Tackling Tracked Changes & Overcoming Hurdles in Managing Large Document Revisions


Whether it’s a multinational corporation updating its policies, a government institution amending regulations, or an aircraft manufacturer refining technical specifications, the challenges inherent in managing vast amounts of content revisions can be daunting. Yet, at the heart of this challenge lies the need to track, analyse, and integrate changes seamlessly and accurately. Traditional methods of manually tracking changes simply fall short when faced with the sheer volume and complexity of modern, usually digitalised, documents. This is where tracked changes and comparison solutions are utilised to help manage all-important document changes.

Tracked changes, a staple feature in many word processing applications, provide a chronological record of modifications made to a document. However, the efficacy of managing tracked changes is not solely about identifying what has been altered; it’s equally crucial to accurately represent these changes within the context of the entire document. This nuanced aspect is where many publishers encounter significant hurdles.

Specialised comparison solutions have therefore emerged as a more preferred option for document management, especially when dealing with vast amounts of documentation, where small but important changes occur. The reason why? These solutions go beyond mere identification, offering robust functionalities to analyse, merge, process, and synchronise changes across data and documents. In industries where precision and reliability are non-negotiable, comparison solutions provide the assurance of 100% accuracy—particularly vital for those in government, banking, aircraft manufacturing, and defence, where errors can have profound consequences.

The Problem with Tracked Changes for Large Documents

Understanding Tracked Changes

Tracked changes, often synonymous with “redlining” or “markup,” serve as a mechanism to record modifications made to a document. Originally conceived to streamline the editing and review processes in word processing software, tracked changes have become an indispensable tool for publishers across various industries.

A screenshot of the tracked changes feature within Microsoft Word

The primary purpose of tracked changes is twofold: to provide a transparent record of alterations and to facilitate collaboration among multiple stakeholders involved in the document’s creation or revision. By visually highlighting additions, deletions, and modifications, tracked changes offer a clear audit trail, enabling editors, authors, and reviewers to track the evolution of the document.

Common Scenarios and Impacts on Editing and Review Processes

In practice, tracked changes are instrumental in numerous scenarios encountered during the editing and review phases of document production. For instance, in a corporate setting, tracked changes facilitate the refinement of company policies or contractual agreements by allowing legal teams to annotate proposed amendments. Similarly, in academic publishing, tracked changes aid peer reviewers in providing detailed feedback on research manuscripts.

However, as the scale and complexity of documents increase, so do the challenges associated with effectively managing tracked changes.

Disadvantages of Tracked Changes

Performance Issues and Impact on Document Responsiveness

One of the most glaring drawbacks of relying solely on tracked changes, particularly for large documents, is the detrimental impact on performance. As edits accumulate and the document size grows, performance issues may arise, leading to sluggish responsiveness and increased system resource consumption. This degradation in performance can impede the efficiency of the editing and review process, frustrating users and hampering productivity.

Complexity in Navigating Numerous Revisions and Identifying Specific Edits

Another significant challenge posed by tracked changes in large documents is the inherent complexity in navigating through numerous revisions and identifying specific edits. As the document undergoes multiple rounds of revisions, the markup can become cluttered and convoluted, making it difficult for users to discern individual changes accurately. This lack of clarity not only prolongs the review process but also increases the likelihood of overlooking critical modifications, leading to errors or inconsistencies in the final document.

Further Challenges Presented with Tracked Changes

Furthermore, relying solely on tracked changes presents a multitude of additional challenges for publishers. These include difficulties in maintaining version control, particularly in collaborative environments where multiple contributors are concurrently editing the document. Moreover, there’s an inherent risk of data loss or corruption, especially when merging changes from disparate sources or incompatible file formats. Additionally, formatting issues may arise, particularly with complex elements such as tables and scalable vector graphics (SVGs), further complicating the review process and potentially causing delays in revision and publication timelines. Yet, the most notable disadvantage lies in its dependence on users to activate and consistently utilise the feature.

