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How to Compare and Merge Two Microsoft Word Documents

This post is part of a series called Learn How to Use Microsoft Word (Beginner Tutorial Guide).
What Is Microsoft Word (Definition)? What Is MS Word Used For? (+Top Features)
Microsoft Word vs. Google Docs Compared (Which Is Better to Use in 2020?)

When collaborating with others on a Word document, how do you track and reconcile revisions?

It's easier than ever to collaborate with other people on the same Word document. Use MS Word's features for tracking changes, real-time co-authoring, comparing two documents, and merging several documents into one to streamline your workflow.

Compare Word Documents
You don't need two people to compare Word documents (image source). 

I remember several decades ago, the process to compare Word documents was fully manual and involved two people. Each one held a different version of the document. One person would read their document out loud. The other person would notate the differences on their version of the document.

Can you imagine how tedious that was?

Today, we’re fortunate to have Microsoft Word. It can track changes on a document, compare two Word documents, and even merge several documents into one.

Document collaboration sure has gone a long way!

In this tutorial, you'll learn the exact steps to use these powerful features in Microsoft Word.

How to Collaborate on Word Documents in Real Time

You can collaborate on a Word document in real time with other people. This is the feature called real-time co-authoring.

To use this feature, you need one of the following:

  • Word for Microsoft 365
  • Word for Microsoft 365 for Mac
  • Word for the web
  • Word 2019
  • Word 2019 for Mac
  • Word 2016
  • Word 2016 for Mac
  • Word for Mac 2011

Follow these steps to share a Word document:

Launch the Word application and go to the Home menu, which lists your documents. Click on the Share icon.

Share Word document

The Sharing Options dialog will pop up. Click Copy Link > View and Edit.

Word Sharing Options

Email the link to the person who’ll be collaborating on the document with you. The link they receive looks like this:

Word document email link

For the recipient to collaborate in real time:

Click on the link in the email. The document opens in the web version of Word. Click Edit in Browser.

Edit Word doc in browser

The document can now be edited. The document sharer sees, in real time, who has the document open as well as the changes they make.

Real-time co-authoring in Word

The web version also shows who else currently has the document open.

Word for web real-time co-authoring

How to Track Revisions in Word

If different people are working on the same document at different times, it’s also possible to track what revisions were made and by whom. The document’s owner can then either reject or accept each revision. Follow these steps:

1. Turn on Track Changes

To switch on the Track Changes feature, click on the Review tab.

Word Review Tab

On the Review ribbon, click on the Tracking button.

Word - Track Changes

Toggle the Track Changes switch.

Word - Track Changes On

Make sure to keep All Markup selected. If you wish, you can change the Markup Options

Word Markup Options

Now that Track Changes is switched on, any changes you make on the document are marked automatically.

Track Changes Markup

The markup in the right sidebar indicates if text has been deleted or formatted. Inserted text is denoted by a different color and underline. If you hover over new text, you’ll see more details about it.

Word - Inserted Text Details

You can also add a comment on the sidebar by clicking on the Comments button > New Comment.

Word - Insert Comment

2. Review Changes

After someone edits a document with Track Changes switched on, you can review their edits and either accept or reject them.

First, make sure you're on the Review tab.

Word - Review Tab

To accept a change, place the cursor on the revision. Click the Accept dropdown menu and select one of the options.

Word - Accept Changes
  • Accept and Move to Next. Accepts the current change and moves the cursor automatically to the next change
  • Accept This Change. Accepts the current change and keeps the cursor in its present location
  • Accept All Changes. Accepts all the changes in the document and continues tracking changes
  • Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking. Accepts all the changes in the document and stops tracking and marking up changes

Or, click the Accept button to Accept and Move to Next.

Word - Accept Changes Button

To reject a change, follow the same steps but with the Reject button and options.

Word - Reject Changes Options

How to Compare 2 Word Documents

What if two different people have been working on the same document … but separately?

This commonly occurs when the people involved can't collaborate on the document in real time over the web. Or, maybe they don’t have internet access while they’re editing the document. Or, each collaborator may simply prefer to work on the document independently.

