AM on July 14, 2012

You might also want to try or other similar services that can show differences between versions.
posted by flabdablet at 1:54 AM on July 14, 2012

Set your files up on a repository server like Tortoise that way you can roll them back also.
posted by jmd97 at 8:17 PM on July 14, 2012

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