Comments (those chat bubbles in the margins of a document) are a critical redlining feature for lawyers and contract negotiators because they help us explain the reasoning for our proposed changes, collaborate with internal parties, and ultimately drive contract negotiations forward.
According to a recent poll, 91% of contract negotiators (myself included) use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes features to redline contracts. As the number one most popular tool in our industry, it is important to understand how to use the features and tools correctly so that we can do our work as efficiently as possible. This means also staying up-to-date on new features and enhancements.
As of mid-June 2022, folks who use Word’s cloud offering called Office365 (whether on Windows or MacOS) can see a new set of comments features referred to as “Modern Comments.” The comments features previous to this 2022 rollout (also still in use for Word desktop-only users) are referred to as “Classic Comments.” Note: If you want to revert to Classic Comments, you can temporarily do so by following these steps.
For those of us leveraging Word’s Track Changes to redline a high volume of contracts, which version of comments is better—Modern Comments or Classic Comments? This article provides an overview of the new features, a pros and cons list to help us decide, plus a deep dive into how we should leverage the @mentions feature to run internal redlines with our internal business clients.
Overview of New Features
You know you have access to Modern Comments if:
Modern Comments includes the following new features:
- @mentions will trigger email notifications to tagged accounts and can be used to assign action items or track conversations*ꜝ
- Resolved comment threads won’t appear in the margin (though you can still find them in the Comments pane)
- Comments can only be edited by their author
- Users can customize how comments appear on the page
- More shortcuts and ways to navigate and read comments using your keyboard and screen reader
* Only for enterprise customers using files stored in Microsoft Azure.
ꜝ Could be in direct competition with a company’s chosen contract lifecycle management (CLM) tool.
Pros and Cons List
Whenever I’m deciding between two things, I create a pros and cons list to help me compare apples to apples and visually understand my options. Here is my pros and cons list for Modern Comments in the context of redlining contracts.
|Consistent design across all Word endpoints
|Having to adjust to a new layout in Word
|Greater control over and visibility into comments
|More steps involved to change or post comments
|Improved @mentions in comments with automatic notification emails assigning action items to or requesting responses from mentioned accounts
|Only for enterprise customers using files stored in the cloud
|Streamlined focus on active comments > resolved comments
I tried to think of more cons but I honestly couldn’t. These changes seem to have been made with contract negotiators in mind. In addition, they close the long-time feature gap between GoogleDocs vs. Word, solidifying Word’s top position as the number one most popular redlining tool. I wonder what GoogleDocs users will say next.
How to Use @mentions for Internal Redlines
Let’s talk specifically about the @mentions feature because this particular feature can have a large impact on the way we review and negotiate contracts with our internal business clients.
The @mentions feature already exists in Excel and PowerPoint on Office365—and GoogleDocs. Last month, if you were to ask me what is one redlining feature that GoogleDocs does better than Word, I would have said @ mentions. Now, I can no longer say that.
To activate the @mentions feature, enter the @ symbol plus a person’s name or email alias (e.g., their email address before the @ sign). Once activated, and only if you are an enterprise customer using a file stored in the cloud, the system will send an email notification to the person tagged and the person who started the thread. The email notification will provide a preview of the change and the comment. Tagged persons can reply to comments via the notification email or click a link in the notification email to open the document and go straight to the comment for more context.
The @mentions feature can also be used to assign tasks and operates the same way that normal @mentions do. The only difference is that the tag is recorded as a task and the person tagged can resolve it once the task is completed. To take full advantage of @mentions, you need to be an enterprise customer using files stored in Microsoft Azure.
This is a game-changer for contract negotiators because the lack of an organized method for internal collaboration is a leading cause of protracted negotiations. Put another way, one of the reasons contract negotiations take so long is that we haven’t had an efficient way of conducting internal negotiations. If you don’t have full access to @mentions, you can use my color-coding method to manually organize and track internal redlines. However, if you do, have full access, then in addition to the color-coding method, you can automatically assign tasks and notify internal clients of clauses that need to be reviewed. Like I said—game changer.
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It’s no surprise that Microsoft has impressed us with this latest rollout. What is surprising though, is how much I was resistant to these changes. Then when I started researching the features as research for this article, I began to understand the many benefits that they have on the contract redlining process.
If you’re interested in learning more about tips and tricks for using Word’s Track Changes to redline contracts, follow me on LinkedIn. To learn more about contract redlining best practices in general, check out my book on Amazon.