Whatever the reason, when you find yourself with two different versions of a document, you don’t have to panic.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Microsoft Word can compare the documents, so you won’t have to do it yourself. Follow these steps:

Open the two documents. Make sure you’re on the Review tab.

Review Tab - Microsoft Word

Click Compare.

Compare Word Documents

The Microsoft Word Compare Documents dialog opens. Select the Original document by browsing your hard drive.

Compare two Word documents

Do the same to select the Revised document. Click OK.

How to compare two Word documents

Depending on the Comparison Settings you selected, a new document is created showing the changes. This is recommended because it preserves each document in case you need to refer to them later.

Compare 2 Word documents

You can now work on the new document to either accept or reject changes.

How to Merge Two Word Documents

Another useful feature of Microsoft Word is the ability to merge two documents into one. This comes in handy when you've got two or more people writing different parts of one document. 

Follow these steps to merge two or more Word documents into one file:

Open a new document. Go to Insert > File.

Microsoft Word merge documents

Locate the Word document you want to insert. Click Insert.

Insert file in Microsoft Word

To insert another file, place your cursor in the document where you want to place it, and repeat the steps above to insert another file.

Take note that formatting may not be carried over when you merge Word documents.

How to Troubleshoot and Resolve Common Issues

There are some common issues that come up as you compare and merge documents. Here are three common problems and their solutions:

Problem 1. Track Changes Is On, Not all Changes Are Marked

Solution: Double check the Markup Options.

Go to the Review tab and click Tracking > Markup Options

Track Changes not working

Check all the types of changes that you want to mark up.

Problem 2. You Can't Compare 2 Word Documents

Solution: Make sure they're the same file type.

One possible reason you're running into an error when trying to compare two Word documents for differences is because you’re comparing a doc file with a docx file. To solve this issue, export the doc file into the docx file format.

Go to File > Save a Copy….

Compare Word documents not working

Give the new file a name and select the docx file format. Click Save

How to save Word doc to docx file format

Problem 3. Co-authoring Isn’t Working

Solution: Make sure the file supports co-authoring.

By default, co-authoring is switched on in Microsoft Word. But some files don’t support it. For example, if the file is encrypted or locked, then co-authoring won't work. 

Also, documents created on older versions of Microsoft Word don't support co-authoring. Follow the previous steps to save the document in docx file format.

How to Ease Your MS Word Workflow With Templates

Microsoft Word makes your MS Word workflow easier by tracking changes, comparing documents, and merging documents for you.

Another way to enhance your use of Word is by using a premium template for Word. 

Word template for proposal
Premium Word templates such as this simplifies your workflow by making design decisions for you.

Premium Word templates are created by professional designers. They make the difficult decisions around layout and formatting. So, you don’t have to make them yourself.

At the same time, these premium Word templates are customizable. This means you can change the fonts, colors, images, and content to suit your needs.

Microsoft Word templates - Envato Elements
At Envato Elements, you get unlimited downloads of Word templates for one small subscription fee.

One great source of premium Word templates is Envato Elements. For one flat monthly fee, you get unlimited downloads of Word templates as well as other items you need to create a high-impact document. That includes unlimited access to fonts, stock photos, icons, and graphics. 

And if you create multimedia materials, you’ll be pleased to know that Envato also gives you unlimited downloads of stock video footages, music, and sound effects.

Learn More About Microsoft Word

You've just learned how to compare two Word documents for differences and how to merge Word documents. We've got plenty of other resources to help you learn how to use Microsoft Word, starting with our Beginner Tutorial Guide. Here are a few of the tutorials you'll find inside:

Optimize Your MS Word Workflow

You’ve just learned how to use Microsoft Word’s tracking, reviewing, comparing, and merging features to make your workflow easier. 

You also now know that a Word template frees you up to focus on the content of your document. Begin with a Word template to let a professional designer make the design decisions, so you don’t have to. 

Look for Word templates in Envato Elements so you can create high-impact documents of all types, for both personal and professional use. The unlimited downloads for a fixed subscription can’t be beat.

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