Track Changes And Redlining

This month we asked our experts how, when, and why they use track changes and redlining features.

Our Panelists

Allison Shields (AS), Greg Siskind (GS), Dennis Kennedy (DK), Aman Bagga (AB), Catherine Sanders-Reach (CS), Steve Embry (SE) and Sofia Lingos (SL).

Under what circumstance do you use track changes and redlining features?

AS: I use track changes and redlining when I’m collaborating with someone else on a document, or when I am marking up a document for a client so that they can see where I have made changes.

GS: I use it when I’m reviewing and editing the writings of colleagues to who I have delegated tasks.

DK: On a daily basis ,on nearly all of the contracts I work on. These tools are essential when negotiating contracts and comparing drafts as the process moves forward.

AB: I use track changes in contract negotiations including real estate, leases, and other business agreements. By using the feature I am able to easily see the changes and save time by not having to review the entire document again.

CSR: I do not practice law, but I do use track changes/redlining when submitting articles for publication, getting contracts reviewed by counsel, working with my team on reports, sending meeting minutes for review, etc.

SE: I typically use this feature when I am asked to review a document prepared by someone else to make changes and suggestions. I also use it when I am part of a group collaborating on something.

SL: I am a transactional business attorney so I use track changes in reviewing, drafting and negotiating agreements. Also as a law professor I provide feedback to my students via track changes. In collaborating on papers and projects with colleagues I find track changes particularly useful.

What is the best tool or program for these tasks and why?

AS: There may be better tools out there, but since I use Word for documents, I usually use Word for redlining and tracking changes. Occasionally, if someone sends me a document in PDF, I will use the comment feature to comment on where I think changes might be necessary rather than editing the document or using track changes in another program. I have used Google Docs when collaborating on some projects where other participants prefer it, but I like Word better—perhaps because I am more familiar with it. Google Docs may work well when there are several people collaborating on one document.

GS: Microsoft Word has always been ideal for this.

DK: For better or worse, Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature is the best tool because it is so universally used. Redlining is a collaborative tool. You want to use a tool that works for everyone involved in the process. In most cases, people will be using track changes by default. Once you get a draft with track changes turned on, the rest of the process will continue in track changes. Using another tool will make progress difficult and will often be considered unhelpful or rude. It’s a case where “most used” wins out over “best.”

AB: I find Microsoft Word does a very good job of keeping track of changes, including who made the change and when. You can also add in comments as to why the change was made.

CSR: I have not had to go much further than Microsoft Word features, though that works best with a one to one exchange of documents. Google Drive is excellent if multiple people are working on the document. Microsoft Office 365 has also added multi-person editing through Word online, and Zoho has a really nice multi-person editing experience.

SE: I use the Windows Outlook program. The iOS program is pretty similar though.

SL: Microsoft Word and Google Docs. I use Word when I want to control the document and have an accurate record of each round of changes. I utilize Google Docs for collaboration, which permits multiple identified parties to be working virtually on the same document, at the same time, without any draft confusion.

What are the biggest headaches you have found?

AS: The biggest headache I’ve found with track changes is when there are so many changes that it becomes difficult to read the document. Sometimes that makes it hard to find spelling errors or spacing problems as well.

Occasionally, when collaborating with others, I’ve had issues with documents where all changes were supposed to have been accepted and tracking was supposed to have stopped, but some remnants remained.

GS: Removing metadata; forgetting to turn on track changes before changes are made.

DK: Accepting changes can result in formatting mayhem that can be extraordinarily difficult to fix. Renumbering can be a disaster. Colors can vary from screen to screen. And it can be difficult to be certain that all changes have been accurately tracked and displayed.

AB: People who either do not know how to use the track changes function or forget to turn it on. The result is none of their changes are tracked and I have to go through the process of reviewing the entire agreement to see what has changed.

CSR: Looking at a heavily redlined document that shows all the changes, including formatting, when I’m just interested in seeing changes to the text. In MS Word you can turn off different aspects of markup. In the Review Tab, Tracking Group, click on “Show Markup” and click on “formatting” to uncheck that option so you only see comments and text edits.

SE: Haha. When several people are working on the same document at the same time, you can get a mess. I always try to set some ground rules in this situation so that everyone knows when and how to make their changes.

