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What is Version Control? Everything You Need to Know

Document version control is vital in any industry. It records the lifecycle of a document and maintains a history of changes. Learn how version control can amplify your team’s performance.

By Hailey Friedman

Dec 7, 2022

Version control is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later.

This allows you to revert files back to a previous state, revert the entire project back to a previous state, compare changes over time, and see who last modified something that might be causing a problem. Using a version control system also makes it easier for multiple people to work on a project concurrently without interfering with each other’s changes.

Any online document editor and project management system should offer version control. Centralized information repositories are great, but not if you can’t access historical work.

Today, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about version control for documents.

Picture this: You just completed your first draft of a document—dotted your i’s, crossed your t’s—and it’s on to the next chain in the approvals process.

Your boss edited the piece substantially. Then it gets sent off to finance, legal, then back to you for more edits. By the end, you have a completely new document with so many versions it’s tough to know what changes were made and why.

Document version control is vital in any industry because it records the lifecycle of a document and maintains a history of changes. It also keeps us accountable – companies should see where significant errors come from and link them to individual staff members. But this is challenging to do by hand. That’s where technology comes in. The best version control software (VCS) helps you manage those changes and still keep reliable records. 

You want to collaborate in a tech-forward work environment, where you have access to tools that amplify your performance — including in version control. That’s why Almanac created a knowledge management solution to help professionals stay organized and thrive in ever-moving landscapes. 

What is Version Control for Documents?

Think of version control like project and knowledge management specifically for documents. Version control for documents records a document’s lifecycle, including: 

  • All edits and changes
  • Dates throughout development
  • Names of contributors and collaborators who made or approved changes

This also embodies version naming conventions, which help you organize different versions of the same document. You might commonly see v1, v2, v3, etc., in the titles of various versions. Or, you might see initials and dates indicating the last person who edited the piece. 

Why is version control used? 

Imagine having 50 documents with the same title; only every single one is different… We need it to use the most updated documents and find change records with ease. 

There are several reasons why using version control for documents can be beneficial:

  1. It allows you to track changes to your documents over time, so you can see who made changes and when. This can be useful for keeping a record of how a document has evolved and for identifying when a specific change was made.
  2. It allows you to easily revert a document to a previous version if you need to undo changes or if you want to compare different versions of a document.
  3. It allows multiple people to work on a document concurrently without interfering with each other’s changes. This can be especially useful for collaborative projects or for documents that are frequently updated.
  4. It provides a backup of your documents, so you don’t have to worry about losing important changes if your computer fails or if you accidentally delete a file.

Overall, using version control for documents can help you keep track of changes, facilitate collaboration, and protect your work.

What are the types of version control? 

You have three types of versions to choose from: 

Local version control: Remember those v1 and v2 documents we mentioned? Saving 

those in a desktop folder is essentially local version control. This type only appears on individual computers. 

Centralized version control: Allowing for easier access, centralized version control helps you to save documents on a central server. This means other staff members in an office with the same server can access them. 

Distributed version control: The superior of all types, distributed version control allows remote team members to access local document copies on their individual laptops. This means they can make edits, branch, and merge versions together without sharing a server.

Benefits of the Version Systems for Documentation

Here are some valuable benefits of version control software: 

  • History and records: Version control systems hold a complete history of a file’s changes – spanning months if not years. Anything added or deleted has an accompanying information sheet, including dates, notes, and author. The ease of accessing earlier versions helps you rectify issues efficiently and quickly. 
  • Creativity: Think about version control as the many branches of a creative tree. You might have your latest, up-to-date document ready for your next project. But what if you wanted to explore other possibilities? Version control helps you circle back to previous changes, allowing you to explore diving further into a different branch without losing your progress. You might even merge different changes together for a completely new product — that’s where Almanac’s branching and merging capabilities really come in handy. 
  • Learning opportunities: Everyone makes mistakes, but the value is in the lesson learned each time. Version control records every change, movement, and mistake, allowing staff to recognize and rectify them. Leaders might even use version control records as training materials to help others avoid common mistakes!
  • Living documents: Every industry experiences updates and new trends constantly. Companies must adapt and reflect those trends, as well as their own developments, into their products. Version control helps you maintain living documents receptive to changes when necessary. 
  • Knowledge management: What better way to record team processes and values than live version-controlled documents? Version control allows your products to evolve with your company, making it a perfect resource for knowledge management. 
  • Collaboration capabilities: Great version control systems, like Almanac, enable branching and merging, allowing developers to work independently and merge items where necessary. Furthermore, most version control systems allow for commenting, sharing, and discussion during peer review. 

Examples 

Consider a collection of online documents. The most basic form of version control starts with a title page for every document detailing the following:

  • Author
  • Summary of changes 
  • Version Number
  • Date

You might include this information in the document name as well, but here’s an example:

DOCTITLE.Laura Bates.UpdatedSectionX.v0.1.2022.05.15

DOCTITLE.JackJohnson.MergedLegalEdits.v0.2.2022.05.16

Pro tip — use decimal points for the versions and aim to make 1.0 the approved document. 

How to do Version Control with Document Versions 

Ready to optimize your projects with version control? Here are a few steps to get you started: 

  • Choose a version control software: Software development advances have given rise to countless new version control software systems (VCS) — but we recommend Almanac as a key remote work tool for a few reasons. First, our organizational system is completely customizable to your company’s needs and processes. Second, documents have task assignments where you can link new tasks to different changes or versions, allowing seamless flow. Finally, Almanac’s document editor is user-friendly, promising a short learning curve even for non-tech savvy teams. 
  • Start writing: Keep the creative juices flowing and begin your new project with a fresh document. 
  • Manage permissions: Most VCS allow projects to be visible to all collaborators. However, you can establish permissions to decide who has the authority to alter or modify repository content. Toggle with individual and team-specific permissions. 
  • Collaborate: Remember the branching and merging we mentioned in our benefits section? Now that you have established permissions, you can get to work and collaborate! Use branches to work separately and merge them to combine edits or work together. 

What tools can you use? 

Microsoft version control is a popular choice, but 2022 means countless new players in the software game. Here are a few different software options you can use for document storage and version control: 

  • Almanac: Our software covers all the necessities of version control but takes an extra leap with detailed analytics for every document. Activity logs, permissions, branching and merging, and intuitive UI all make Almanac a top version control software choice. 
  • Google Docs: Google Docs is a user-friendly document platform with quick version control capabilities. Users can manage permissions, retitle, and categorize documents seamlessly. 
  • Monday.com: Monday.com’s workdocs features integrate well with team workflows and tasks. The software allows you to make comments, collaborate in real-time, and use pre-conceived templates for documents. 

Are you interested in learning more about version control systems for your documentation? Check out our list of the best version control software this year!

Conclusion: Get Support with Version Control Software

Most businesses share a common goal; to accelerate workflow without sacrificing quality. Version control allows you to do that with consistent, organized recording and accountability. Breeze through projects, fly over errors and pump up performance with powerful software. 

Are you ready to take your workflow to the next level? Streamline your projects and create dynamic documents with powerful version control features like layers, merging, analytics, and more.

Try Almanac today.

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