Jul 25 2016

Tool review: Merging Word documents on the desktop

Sometimes Microsoft Word users need to join several Word documents into a single file, without loss of formatting.

An example would be a cover letter, a quote, and a contract.

Or a proposal or contract, plus appendices.

(In legal industry parlance the finalised collection of documents is called a “closing binder”, “electronic bundle” or less commonly, a deal bible.  And its usually in PDF…)

Word itself doesn’t do this for you.  So this blog post is a review of tools you might download/install to try to get the job done.

TLDR: I don’t want to be negative, but bottom line is they won’t help … the 5 tools I found and tested each do a poor job at this.  If you, dear reader, know of a better tool, please share in a comment!   Most people seem to convert their documents to PDF first, then merge the PDFs – for good reason!

By way of background/disclosure, our Docx4j Enterprise product is good at this (if I may say so myself), but we don’t sell it to end users.  This background allowed me to make a couple of very simple documents to test the products.

Without further ado, the 5 products I tested were:

My first test was to merge 2 documents which define Heading 1 differently.  Does the merged document keep the distinct appearance of the 2 headings?

The only product which was able to pass this basic test was Icestand’s.

Unfortunately Icestand failed my second test: it lost section formatting (page orientation, headers/footers).

And my third test: list numbering.  If doc 1 contains “1,2,3” and so does doc 2, in the merged output, do you get “1,2,3  1,2,3” or “1,2,3 4,5,6”?

Since all the others failed test 1, I didn’t subject them to tests 2 or 3.  But I found:

  • most/all of these programs require Word to be installed.  That’s probably OK for a desktop utility.
  • with the exception of kutools, which appears in Word’s ribbon, each presents as standalone/free-standing software with its own UI.
  • you’d expect to be able to arrange your input documents in the order you want, but 3steps lacked even that!

Since these products all lose formatting, unless there’s a better product out there somewhere, you’d get better results by converting to PDF, then merging the PDF files.   In this respect, bundledocsCaseLines and others look interesting; they do the PDF conversion as well, removing a step from the process.

Using PDF might be fine, if the deal is done.  And interestingly, in some cases, PDF might even be a requirement.  For example, the UK Supreme Court “recommends” it.

But if the documents are still being finalised, Word is preferable, since its an editing format. Anyone tried converting the resulting merged PDF file back to Word?!



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