SL: The other party makes revisions without track changes turned-on. A solution for this it to restrict the receiving party to redlining. To do this in Microsoft Word, select “Restrict Editing” under “Review.” Click “editing restrictions” and choose “tracked changes” from the dropdown menu and “start enforcement.”

Another issue is when the recipient does not see track changes. A solution is to determine whether they are viewing documents on a tablet or mobile device. Redline does not always appear on these devices. Make sure they have “All Markup” turned on under “Review.”

What logistical rules do you follow when multiple people are doing redlining?

AS: I don’t run across this issue much because I’m not working with that many authors that often, but if I anticipate that there will be a lot of confusing changes, I sometimes will ask that everyone ensure that their initials are set for their comments, and that if they make a significant change, they also add a comment in the same place in case there is a question later.

GS: MS Word does a reasonably good job in making it possible to keep track of drafters and who has made changes.

DK: I try to be clear on who is creating the next version. I also try to clarify what agreed-upon changes can be accepted to simplify and focus on what issues are left. Labeling versions is always very important.

AB: Generally I do not have that issue, since I am usually only dealing with one other attorney. However, even when dealing with only one person, it is important that all of the changes, additions, and deletions are made to one document and there are not multiple versions of the file.

CSR: Google Drive is a great tool for multi-person redlining. Start with your base document in MS Word, turn on track changes and upload it to Google Drive. Then double click to edit it and it will convert to a Google Doc. Then invite your folks to edit. It does inline edits (color coded by author), collaborators can add comments, and the author can see and revert back to previous versions of the document. Once the collaboration is complete, save the document back to Microsoft Word and all the edits will show as tracked changes when opened in MS Word so you can accept or reject them. Since the conversion from Word to Drive to Word wrecks any special formatting (footnotes, table of authorities, etc.) wait to do that in Word on the final document.

SE: See above.

SL: Use Google Docs so there is only one document. Otherwise:

  • Make sure each author is signed into their account, with their name, to ensure it is clear which author has made the changes.
  • Track changes should always be turned on.
  • Comments should be resolved not deleted.
  • Changes should only be accepted by the party who did not propose the change.
  • When there are more than two collaborators, no changes should be accepted until all parties agree.

Do you have a tip for anyone not familiar with this feature?

AS: I like turning on track changes, but then working with the document showing no markup; this way, I can catch those spelling or spacing issues and read the document much more easily. I can always go back and view the tracked changes and/or comments periodically if I need to. Often, I will tell clients to do the same: read through the document without the changes first, and then look at the tracked changes and add any comments, etc. This seems to reduce a good deal of frustration and make the process run much more smoothly.

GS: I’ve recently started editing documents on my iPad using the Apple Pencil, which has proven useful for editing by hand. For people who like to mark up documents the old fashioned way, this might be a good option.

DK: I recommend learning Track Changes in Word very well. At the very least, you want to be the most knowledgeable person in the group. You can then take control of the process. You can decide when you want to take the lead in drafting and when you want to let someone else take the lead. For example, if I can see that Track Changes is going to cause major formatting problems, I’m much more likely to let someone else do the next draft.

AB: I would suggest try using the feature on a few internal documents to get a sense of how it works. In addition, there are many blogs, tutorials, and videos online that do a great job of explaining the feature and how to use it effectively.

CSR: If you have not often used Microsoft Word tracked changes, there’s two things to note: 1) If you are sending a document via email and want to ensure the recipient doesn’t turn off track changes, you can lock them on by clicking on the arrow on the Track Changes button (Review Tab—Tracking Group), choosing “Lock Tracking” from the menu, and adding a password. 2) If you forget to turn on track changes and send a document out and want to see if any changes have been made when it is returned, go to the Review Tab—Compare Group, and you can have MS Word compare the two documents by combining them into a single document with the changes tracked.

SE: Make sure you turn it on when your revising something for someone else. I can tell you how many times I get a document back with revisions but I have no idea what they are.

SL: Try Google Docs the next time you need to collaborate on a document. It is incredibly user-friendly and I’d wager that this will become your go-to solution.

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Law Technology Today
Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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