Document Management Part 1: Document Version Control
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
As part of a blog series, we are discussing practical ways you can organize and control your organization’s documents (see Introduction). This week we are starting with version controls within the document itself.
The goal of document version control is to be able to verify:
when the document was last updated, and
if it is the latest version of a document.
Likely, you’ve been in a meeting when everyone is looking at a slightly different version of the document. This may merely cause confusion, but for some documents, it could mean your team is missing the latest safety or equipment updates or policy changes that could result in property damage or injury.
Depending on if you need your documentation to meeting legal or certification requirements (such as ISO or COR) or simply creating it to support your company's best practices, you may need to be more or less formal about how you number, date, and record changes on the document.
Last Revised Date
At its most basic, document version control can be as simple as noting the date the document was last revised in the header or the footer.
This way if you are comparing multiple versions, you can look at the revision date and quickly determine which is the latest version of the document—as long as your writers are regularly updating that date with every revision.
General Version Control Header
You can add to the basic revision date by recording document and version numbers as well as the document date. This can be helpful if you are managing a lot of documents that need to be monitored and updated regularly. This is usually paired with a tracking system whether it is a spreadsheet or a more complex data system to help your organization track the currency and trigger regular reviews of your documentation.
ISO or Safety Audit Header
There are many quality or safety systems that require a more careful, audited tracking of your document. You will need to show that you have a system to track your documentation and how it is maintained. This is similar to the general version above, but it can be prescribed by whatever certification or approval system (i.e. ISO 9001) you are following.
Record of Revisions
It’s often good to have a table of revisions where you record in the document what changes were made. This is a common requirement in safety and quality programs to demonstrate compliance. This example is more comprehensive, but you may just need to include the Description and Revision Date. This is most common in fields or types of documents that need to be audited or controlled and is often required for certification or audit approval.
Replacing or Updating Existing Documents
These version controls can be further augmented by using software. The goal is to have one, latest version that your employees can access and not multiple versions. For example, Google Drive and Microsoft Sharepoint allow you to update document versions and opt to keep the old versions for a limited time or indefinitely. You can replace the document instead of adding an additional version which will reduce confusion over which version is the latest version.
If this is not an option for whichever software you use, it may be wise to delete the old version and upload the new version in the same place with the same file name.
Adding dates and version numbers are just the beginning. Look for more Document Management tips in our next post: Document Organization & File Management.
Got a question or an idea that has worked well for you? Let us know! We love to hear your successes and challenges. Want to read the whole Document Management series? Find all the articles here:
Part 1: Document Version Control
Annette has been working as a writer for nearly 25 years and an instructor for 12 years. She was inspired to write this series during some technical writing and plain language workshops. Participants kept coming up with great document management questions that led Annette to collate and organize these ideas into one spot. Special thanks to the City of Edmonton IT writing workshop participants who provided some excellent new technical ideas and expertise during workshop discussions.