Let’s Talk Version Control!

©2012 Mark Henderson

Let’s say you just read the words “version control”, and you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about.  Well, you’re in good company because neither do a lot of other people—even people who, because of their job responsibilities and the decisions that they make, need to know all about version control.  A large company once hired me as a consultant to help its critical documents tiger team regain control of a plethora of documents that were critical to the client’s business.  I won’t bore you with details, but I will say that this large company had to spend millions of dollars to regain control of the equivalent of a Superfund of critical documentation.  Loss of version control can cost large organizations dearly.  Similarly, it can cost a writing team (e.g., writers, editors, clients) dearly, too.


Version control is, quite simply put, a discipline in the creation and use of documents that maintains knowledge of any document in use by its version.  Knowing that version control is important to the “big guys” as well as to a small team, let me try to bring it down to “ground level” and explain how and why we use version control at Henderson Enterprises.

At HE, Wendy and I write and edit as a team:  One will write and the other will edit.  Any time we pass a document in-work to the other partner, we create a new version.  This back-and-forth iteration may go two or three rounds.  Each time we iterate between us—no matter how major or minor the change, we generate a new version.  When the document is ready for client review, we send a deliverable (e.g., chapter, section) to the customer, and we use a new versioning nomenclature to indicate (to us) that it is a deliverable (for example, version 1.0).  When the client returns that document with redlines, we immediately save the redlined version (for example, v.1.1).  We may iterate between ourselves (v.1.2, v.1.3, etc.) until it’s ready for final customer review and we will deliver the same (now revised) deliverable as a version 2.0.  We maintain versions of everything we change or revise throughout the writing and editing process.

When we’re creating a book, we’ll most likely be working on a chapter at a time.  So, toward the end of the process, when we combine all of the chapters, that document—while the chapters may have all been reviewed several times—becomes a brand new document (as the compilation of multiple chapters or smaller documents), and therefore gets a brand new file name (e.g., “Manuscript”) and version (e.g., v.1.0).

As a client, you need to be assured that whoever is providing your writing and editing services has the document version control discipline down pat.  But also as the client, you need to be aware that all documents that you receive from HE are controlled by the version.  And, you have a responsibility to make sure that any document you wish to review and possibly modify is the current version.

Now that doesn’t mean that the client can’t make changes to his document at any point in the process—it’s totally the client’s property.  What it does mean is that it is the client’s responsibility to make sure he has the latest version.  So the take-away for all clients is:  Just call and check to make sure you have the latest version before you modify.  (We’ll also remind you to use the MSWord Change-Tracking feature when you do make a change, so we can see what you changed).  Doing so will save us time, and you money!

So make sure your writing and editing providers understand and practice disciplined version control, and when you do start to make revisions to your document, make sure you are working from the current (or superseding) version and not a superseded or obsolete version.