Word: Comparing two documents

September 12, 2013

Based on a writing tip I recently shared with my colleagues


The instructions in this Writing Tip apply to Word 2007; the steps should be the same (or very similar) for Word 2010.

The method you choose for comparing two documents in Microsoft Word depends on why you want to compare them. Typical scenarios are:

  • Scenario 1: You have a master document and want to compare some of the text in the current document with that master document (e.g. you may need to make sure that the text in various sections of a document matches the standard text in another document). Recommended method: View documents side by side
  • Scenario 2: You have two versions of the same document and want to track the changes between them (e.g. you may have inadvertently deleted an interim version along the way, and now you need to see how the document has changed between the earlier version and a later one; or you may have received a document back from a reviewer who didn’t use track changes and you want to see what changes they made). Recommended method: Compare documents

HINT: Both methods discussed here work very well if you have two monitors (one for each document); while you can use these methods if you only have one monitor (e.g. on a laptop), you may need to zoom out to the point where it’s difficult to read some of the text.

NOTE: I don’t know if these methods work on documents stored in SharePoint. I assume they do, but I haven’t tried it.

View documents side by side

With this method, the documents are displayed side-by-side so you can do a visual check of them, and perhaps modify one of them. Scrolling is automatically synchronized between the documents so that you don’t have to change focus or jump between each one as you work through them; however, you can turn it off.

  1. Open the two Word documents you want to view at the same time.
  2. Go to the View tab > Window command group.
  3. Click View Side by Side. (Note: If you have more than two documents open, select the document you want to compare on the Compare Side by Side window, then click OK.)
  4. The first document opens on the left and the other opens on the right.
  5. On the View tab of the left document, the Synchronous Scrolling button is automatically selected. Click it to turn it off and on.
  6. TIP: Check the title bar of each document to make sure you modify the correct document.
Synchronous Scrolling toolbar button

Synchronous Scrolling toolbar button

Compare documents

For this method, I strongly advise that you work on COPIES of the original and revised documents, and that you accept all track changes in these COPIES before running the comparison. Just in case.

  1. To compare two documents, go to the Review tab, Compare group, click the Compare button, then select the Compare… option.
  2. Select the original document from the first drop-down list (or click the folder icon to navigate to it). TIP: Hover over a title in the narrow drop-down list to see the full title and file path – this will help you choose the correct document.
  3. Select the revised document (as per Step 2).
  4. Select the elements you want to compare. TIP: Turn some of these off (especially Formatting and Fields) if your documents are particularly long otherwise you may get a ‘Word is unable to compare documents’ error message.word_compare01
  5. Select the level of changes you want to see and where you want to see them (if this is the first time using this feature, try the defaults first; you can always change them later).
  6. Click OK.
  7. If you selected to show the changes in a new document, that document will open in a few seconds showing all the differences between the original and the revised version as tracked changes.

This articles describes what each of the settings means: http://blogs.office.com/b/microsoft-word/archive/2009/02/17/test2903298.aspx


For more information on these functions, see my blog posts about these methods:

[Links last checked 11 September 2013]


  1. I wonder how you managed to “blur out” the names of the documents in the printscreen. I’ve searched a lot to find that out, but fruitless…
    JP (Belgium)

  2. Hi JP

    I use SnagIt to take screenshots and it has a blur selection function. Typically I blur by 10%.


  3. I normally use View Side by Side, which works well for me. Suddenly the documents are in a horizontal split instead of Side by Side and I can’t figure how to get the “normal” side x side back. Can you help? Thank you.

  4. Hi Elaine

    It sounds like you’ve clicked ‘Split’ as well (also on the View tab), which will show the same document twice in a horizontal split view. You can get rid of the split by closing the document — when you next open it, the split will be gone unless you turn it on again.

    Or else you’ve inadvertently rearranged the side by side windows, in which case click ‘Reset Window Position’ (also on the View tab, and if the window is small, then under the ‘Window’ button on the View tab).


  5. That worked surprisingly well! I have heard that this word feature is notoriously glitchy. However, the changes are perfectly tracked. I removed selection of the ‘Formatting’ and ‘Fields’ and the new document was generated with no dramas. Thanks Rhonda!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: