Software Tools for Editing

Blacklining (or sometimes redlining)

In the olden days, a pair of articled clerks would sit together with two versions of a document. One would read aloud the new version and the other would mark the changes on the old, striking through deletions and writing in additions then underlining them. A red pen was typically used, hence redlining. With the advent of the monochrome photocopier, this became blacklining.

How quaint! But not so far into the mists of antiquity. We now have software that does all this with a few keystrokes, and very effective it is too. It also eliminates the human error attributable to sleepy, hungover students.

Just make sure you save the marked-up version as a new document, so you preserve the record of the document comparison.

Workshare Compare seems to be the market leader, but there are other products.

BriefCatch and ContractCatch

These are products from US legal writing expert Ross Guberman.

The first is intended for written advocacy, and will give a score out of a hundred for:

  • reading happiness (use of active voice, word and paragraph length and the like)
  • sentence length (including excessive length, variation in length)
  • flow (use of effective transitions and other sign-posts)
  • punchiness (verbiage-catcher)
  • plain English

Guberman has also used BriefCatch to assess the quality of judicial decisions, particularly those from SCOTUS.

ContractCatch will spot potentially ambiguous wording, inconsistent terminology, grammar and spelling errors, plain English issues.

Both tools suggest edits, which can be accepted or rejected.

Contract Companion

A neat product that whizzes through a document (not necessarily a contract) and locates problems like capitalised defined terms that lack actual definitions, unpaired quotation marks, spacing variations and inconsistent numbering of sections and paragraphs.

Fiddly stuff that the human eye may well miss, in other words.

Users say the software does come up with some false positives, but it finds a lot that human review will overlook.

Track Changes

This comes with Microsoft Word, and some people love it. I don’t.

Track Changes does offer the ability to make marginal comments as well as revisions to the text, but also requires the reviewer of the document to accept or reject the previous editor’s comments and edits.

That process is annoying – or I think so, anyway. And any subsequent changes, even if those don’t involve input from another person, result in a marked-up document.

You also have to be very sure you have cleaned all the metadata from your document when you send it to someone external; otherwise, the recipient will see all those marginalia saying things like ‘Not sure this is a good argument but let’s try it anyway!’


Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  1. Track Changes defaults to marking subsequent changes, but it’s one button in Word to turn that off.

    I also don’t really understand the comment that Track Changes “requires the reviewer of the document to accept or reject the previous editor’s comments and edits.” You can accept them, reject them (en masse if you like) or flip between the original and edited document with the mark-ups invisible.

  2. Track changes does not “require” the reviewer to accept or reject. You can just hit the “next” button to view the next change without deciding either way on the current change you are viewing.

    Furthermore, I have never found any risk to sending a tracked-change document with embarrassing comments in the margins. This is because I export to PDF before sending documents externally, which makes the comments painfully obvious. This is a good habit for everyone to get into, regardless of whether they use the comments feature.

Leave a Reply

(Your email address will not be published or distributed)