How to Redline Documents and Best Practices

Redlining documents has been a traditional path for legal and contract professionals when they need to convey changes in a document to a counter-party. If you are in a legal, sales and procurement role, you’ve undoubtedly come across the phrase “redline.” But, you might not know the best ways to manage the process to save time and ensure everything you red line is accurate and up-to-date.

How to Redline Documents and Best Practices
Written by
Insights Team

Redline Background

As for where the term redline comes from, its definition is quite literal. Historically, the term red line refers to the red lines made by a pen when someone corrected or altered a printed document.

Here’s a brief history of how legal and contract professionals have prepared changes to a document using red lining:

●   For decades, people have used formatting marks using a red pen on a printed copy of a document or contract to make edits or corrections.

●   In the 1990s, dictation devices became prevalent, which required someone to input the suggestions made via dictation manually.

●   In the 2000s, companies and law firms started using Microsoft Word or Word Perfect to convey edits using a “track changes” feature.

●   Today, specific redline software, such as DocJuris, helps professionals red line documents without confusion or errors.

As you can see, we have made a lot of progress in recent years. The redlining process has quickly transitioned from one that is wholly manual and ripe for human error to one that is automated and streamlined to mitigate risks, prevent mistakes, and improve collaboration among parties.

Best Practices for Redlining a Contract

Many firms are still using Microsoft Word to redline contracts. Using the “track changes” feature, a reviewer can make suggestions, revisions, and corrections. These new changes will be red to indicate that they are a new addition to the original document. Deleted text will appear as a “strikethrough,” while new text will be underlined. A comment box will also appear in the margins, indicating that the editor has removed or added text to a specific section of the document.

Users who receive the red lined document can quickly see what has and has not been altered. They can accept or reject changes, making notes in the comments section if they choose to let others know why they have or have not accepted a particular suggestion.

In many cases, the party on the receiving end does not want or care to see the document’s redlined version. In those situations, the reviewer will want to accept changes and send a clean version to the counterparty so they can review it without seeing any additional markup. If you are the reviewer, you will need to save a copy of your red lined versions to have a record of the changes you made.

Here are some best practices for redlining documents using Word:

●   Always have a comparison document handy before starting because track changes can be turned on and off very easily.

●   After reading your comparison document thoroughly, identify the other side’s changes, if any.

●   If you’re reviewing a third-party contract, click on “track changes” and mark the document.

●   Note: many prefer not to mark formatting changes to reduce the noise in a markup.

●   When complete, save the redline/track changes as a PDF and send a clean version to the counterparty for their review. Keeping the redline in a PDF prevents confusion.

Challenges with Traditional Red Lining

The process we outlined above for redlining in Word can be clunky and difficult for several reasons.

1. It’s time-consuming

Redlining in Word requires every party to meticulously compare one document to another to make sure they don’t miss any changes. While we like to think that everyone would uphold ethical standards when redlining, there’s no denying that it is incredibly easy to simply turn off the track changes feature and sneak something into a red lined document.

2. It’s error-prone

Nefarious intentions aside, the ease with which you can turn off track changes can lead to simple mistakes being made and versions being confused. You can easily end up with a “final” version that is an inaccurate mashup of earlier versions.

3. It’s not secure

People often forget about the sensitive metadata trail that gets left behind when you redline in Word. All those comments and changes you make can leave a data trail that could be detrimental in the wrong hands. You’ll need to manually delete metadata before sending your redlined document to another party, which leads to our next point ...

4. It’s confusing

Who is handling the red lining in Word? Unless you are watching someone make changes on their computer, you never really know. When something is incorrect or has been mistakenly added or deleted, it can be a real challenge to get to the bottom of the issue of who made the change and why? This is especially true when metadata has been deleted.

5. It’s labor-intensive

In addition to manually turning track changes on and off, you need to manually merge different redlined versions of a document to form a single source of truth. This might not be such a big deal when only two people are working on a document, but this process quickly becomes labor-intensive once more people get involved. You can waste a lot of time merging documents to make sure the contract you are sending to a third party is the right one.

Choose a Better Way to Redline Contracts and Documents

Imagine if you could red line a contract without worrying about wasting time, getting lost in versions, or accidentally submitting confidential company data to a third party.

With redline software, you can!

Red line software from companies like DocJuris makes the process of redlining contracts and documents more manageable and consistent. By using a dedicated workflow, you can quickly and easily keep track of all the changes reviewers make without getting bogged down with multiple versions. Everyone works from a single source of truth, ensuring every reviewer is always on the same page instead of working from different versions.

When you combine DocJuris software with playbooks and precedent, you can save hours on the review process. Integrate playbooks into your workflow to save valuable time and resources every time you need to red line a document.

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