Tracking Changes to Templates

Carol has many template files (.dotx) that she makes changes to frequently. She would like to be able to track what changes are made to the templates and when. She wonders if there is a way she can do this easily with templates.

There is no easy way to do this that we've discovered. It is true that you can load a template (load the template itself, not create a document based on the template) and turn on Track Changes. If you then save the template with Track Changes turned on, then any new document you create based on that template also has Track Changes turned on. This, for most people, would not be acceptable.

Further, most templates fall into two categories: Those that contain user-defined styles and macros and those that contain boiler text of some type. If your template is of the latter type, then turning on Track Changes in the template may be helpful, even if new documents based on that template also have Track Changes turned on by default. If your template is of the former type (which most templates, in my experience, are), then turning on Track Changes in the template won't help.

The reason is simple: Even though you may make changes to styles and to macros in the template, those changes aren't tracked by Track Changes. So you won't be able to tell who changed your Body Text paragraph formatting from left-aligned to full justified, or even if such a change was made at all.

You could, of course, set up an internal "honor system" approach to making changes in the template. You may, for instance, have each user note, in some fashion, any changes they make to a template. If they change a style or change the margins, then they should add a comment to the template detailing those changes and why they were made. Of course, any such comments then become part of the template and are transferred, automatically, to any new document based on that template. (You can get around this in such a manual approach by having a separate document be used to accept the user's comments about changes made in the template.)

What you really want—especially with templates—is a "change control" system. These types of systems are used quite frequently in with files for which accountability for changes are critical, such as for programming files. Office doesn't have such a system built in, but it may be possible to find a third-party system that provides the functionality desired. Normally change-control systems allow a user to check out a file (such as, in this case, a template), make changes to the file, and then check it back into the system. While the file is checked out, nobody else can modify it. Change-control systems normally keep copies of files at each check-in, so you can "roll back" any unwanted changes.

If you decide to search for a change-control system that will work with Word documents and templates, you'll want to ensure that it supports the unique features of Word. For instance, the system should be able to track changes to styles, macros, document properties, graphics, etc. This is a tall order, and not something easily accomplished.

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