I work in a small office inside a University and I'm in charge of the physical documents for the students like guides, questionnaire and so on. We have 10-15 students a year that work with us to get some money and to help us preparing these documents, help other students, etc.

The previous director of the office was terrible with anything computer-related so we ended up working on paper for every change we had to make, piling tons of useless sheet and going crazy when we had to find the last version of something.
Moreover, having a different intern everyday it was literally impossible to track the changes on anything.

So, I'm here now looking for a middle ground, and I was thinking for something like a git workflow for non-programmers.
I create the base document, say student guide 2015-16.doc, and daily the student working on it will submit a pull request which I accept totally or partially and can review and view previous versions.

I can't use cygwin and ask people to type git commands in a shell (this is not a computer science university), therefore I was wondering if there's something like a plugin for Word working invisibly behind the scenes.

  • I like your idea. If you use git or other version controls I think it's not good approach. Because it doesn't track any changes on your Word document. But, it will replace your old document. If you are programmer, you can use version control for document using LaTeX or Markdown. I think you need something like SharePoint. It's not an answer.
    – meisyal
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 15:14
  • You could use the internal tracker in the documents (just have a blackout on its name; but your student can enable "track changes" in the "review" section for his/her edits, send back the document for you to "review", and you then can either accept or reject each change, separately or in a "batch"). For later references, as far as I know Word has a "versioning" as well (I work with LibreOffice, which has both, so I cannot tell you exactly in which Word menu what is).
    – Izzy
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:02
  • 1
    I use TortoiseSVN. It works well for versioning Word documents. I'm yet to test your pull request requirement
    – Tymric
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 5:47
  • You mention "a different intern everyday". Does it mean the document is modified by a different person each day? Or several interns are modifying the same document at the exact same time?
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 5:55
  • The document is modified by a different person each day, same computer, different student. There are only two machines working on these documents, my personal one with the centralized assets, and the other one, used by a different student every day. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 6:04

6 Answers 6


If you can, try switching to Google Docs. It handles this situation very well.

It is designed around collaboration on documents; it colors the edits or marks them with strikethrough for deletions until the edit it approved.

You can see who has made any edits on the page because it shows a name tag in the right margin on the pending edits.

Google Docs About

I recently did some proofreading on a document in google docs. The edits I made were colored in green and marked in the right margin with a name tag showing my name on it until the document owner inspected and approved them

Here is the google help document about making "suggested edits"

Google docs help section

Screenshot of the relevant help section

  • Please detail how it would handle the review/approval requirement.
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 3:59
  • I recently did some proofreading on a document in google docs. The edits I made were colored in green and marked in the right margin with a name tag with my name on it until the document owner inspected and approved them. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 13:03
  • 1
    Interesting! So there is a "Approve" button and a "Reject" button? A screenshot would be great to make your answer even better. Thanks for the details!
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 3:05
  • I added a link to the google help documentation about it, and a screenshot of the relevant section Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 16:10

There are collaboration tools and revision control available within Word but as with many things MS it does not follow a standard, is not compatible with anything else and may not even work between versions or installations of Word.

If you must use Word I would suggest using the built in reviewing tools but then rather than git - which treats .docx as binary blob using mercurial, (hg), with the zipdoc extension. I would recommend doing the review before committing the change.

  • I wonder how this fits the review/approval requirement. How could my boss review something I haven't committed yet?
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 4:01
  • If your boss shares the current version for updates/collaboration then they should get back marked up document, (with who suggested the changes and their comments), on the review tab they can accept/reject each change. The exact details vary with different versions of word IIRC you can even have more than one reviewer on the more recent versions. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 5:16

You could utilize an open source document manager to collaborate and track versions. I would start by looking at alfresco, nuxeo, and sensenet. (Disclosure: my company is a SenseNet partner.)

