Home & Office

Google Docs help: How to restore your original version after collaborators make a mess

When your colleagues muck up your work with their comments and corrections, what do you do? What DO you do? You read this quick tip, of course!
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Here's the scenario. You spend three days writing a truly excellent document. You research it carefully, you base it on the outline you and your team agreed upon, and you do a strong edit pass before sharing it.

CNET: G Suite: Everything you need to know before signing up for Google's office suite

Then, you share it with your team. Because everyone you shared it with is an adult, and on the same team, you set the sharing settings to "Anyone with the link can edit."

More quick tips:

Has this ever happened to you?

After a few days, you get a note from your boss, "Looks like all the comments are in, but the document is now a mess. Can you clean it up? Check out some of the comments, but I think we should mostly go with what you originally submitted."

You open up the document and it's a horrendous mess of comments and text replacements. Just out of morbid curiosity you look at the sharing settings. You discover that instead of just the four people in the original conference call, your carefully crafted document has been accessed by 27 people.

It gets worse. Someone hacked away at what you wrote with seeming abandon. Someone else didn't like those changes and chopped away at those. A vicious cycle was created with one participant after the other cutting and adding, until what you end up looking at has no resemblance to what you submitted.

Has this ever happened to you? Yeah, we've all been there.

Now clean it up

Somewhere under all that glorious collaboration was a workable document, your original. The only problem is digging it out. Clearly, trying to walk out each contributor's changes would be a tedious and ultimately fruitless endeavor.

Also: How to backup Gmail: The ultimate guide

There has to be a better way.

Fortunately, there is. That's because Google is also a collaborative organization and folks there have experienced just the same comment and edit graffiti you have.

The trick is to go under the File menu in Google Docs and look for "Version history." Under that, you'll find a sub-item called "See version history." When you select that, you'll see your document with a list of versions in a panel on the right.

You can click any one of the listings in that panel and you'll see the document as it was. If you want to go back in time and recover one of those listings, click the big blue button at the top of the page that says "Restore this version."


Boom! Sanity is restored.

Bonus tips

Here are a couple of bonus tips within a tip. If you look under the Google Docs File->Version history menu item again, you'll see "Name current version." Use this to... wait for it... name the current version. That way, when you're sifting back through all the previous edits, you can find the version you want.


Here's a best practice to boost your productivity. Just before submitting a document to the team for edit, name the current version something you'll remember. I like to use version numbers, so I often name mine something like DG_01, DG_02, etc. These are the versions just before the chaos.

Then, when I have to get back to them, I can just look for the version with the right name, or - and this is magic in a bottle - I just flip the "Only show named versions," and it's like a breath of fresh air.


Only the named versions are shown. Since my collaborators don't usually name their versions, it's only a matter of seconds to find and restore a clean document, free of all that edit clutter.

Do you have any Google Docs editing horror stories? What did you do? Share below, so we can feel your pain or learn from your success. Also, do you have a quick tip, or a problem you'd like solved with a quick tip? If so, share with us in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Editorial standards