Screenshot of a reddit post on tracked changes

The Role of Structured Documentation

Structured Documentation and XML

If you’ve ever been tasked with managing critical documentation within your organisation, it’s likely you were dealing with structured documents. Structured documentation refers to the organisation of content in a consistent and hierarchical manner, making it easier to manage, navigate, and manipulate. Unlike unstructured documents, which lack a predefined format or hierarchy, structured documentation adheres to a specific schema or markup language, facilitating automated processing and analysis.

Structured documentation finds applications across various domains, including technical writing, legal documentation, and data interchange. By enforcing a standardised format, structured documentation improves readability, enhances search-ability, and enables seamless integration with other systems and tools.

XML-based Structured Documents and Their Benefits

Extensible Markup Language (XML) stands out as one of the most widely adopted standards for structured documentation. XML employs tags to delineate different elements within a document, allowing content to be categorised, annotated, and formatted according to predefined rules.

The benefits of XML-based structured documents are manifold. Firstly, XML facilitates content reuse, enabling organisations to repurpose information across multiple documents and platforms effortlessly. Additionally, XML promotes interoperability by ensuring compatibility with a wide range of software applications and systems. This interoperability is particularly valuable in any regulated industry, where documents must adhere to stringent formatting requirements or undergo seamless integration with content management systems.

XML’s flexibility allows for the adaptation of document structures to accommodate evolving business requirements,ensuring future-proofing and scalability. As a bonus, XML-based structured documents enhance accessibility and localisation efforts by enabling the creation of multilingual content variants and facilitating automated translation workflows.

Challenges in Managing Change in Structured Documents

Despite the numerous advantages offered by structured documentation, managing change in XML-based documents presents its own set of challenges. One of the primary difficulties lies in ensuring the integrity and consistency of the document structure amidst ongoing revisions. As content evolves, maintaining coherence across interlinked elements and preserving the document’s semantic meaning becomes of crucial importance.

Furthermore, the granular nature of XML-based documents can exacerbate the complexities associated with tracking and reconciling changes. Unlike traditional word processing documents, where edits are visually annotated, XML modifications often manifest as alterations to underlying tags or attributes, requiring specialised tools and techniques for effective comparison and version control.

The Superiority of Comparison Solutions

Comparison Tools and Their Benefits

Comparison solutions represent a new standard in document change management, offering advanced functionalities to analyse, merge, and synchronise changes in data and documents. Unlike traditional tracked changes, which provide a chronological record of modifications, comparison solutions offer a more comprehensive and sophisticated approach to change management.

Screenshot from the ISO website with redlines enabled

These tools leverage advanced algorithms to identify differences between versions of documents, enabling users to pinpoint specific edits with precision. Moreover, comparison solutions offer a range of benefits, including improved accuracy, enhanced efficiency, and streamlined collaboration, making them indispensable for publishers grappling with large document revisions.

In contrast to tracked changes, which primarily focus on annotating modifications within a single document, comparison solutions offer a holistic view of changes across multiple versions. By facilitating side-by-side comparison and analysis, these tools empower users to gain insights into the evolution of documents, identify discrepancies, and reconcile differences seamlessly.

Addressing the Challenges Identified in Tracked Changes

Performance Improvement and Efficiency Gains

Comparison solutions address the performance issues inherent in tracked changes by optimising resource utilisation and streamlining processing workflows. By employing efficient algorithms and leveraging parallel processing capabilities, these tools deliver significant performance improvements, enhancing responsiveness and accelerating the document editing and reviewing process.

Simplifying Document Navigation and Management

Document navigation is also simplified with the integration of these solutions into user workflows. Users can seamlessly incorporate them, allowing for customisation in determining which changes are displayed and how they are presented. With this capability, users can effortlessly navigate through revisions, pinpoint specific edits, and contextualise changes, effectively eliminating the challenges associated with navigating cluttered markup and multiple layers of tracked changes. Additionally, the flexibility of customisation ensures that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; instead, the method of finding and representing changes varies depending on the specific use case.