We use SenseNet internally to manage our documents to avoid the situation you have described. To implement this solution you would first download and install a database; MS SQL Server Express is free and is sufficient for a small group such as yours. Then download and install the Community version of SenseNet on Codeplex. SenseNet has a forum that can provide help if you have any issues installing.

Once it is installed, you navigate to the Document Workspace page and click the "New Document workspace" link and fill out the dialog. The "Project Manager" can approve documents, so set this value to the appropriate user. If you want versioning on all documents set the Version History dropdown to "Major and Minor" and "Content approval" to True, then click the Save button. Once this is done you should see something like the screenshot below.

Workspace members can the view/edit/approve depending on the permissions you assigned them when they were added. Most operations you need are shown in the dropdown menu on the document (see the highlighted items in the second image):

  • Download (just gets a copy)
  • Checkout (locks changes until checkin)
  • Publish (Approves the document)
  • Versions (view prior versions and optionally revert)
  • Set Notification (notify users of changes to the document)

Example document workspace

Common document operations highlighted

  • Could you please detail how review/approval would work? For instance with SenseNet. Preferably including screenshots. Thanks!
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 3:13
  • SenseNet uses "document workspaces" that is a collaborative web page that manages document processes and sharing. You drag and drop a document into a workspace (it's immediately indexed for searching) and you then assign it to one or more workspace members for review/editing. All commits are tracked and optionality versioned (major or major.minor). At some point a member with "publish" privileges can approve or reject the document. See sensenet.com/sensenet-ecm for screen shots and details. Their community edition can be found on codeplex. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 3:56
  • 1
    Great, could you please edit your answer to add these elements, including the images themselves rather than links? Comments get deleted, and we prefer full inline information rather than links. Thanks! And welcome to Software Recommendations :-)
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 3:59
  • 1
    Will do. I'm on a tablet at the moment, but will update as you requested when I've got a real computer. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 4:04

Check out Draft. You can't use Word documents with it, but I think it has the collaborative and approval aspects that you are looking for.

It's designed primarily for plain text and markdown, so be aware of that. It does allow for the "pull request" style interaction that you are requestin:

However, when you share your document using Draft, any changes your collaborator makes are on their own copy of the document, and you get to accept or ignore each individual change they make. Here's what that looks like:

enter image description here


You can use the Sharepoint Server or a Sharepoint Service (which is free of use).

If it's ok for your business case, you can additionally check Office 365. Such a Review/Approval is integrated in word in some way already.

A usage of git in this case isn't the best idea as it just handles the complete file as a commit not the parts inside the word container.

  • Could you elaborate on how that works in practice? Maybe add a screenshot? Did you use this? How did it work out? How does the Review/Approve process work? Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 8:54

If you truly want version control, which you seem to, since you mention git, and you want it to be usable by not too tech-savvy people, then I can heartily recommend PlasticSCM.

I have been using it for a few years now for my own private code, in numerous languages. I am particularly impressed by its diff/merge capabilities and also by some of the graphical eye candy (not to mention the free T-shirt for completing a survey ,-)

Best of all for you, it integrates into MS office, adding new buttons to the toolbar, and it has strong MS Office (word and Excel) diff & merge capabilities.

We've just released new changes in Plastic SCM integration with several Microsoft Office tools: Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

You'll now be able to diff Word docs, Excel sheets and even PowerPoint presos (restricted to old versions which had support for it).

Now you'll be able to merge Microsoft Word files too... out of the box! What the new changes are about When several people are updating and making copies of the same files, multiple versions easily blossom out of control.

Plastic SCM can now compare proprietary file formats including Microsoft Office files.

We released integration with Office in Windows to perform diff and merge for Office documents.

As stated above, now you can use Plastic SCM (default installation) to Microsoft Word document merge.

The new release is also adding diffing capabilities for:

Excel - Microsoft Excel 2003 and later
Word - Microsoft Word 2003 and later
Power Point - Microsoft Power Point 2003 (Microsoft dropped support for diffing after the 2003 release)

enter image description here

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