At first glance, version control seems like it should be an easy task. A document is circulated, people share their comments and edits, and revisions are made. Sounds simple enough, right?
Not always. In fact, version control is one of those tricky things where suddenly you find yourself wondering:
- Which version is the current one?
- Did everyone make their changes?
- Are everyone’s changes incorporated into the final version?
And the more people there are marking up a document, the more complex (and out of control) version history becomes.
It can be a time-consuming task to go back through previous versions and look for old comments or double-check that all feedback has been addressed. Most of us don’t have the time. Even if you did, wouldn’t your time be better spent on steering the overall content marketing strategy?
Fortunately, with a little planning (and some ground rules), you can reclaim control over document versions.
5 Tips to Become a Master of Version Control
At Version A, we work in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs, depending on each client’s preferences. Although the popularity of Google Docs is growing, most of our clients still prefer to receive Word documents for the blogs, white papers, ebooks, and other content marketing materials we write for them. However, the tips below apply to both applications.
1. Establish a formal file naming convention.
This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but each version of a document should follow the same file name format. For example, if we’re writing a blog for a client, we typically use the following format: “client name_blog title_version number_date.” Each subsequent version would have a file name with an updated version number and date, so we always know which is the most recent. In Microsoft Word, this would be done via the usual file saving method. In Google Docs, you can simply update the file name at the top of your document. Navigate to “File” and then “Version History” and select the option to “name current version.”
2. Know how to access previous versions.
Even with the best laid plans, sometimes you may need to revert to a previous version. For a Microsoft Word document stored in OneDrive or a SharePoint library, you can restore an earlier version of a file through the “Version History” option by navigating to “File” and “Info.” In Google Docs, simply go to “File” and then “Version History.” When you select “See Version History,” you can select from all previous versions, with the option to revert back to any of them.
3. Set ground rules for feedback.
The more people there are editing and making comments on a document, the more important this tip is. Within our team, all copy goes through a formal editorial process.
- Editing: After the writer submits a draft, a copyeditor marks it up to make sure it fits the client’s tone and style and that it meets all of the requirements of the assignment.
- Revisions: The piece often goes back to the writer for some revisions. The copyeditor will review it again, and this process continues until the piece hits all the marks.
- Proofreading: Once approved by the copyeditor, the document goes to a proofreader to make sure there are no punctuation or grammatical errors.
- Client review: The document is handed off to the client. The client may approve it right away or ask for some additional tweaks.
Given the number of possible versions in this process (and the number of people involved), it’s important to set boundaries around when and how to submit feedback. Even though a document may be shared via email, it’s important to make sure people aren’t making comments within the body of an email message. All feedback should be posted to the document itself.
When using Microsoft Word, using track changes and inserting comments in the margin usually work best. For Google Docs, suggestion mode lets others easily see your changes. You can also call certain items to someone’s attention by tagging them with the “@” symbol in a comment.
4. Set boundaries and timelines.
Whether you’re working in Word or Google, it’s wise to set timelines around feedback, so you know when you have everyone’s input and can safely make any necessary changes. You may even want to create a table at the top of the document outlining who will review, in what order, and how much time each reviewer has. As each person completes their evaluation, they can check off the box next to their name. In Google Docs, they can even tag the next person up for review.
This keeps the process running smoothly and has the added benefit of a clear audit trail of the entire review process.
Additionally, you may also want to set permission levels for documents. Some people may only need “view” access, while others can be allowed to make comments or edits. Permission levels can prevent things from getting out of control and can avoid the headache of too many cooks (or editors) in the kitchen.
5. Lock it down.
Final versions should be marked as such in the file name. Additionally, depending on the system you’re using, approved documents should be changed to “read only” status if possible. This prevents anyone from inadvertently going in and making changes after the fact.
Version control can easily turn to chaos, but following these simple tips can ensure you manage the process more efficiently.