Enhancing Version Control Accuracy and Clarity

Comparison solutions enhance version control accuracy and clarity by providing comprehensive audit trails and detailed reports of changes. Unlike tracked changes, which may obscure the sequence of edits in complex documents, comparison solutions offer transparent visibility into the modification history, by comparing versions of a document, enabling users to track the evolution of documents with precision.

Collaboration and Data Integrity

Comparison solutions facilitate seamless collaboration among multiple contributors by enabling conflict resolution, allowing users to accept or reject changes for a final edit. Document formatting and data integrity are prioritised, ensuring that edits are accurately represented without compromising formatting or content integrity. Unlike tracked changes, which may introduce formatting inconsistencies or data loss, comparison solutions preserve the structure, styling, and metadata of documents, maintaining fidelity across revisions.

Bettering the Review and Approval Process

Comparison solutions streamline the review and approval process by automating repetitive tasks, facilitating efficient collaboration, and expediting decision-making. Within their workflows, users can construct automated processes tailored to comparison results, enabling automatic acceptance, rejection, or submission of differences for review. By providing comprehensive insights into document changes and facilitating clear communication among stakeholders, these tools minimise review timelines and eliminate bottlenecks, ensuring timely approval and publication.

Diagram of a pipeline configuration for comparison

Optimising document workflows and mitigating the risks associated with manual tracking and reconciliation, comparison solutions empower those with critical documentation to meet stringent publishing deadlines and improve overall project efficiency. Whether it’s updating regulatory documentation, publishing financial reports, or releasing technical specifications, these tools enable authors and reviewers to deliver high-quality content within schedule, enhancing organisational agility and competitiveness.

The Ultimate Comparison Solution

As mentioned earlier, when it comes to handling critical documents, XML is ubiquitous. Whether you’re editing contracts, refining technical specifications, or updating regulatory documents, chances are you’re working with XML in some capacity. Its structured format lends itself to efficient data organisation and manipulation, making it the backbone of countless industries worldwide.

With the increasing complexity of documents and the growing demand for precision and efficiency in revision management, the necessity for a comprehensive comparison solution becomes increasingly apparent. Factor in the stringent requirements of regulatory compliance and the importance of maintaining data integrity, and it becomes evident that only an XML aware, advanced comparison solution can empower you to extract maximum value from your document management processes, both now and in the future.

DeltaXML: There’s No Better Solution for Finding Differences within Documentation

DeltaXML’s XML Compare and XML Merge solutions are the much-needed answer for stringent document change management, providing unequalled accuracy and efficiency in handling XML documents. XML Compare offers a suite of features for comparing two XML documents, while XML Merge takes it a step further by facilitating the resolution of changes across multiple documents.

What sets DeltaXML apart is its unique ability to represent changes using standard XML markup, ensuring that modified documents retain the same ease of processing as the original. This versatility allows for the creation of various output formats, from simple redline documents to selective indexes of changes and comprehensive statistics. Moreover, with the power of XSLT, DeltaXML enables users to achieve virtually limitless customisation, whether generating diff-only reports for external stakeholders or enhancing functionality within internal CCMS systems.

Example of a redline pdf

Furthermore, DeltaXML’s deep understanding of XML structure empowers it to adeptly manage alterations to attributes while also maintaining awareness of word breaks and punctuation. As a result, the outcomes are inherently more intuitive, significantly reducing the time required for review, particularly beneficial for resource-intensive roles such as subject matter experts.

With advanced capabilities such as enhanced table and SVG comparison, DeltaXML’s solutions ensure precise analysis of even the most complex document elements. Seamlessly integrated into user workflows, XML Compare and XML Merge empower organisations to navigate the intricacies of document revisions with ease and confidence, ultimately optimising productivity and ensuring data integrity throughout the entire document lifecycle.

If you’d like to discuss anything covered within this article with a comparison expert, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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