How to Compare Word Documents

Take a look at two Word documents side-by-side

Microsoft Word is the go-to word processor for everything from novels to academic papers. The tool offers many unique features, including the ability to compare two Word documents in order to view their similarities and differences. The Compare tool is easy to find and use in Word.

Instructions in this article apply to Word 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, and Word for Microsoft 365.

The Microsoft Word Compare Tool's Many Uses

The Compare tool is extremely useful for comparing two documents of virtually any type, from newsletters to blog posts and beyond. Some of the most common uses of the tool include:

  • Finding document revisions: Authors and bloggers alike use the Compare tool to find revisions made by their editors if change tracking isn't available.
  • Finding discrepancies in source code: Programmers use the Compare tool to find discrepancies in the source code when creating computer programs.
  • Comparing contracts and legal documents: Attorneys use the Compare tool to find changes made to contracts and other legal documents before finalizing.
  • Comparing resumes: Resumes and other living, breathing documents are edited often. The Compare tool helps you compare these documents to find the newest version.

How to Use the Compare Tool in Microsoft Word

  1. To get started, open the two documents you want to compare.

    Two documents open in Microsoft Word and being compared using the Compare tool

    If you haven't done so already, it's best to add an indicator to your documents to indicate the first version and the subsequent version. A simple number will suffice and keep you on track.

  2. In one of your documents, locate and select Review in the Word toolbar.

    Review tab selected in Microsoft Word
  3. Select Compare > Compare Documents to open the Compare Documents window open on your screen.

    Compare Documents selected in the Compare tab of Microsoft Word
  4. Under Original Document on the left side of the Compare Documents window, use the field to locate the original document you want to compare with the revised document.

    Microsoft Word Compare Documents window with Original document highlighted

    To change how you see comparisons in your documents, select the arrow in the bottom left corner of the window to find various comparison settings and the ability to see changes in different ways. Select the ones you want and deselect the ones you don't.

  5. Under Revised Document on the right side of the Compare Documents window, use the field to locate the revised document you want to compare with the original document.

    Revised document section of the Compare Documents window in Microsoft Word

    When you're happy with your settings, select OK.

    If you want to compare the documents in the opposite way, open the Compare tool again and select the double arrows to switch the documents around without needing to find them again. This way, you'll compare the revised with the original.

    You can choose what you want to label the changes as when comparing the two documents. Simply enter your label in the Label changes with field.

  6. A new document opens showing the comparisons between the two documents as traditional tracked changes.

    New document created using the Compare tool in Microsoft Word

    To see the changes in detail, select the red lines on the left side of the document to reveal details about each change on the right side of the document.

  7. If you continue working in the newly created document, remember to select the Save As icon in the top toolbar. Your document won't be saved automatically.

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