How to compare two documents in Word

Your step-by-step guide to compare two documents in Word and interpret the comparison results, including FAQs on comparing documents in Word.

June 28, 2024
How to compare two documents in Word

If you’re looking for a free document comparison tool, Microsoft Word’s Compare feature is a great option for simple comparisons. It lets you compare two Word documents and find most of the differences, although it isn’t suitable for more complex comparisons or if you’re looking to optimise your workflows.  

Read on for a step-by-step guide to compare two documents in Word. If you need more functionality, you can also see how Word Compare stacks up against Draftable Legal, a specialist legal document comparison software.

Step-by-step guide to compare two Word documents

Step 1: Open the Compare feature

  • Open a new document in the Word desktop app (the Compare tool is only available in the desktop app, not the web version of Word).
  • Click on the Review tab in the ribbon at the top of the document
  • Click Compare. You will see two options: Compare and Combine. Choose Compare to start the process.
Word document highlighting Compare feature

Step 2: Select two Word documents to compare

  • The Compare Documents window will appear. In the Original Document box, choose the first document to compare. Select from the drop-down menu or click the folder icon to browse files.
  • In the adjacent Revised Document box, select the second document you want to compare.

Step 3: Set comparison options

  • You can assign a Label (such as the author’s name) to show who made the changes in the revised document.
  • Click on the More button to show options for the changes Word should track, such as text changes and formatting.
  • Choose how you want to show changes. You have the option to show them in the original document, the revised document, or a new document entirely.
  • After selecting your preferences, click OK. Word will generate a comparison document displaying the changes.
Word Compare Documents window

Understanding the comparison results

Here’s how to interpret the comparison results:

  1. Revision marks: Insertions are typically highlighted and underlined, deletions are shown with strikethroughs, and formatting changes are usually listed in the change list.
  2. Revisions pane: A pane on the left side of the screen lists all changes.
  3. Three-pane view: If you choose to show changes in a new document, Word will display a three-pane view with the original, revised and new document all displaying and scrolling in sync.

Reviewing and accepting changes

  1. Navigate changes: Use the Previous and Next buttons in the Review ribbon to move through each change.
  2. Accept or reject: Click Accept or Reject in the Review ribbon
  3. Final review: Once all changes are reviewed, save the comparison document or merge changes back into the original document as needed.

Frequently asked questions on comparing documents in Word

What if I need to compare text files, PDF documents, PowerPoint or Excel files?

While the Word Compare tool can compare two Word documents, it lacks functionality with other file types. If you need to compare other file types like PDFs, you’ll need a specialist tool like Draftable Legal.

With Draftable Legal, you can compare:

Read more: Draftable Legal vs Microsoft Word Compare for legal document comparison

Draftable Legal comparison launcher

Can I compare multiple documents at once?

The Word Compare feature is limited to comparing two Word documents at a time. Draftable Legal has a Bulk Compare feature that allows you to compare a single ‘original’ document to multiple other ‘newer’ documents (or the other way around), at the same time. It’s ideal for when you’ve got many versions of the same document, and you need to compare each pair and find the changes in seconds. You can still open, review and export each comparison independently, or save all comparisons in bulk with one action.  

Read more: The efficient way to compare multiple documents at once

Read more: How to compare multiple Excel files

Draftable Legal Bulk Compare launcher

How can I see moved text, and not just deletions and insertions?

The Word Compare tool will only recognise ‘moved’ text when a paragraph is moved without any changes to it. If you need greater accuracy, Draftable Legal lets you quickly see all changes including moved text. For example, if a paragraph is moved with some changes made to that paragraph, Draftable Legal will detect it and show the text that is the same but moved and also highlight the text that was added or deleted.

Draftable Legal also shows text that was moved from a table into free text and vice versa. The Word Compare function displays it as a deletion/insertion, but Draftable legal detects when it’s the same text but in a different format, so you don’t need to waste time reviewing unsubstantial changes.

Read more: How to track changes in contracts during the review and negotiation process

Draftable Legal comparison results showing moved text

Can I upload files or launch comparisons from Outlook or my Document Management System (DMS)?

When comparing two documents in Word, you can only compare files saved locally to your computer and only launch comparisons from within Word.

If you need greater workflow efficiency, you’ll need to use a specialist tool like Draftable Legal, which integrates seamlessly with all essential software such as Word, Outlook and DMS including iManage, NetDocuments, SharePoint, Worldox and Epona 365. This means you can easily upload files and launch comparisons directly from wherever you are – DMS, Outlook, Word or local files.

Read more: How to ensure a contract hasn’t been changed before signing

Screenshot of how to upload files to Draftable Legal from email

Can I export my comparisons to email or DMS?

Word Compare only allows you to save comparison output as a Word document, and you need to save it locally before you can upload it to another location such as Outlook or your DMS. With Draftable Legal, you can save your comparison directly to a DMS and export it to PDF and PDF redline including changed pages only. You can also copy your comparison files with a single click and paste them into various locations including a new email, pre-written email, or MS Teams and Slack.

See the table below for more detail on the differences between Draftable Legal and MS Word Compare for workflow efficiency.

workflow feature parity table Draftable Legal vs MS Word Compare

All the differences between Draftable Legal and MS Word Compare for document comparison

The Word Compare function is adequate for simple document comparisons, however, legal professionals need a specialist solution for faster, more accurate and efficient document comparisons.

Draftable Legal was built specifically for lawyers so it has all the specific workflow-enhancing features that legal teams need.

See the table below for a full list of differences between Draftable Legal and MS Word Compare for document comparison (or read more here).

You can also see the differences between Draftable Legal and other legal document comparison software in this feature parity table.

Feature Parity Table Draftable Legal vs Microsoft Word Compare

Ready to switch to a specialist document comparison software like Draftable Legal?
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