Version control

Version control is the means by which different versions and drafts of a document (or file or record or dataset) are managed.

Version control involves a process of naming and distinguishing between a series of draft documents which lead to a final (or approved) version, which in turn may be subject to further amendments.

It provides an audit trail for the revision and update of draft and final versions.

Benefits

Version control is important for documents that undergo a lot of revision and redrafting and is particularly important for electronic documents because they can easily be changed by a number of different users.  These changes may not be immediately apparent.  Knowing which version of a document you are looking at is important, for example, if you are trying to find out which version of a policy is currently in force, or which version of a policy was in use at a particular time.  Version control is also important if you are working on a collaborative document with a number of contributors and/or with frequent revisions.

Traceability

When creating and developing documents such as formal policies or project documents version control allows you to identify the development of the document e.g. many versions of a draft and final policy, over a prolonged period.  This allows traceability – retention of drafts and detail of changes made, often as a result of contributions from multiple collaborators within document development, the order of changes, and a record of those versions of documents regarded as final and/or approved by relevant groups or individuals.

Identifiability

It is possible to link documents to decisions, contributions, contributors, and time.  All documents should also be identifiable by filename, author, and date.

Clarity

Multiple versions of documents can be distinguished, and the latest version identified.

Reduced duplication

Old/multiple and potentially out of date/misleading hard copies can be destroyed.  Definitive versions may be stored in a given physical and/or electronic storage location.

Reduced errors

Readers are less likely to be misled through access to multiple and conflicting document versions.  Definitive versions of significant documents should be given read-only status to general readership, allowing changes to be controlled.

How does version control work?

Version control should be used where more than one version of a document exists, or where this is likely to be the case in the future.  To aid identification of single version documents follow naming conventions and a creation date may be added as a useful identifier.

You should follow a Version Control Chartpdf

  • To ensure identifiability version information should be included as part of both the file name, and within the document itself, alongside the date, author and filename (or full file path).
  • Each successive draft of a document is numbered sequentially from 0-1, 0-2, 0-3… until a finalised or approved version is complete (although full stops will be used ordinarily within numbering, dashes are shown here e.g. 0-1 to indicate how numbering should be applied to electronic filenames).
  • The first final/approved version should be numbered 1-0.
  • If version 1-0 is revised, drafts are numbered as 1-1, 1-2… until version 2-0 is complete, and so on.

Version control table

It is appropriate to also use a version control table for formal University procedures, policies, strategies and project documentation.  This provides further details of what changes were made to a document, when and by whom.  It can be added at the beginning or end of the document itself.

The version control table (example below) is updated each time a change is made to a document.

It details:

  • new version number
  • person making the change
  • purpose of the change or the change itself
  • date of the change

Example version control table

Version Number Author Purpose/Change Date
 0-1 Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Initial draft – to line manager  12/07/2011
 0-2 Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Consultation draft – to working group  21/08/2011
 0-3 Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Second consultation draft – to working group  08/10/2011

 1-0

Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Final version – approved by Project Board  18/11/2011
 1-1 Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Revision of project roles  20/01/2012
 1-2 Jackie Wilson, Project Manager Approved by Project Board  01/02/2012

Acknowledgements

This content was written with reference to guidance provided by University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

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