How Do I Maintain Version Control on a Document?
Only a few documents are written in one sitting by a single person. Typically, several people will be involved in the process, and it will take place over a longer period of time. Without proper controls, it’s easy to lose track of which version is the most recent. Here are a few suggestions for avoiding this:
Use a ‘revision’ numbering system to keep track of changes
Whole numbers can be used to indicate major changes to a file, such as v01 for the first version and v02 for the second version. Minor changes are indicated by increasing the decimal figure. For example, v01 01 indicates a minor change to the first version, and v03 01 indicates a minor change to the third version.
When draft documents are sent out for revisions, they should be returned with additional information that identifies the person who made the changes.
When a researcher creates a file pertaining to their research study, there are many ways in which they may apply version control. That being said, not all ways are good.
Researcher 1 titles their file as “File_Version1_Final Draft.docx”, while researcher 2 titles their file as “Data Storage and Privacy Study Manuscript_20210901_V1_ABC.docx”. Researcher 2’s method of version control is better than that of researcher 1 for a number of reasons. Firstly, the contents of the file are made clear (i.e. anyone else accessing the file will know that it is a manuscript for the data storage and privacy study that was conducted, while in contrast new team members will not know what “file” means. Secondly, a date and version number are provided, which allows others to quickly and easily find the most recent version of this file, as opposed to naming a file with “Final Draft”, which may not necessarily end up reflecting the actual final draft as time passes. Lastly, Researcher 2 added their first, middle, and last name initials (i.e. ABC) to the file name so it is clear that they were the last person to edit this particular file.
Relating to the same example above, there are also more and less effective ways to apply version numbers to files.
Consider the Following Scenario:
When Researcher 1 updates their file one day later, they re-title it “File_Version1_Final Final Draft.docx”, and when updating it again the day after they re-title it as “File_Version1_Final Final Final Draft.docx”. Not only is this ineffective as this takes away from the meaning of the word “final”, but this can only be done so many times before the file name becomes too long.
In contrast, when Researcher 2 makes a major update to their file later that week, they then re-title their file as “Data Storage and Privacy Study Manuscript_20210901_V2_ABC.docx”. This form of version numbers is far more effective as both minor and major updates can be reflected clearly in the file name as many times as are needed until the file is complete and requires no further editing.
Those following Researcher 2’s method of applying version numbers may also consider creating a version control table. Such a table can be placed on the first page of the file itself and contains four columns as follows: version, author, date, and changes. The version column contains all of the previous versions of the file and the current version (i.e. V1, V1.1, V1.2, V2). The author column contains the name of the author who last edited the file. The date column contains the date each version was created. Finally, the changes column briefly summarizes what was changed from the previous file version. In contrast, the use of a version control table would not be possible in the case of Researcher 1’s method of file naming, making it considerably more difficult to keep track of who changed the file, when the file was changed, and what was changed in the file, each time it is updated.
Include a ‘version control table’ for each important document, noting changes and when they occurred, as well as the document’s version number.
The management of several versions of the same document is known as ‘version control’; version management allows us to distinguish between different versions of a document. You can include the file names themselves along with (or instead of) the version number if you find it useful. Decide who will finish the final versions and label them accordingly.
An example of the use of version numbers and a version control table are provided below, reproduced from the University of Nottingham’s guidance document.
|A minor change to draft document is reflected by increasing the decimal figure incrementally. This may include the file name ‘Draft’ if preferred.
|Draft_v0.1 (first version of draft)
Environmental Policy_ 0.2 (second version of draft)
Strategic Plan_0.3 Draft (third version of draft)
|A major change to a document, such as when it is approved, is reflected by increasing the whole number by 1. This may include the file name ‘final’ if preferred.
|Final Version 1.0 (first approved version)
Environmental Policy 2.0 (second approved version)
Strategic Plan_v3.0 Draft (third approved version)
|A minor change to an approved document (i.e. a change that does not require the document to be re-approved) is reflected by increasing the decimal number consecutively.
|Document Version 1.0 (first approved version)
Final_v1.1 (minor amendment of first approved version)
Policy 2.1 (minor amendment of second approved version)
|Changed dates in section 2
|Minor change to Table of Contents
|Approved by Board
Version control is now often an automated process in many research tools. For example, in Word, when you want to update the version number, you should select the Custom tab of the File Properties dialog; where it says Properties, click on “Version”, and where it says Value, type the new version number (The WordMVP Site, n.d.). There are some benefits for saving your documents online with respect to version control too. Some programs (E.g., OSF) have built-in version control systems. Saving your files to a cloud-based server also lets you access them from anywhere and makes it easy to share them with your colleagues.