This is the first post in a potential “How to” series about using Microsoft Word for writers. If you like this kind of thing and would like more posts deep-diving into the mysterious and magical intricacies of Word, let me know by dropping a like and/or comment!
Getting beta feedback can make all the difference in your manuscript, but it can be difficult to organize the feedback you get. Flipping back and forth between multiple Microsoft Word files to compare how different readers felt about the same passages is less than ideal.
Believe it or not, Microsoft Word can actually help with that!
There’s a way to merge documents so that comments and tracked changes are combined, as if each reader commented and tracked changes in the same file.
And, as far as I can tell, you can merge as many documents into one file as you want! I merged four, and one of them was originally a Google Doc that I downloaded as a Word file.
KEEP READING TO LEARN THIS SORCERY...
(I’m using Microsoft Word for Mac, Version 16.44. If you have a different version, these instructions might not line up exactly, but should hopefully point you in the right direction.)
1. Open a Microsoft Word file.
It doesn’t matter what file you open. You can even open a brand new blank file, like I did in the screenshots below.
2. Click the Review tab on the top navigation ribbon.
3. Click the “Compare” button.
When you do this, you’ll get two options: Compare Documents and Combine Documents.
4. Click “Combine Documents.”
This will open up a dialogue box.
5. On the left, select the first file you want to combine.
You can do this by clicking the gray arrows or the blue file folder. The gray arrows will show recent documents, and the blue folder opens up access to any file on the computer/device. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter which file you pick for Original Document or Revised Document; they get merged into a brand new, unnamed document, without apparent hierarchy.
6. Fill out the left-hand “Label unmarked changes with:” box.
Whatever name or label that you put here will be applied to any unmarked or author-unrecorded changes in the file listed above. So if Jane Doe was your beta for the file in the Original Document slot, put her name in the blank below that file, so you’ll be able to see which comments belonged to her. Unless you want all your beta comments to be anonymous (I can’t imagine this would be useful, but hey, everyone’s got their own process), this is super important. Otherwise all comments may end up looking like they were made by the same person.
7. On the right, select the second file you want to combine and input a label for unmarked comments.
This is exactly the same as in steps 5 and 6, except under the heading of “Revised Document.” Again, as far as I can tell, there’s no reason to put one document under “Original Document” and another under “Revised Document.” They’re all going to the same place!
8. Click OK.
9. Microsoft Word will generate a brand new, unnamed file with the comments and tracked changes merged.
This may take a second, especially if your files are really large, but there’s nothing else to do but wait here. Word will open the document immediately.
10. If you have more than two betas’ comments to combine, repeat the process, adding one new file each time.
We seem to be limited to combining two documents at a time. So it’s possible to combine as many files as you want, but you have to kind of build up to it, each time generating a new file with one more set of comments included.
If you need to repeat the process, make sure that when you get to the Combine Documents part, one of the selected documents is the merged file you just made (the one that already has two betas’ feedback in it).
As you build, you’ll create some excess files that don’t have ALL your betas’ feedback included. Keep these as backups or delete them; it doesn’t really matter. They’re just building blocks in the process of the Master Doc to Rule Them All that we’re after.
11. Bask in the glory of your creation.
It’s all organized! It’s all in one place! It’s really easy to see where your betas are agreeing or disagreeing! (It might create a bunch of weird tracked changes to do with formatting…I haven’t figured that out yet…but it might not happen to you…and I just ignored them! They didn’t get in the way! I was mostly using tracked changes to look for typos or sentence stuff!)
12. Get revising.
Oh yeah. That.