What are the best practices for good version control?

Version Control is all about making sure that many people know that a document or file is the most recent version and can quickly and easily summarise the changes it has been through.

Most workplaces rely on collaboration. When many people are involved, it’s even more important to clearly name files and use version control.

There are three key elements to version control:

  1. Naming the file consistently
  2. Updating version history inside the file
  3. Locking the file when distributing to others

1. Naming the file

Naming your files consistently can greatly help people to identify whether the file you’re working on is the most recent version, particularly when multiple copies have been sent via email.

You can also include the date, your initials and very minor comments to further describe what changed – but remember to keep the filename relatively short.

Use version numbers (final version) and subversion numbers (draft) to show whether the content has been reviewed and approved.

By naming your files consistently and using version control, it shows that you are experienced in project and change management. It also shows that you take care to ensure all documentation is accurate and information is managed correctly, therefore improving your professional reputation.

The name should also be clear enough for anyone to understand:

  • Is this the right project?
  • Is this the most recent file?
  • Is this a final or draft?
  • Who last updated this file?
The wrong wayThe right way
Project plan.docImprovement plan v0.1 DRAFT.doc
Project plan (1).docImprovement plan v0.2 DRAFT.doc
Project plan (2).docImprovement plan v1.0 FINAL.doc
Project plan (3).docImprovement plan v1.1 REVISED.pdf

2. Updating version history inside the file

If you’re editing a Microsoft Office file, it’s also a good idea to include version history details inside the file too. You can do this a few ways:

  • Microsoft Word: Include a short table on the second page of the document
  • Microsoft Excel: Include an additional tab with version details
  • Microsoft PowerPoint: Use the ‘Notes’ section at the bottom of the slides

3. Locking the file when distributing to others

The most important step with version control is actually controlling the information once it’s been distributed. That means, locking the file as a PDF or using password protection (e.g. for Excel Spreadsheets).

You should still retain your own copies of the original versions for later editing, however if you’re distributing a final copy as reference material, you should apply some sort of control over the document to ensure no one else in your business makes unauthorised edits.

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