How to Use Microsoft Word 2003 Version Control

Word 2003's Version Control Is Useful, but It's No Longer Supported

Graphic of a hand holding out a life raft
erhui1979 / Getty Images

Microsoft Word 2003 provides a formal way to implement versioning for document creation. Word 2003's version control feature lets you preserve past versions of your documents more easily and efficiently. 

Versioning No Longer Supported in Later Word Editions

Before proceeding, it's important to know that this versioning feature is not available in later editions of Microsoft Word, starting with Word 2007. Also, you should be aware of what happens if you open a version-controlled file in later editions of Word.

From Microsoft's support site:

If you save a document that contains versioning in the Microsoft Office Word 97-2003 file format and then open it in Office Word 2007, you will lose access to the versions.
Warning: If you open the document in Office Word 2007 and you save the document in either Word 97-2003 or Office Word 2007 file formats, you will permanently lose all versions.

Saving Documents with Different Filenames

You may have used the method of saving versions of your document incrementally with different filenames. There are drawbacks to this approach, however. It can become difficult to manage all the files, so it requires diligence and planning. This method also uses a considerable amount of storage space, as each individual file contains the entire document.

Versions in Word 2003

There is a better method of Word version control that avoids these drawbacks while still allowing you to preserve drafts of your work. Word's Versions feature allows you to keep previous iterations of your work in the same file as your current document. This saves you having to manage multiple files while also saving you storage space. You won’t have multiple files, and, since it only saves the differences between the drafts, it saves some of the disk space multiple versions require.
There are two ways to use Word 2003's versioning for your document:

  • Save a version manually at any time.
  • Have Word automatically save a version of your document when you close it.

To save a version manually, make sure the document is open:

  1. Click File in the top menu.
  2. Click Versions...
  3. In the Versions dialog box, click Save Now… The Save Version dialog box appears.
  4. Enter any comments you want to be included with this version.
  5. When you are done entering comments, click OK.

The document version is saved. The next time you save a version, you will see previous versions you have saved listed in the Versions dialog box.

Automatically Save Versions

You can set Word 2003 to automatically store versions when you close documents by following these steps:

  1. Click File in the top menu.
  2. Click Versions… This opens the Versions dialog box.
  3. Check the box labeled "Automatically save a version on close."
  4. Click Close.

Note: The versions feature does not work with web pages created in Word.

Viewing and Deleting Document Versions

When you save versions of your document, you can access those versions, delete any of them and restore a version of your document to a new file.
To view a version of your document:

  1. Click File in the top menu.
  2. Click Versions… This opens the Versions dialog box.
  3. Select the version you would like to open.
  4. Click Open.

The chosen version of the document will open in a new window. You can scroll through your document and interact with it as you would a normal document.

While you can make changes to a previous version of a document, it is important to note that the version stored in the current document cannot be altered. Any changes made to a previous version creates a new document and requires a new filename.

To delete a document version:

  1. Click File in the top menu.
  2. Click Versions… to open the Versions dialog box.
  3. Select the version you would like to delete.
  4. Click the Delete button.
  5. In the confirmation dialog box, click Yes if you are sure you want to delete the version.
  6. Click Close.

Deleting previous versions of your document is important if you plan to distribute or share it with other users. The original versioned file includes all previous versions, and so those would be accessible to others with the file.