How to use the new Google Docs Compare feature

Learn how to use the Google Docs Compare feature to view the differences between versions of documents.

Google is constantly rolling out new features for their products. And Google Drive/Docs is not immune to that behavior. Case in point, Google Docs became the recipient of a new Compare feature. 

This feature compares two documents and displays the differences. Anyone who has ever edited a document or used the diff command on Linux will understand why this is a big deal for Google Docs. This feature makes it really easy to track the progress of documents, seeing how they've changed over time. It's also an outstanding tool for editors and teachers, looking to see how revisions and versions differ.

Although programmers aren't likely to be using Google Docs for coding, they could make it work as a very user-friendly diff tool. As I said, that's probably not likely, but it is possible.

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What you'll need

The only things you'll need to work with the Compare feature are:

  • A Google account

  • Two Google documents to compare

How to compare documents

Obviously we're working within Google Docs, so the two documents you'll compare will need to be of the Google Docs sort. If you have MS Word files or .odt files, they'll need to be opened as Google Docs.

Once you have the proper type of documents, open one. From within the document, click Tools | Compare Documents (Figure A).

Figure A

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The Compare Documents entry in the Tools menu.

A new window will open (Figure B), where you must select the document for comparison.

Figure B

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Selecting your document for comparison.

There are two options for you to include in the comparison. First, you can attribute differences to a specific user. This is handy if you're collaborating on a document or the original author of the document is someone other than you. The second option is to include comments from the selected document. If either document includes comments, it is wise to include this option.

After you've made your choices, click Compare. A typical document shouldn't take much time for the comparison. If your document is longer (say, book length), the comparison can take some time.

When the comparison completes, a new document will open to show the differences between the two (Figure C).

Figure C

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The differences found between two documents.

As you can see, I'm comparing a newer version to an older version of a document. The newer document contains a number of additions, so they show up as deletions in the older document. If you were to compare the older document to the newer document, those would appear as additions (Figure D).

Figure D

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Comparing the original to the new copy has the reverse effect.

And that's the gist of using the Google Docs Compare feature. This is a great tool for anyone who needs to compare two different Google documents to see what has changed in the versions. Once you start using this tool, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.

Also see

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Image: Google