What does redlining mean in documents and eSignatures?

Cory Shrecengost
April 11, 2022
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Negotiating a contract isn’t easy. Documents are often sent back and forth and multiple times before they’re finalized and agreed upon. This process is called redlining and it’s a necessary evil when it comes to creating an agreement that satisfies every party in your negotiation.

But you’re making negotiations harder on yourself if editing and updating document details every time a party changes a term is slowing your negotiations and getting in the way of a done deal.

To help, we’re exploring what redlining means and how to develop a fast system for redlining documents that results in better collaboration and better negotiations.  

What is redlining?

Getting specific, the term redlining refers to the editing process during document and contract management—where two (or more) parties make amendments, mark text, and collaborate on any changes that need to be implemented before everyone can sign off on the deal.

Usually, after one party receives the document, they can make additions, annotations, or edits and the “redlined” text will be displayed in a different color—so the other party has visibility over any changes—without spending unnecessary time searching for them.

Blackline vs redline

In the past, redlining referred to the original copy that was marked in, you guessed it, red. Once the document was amended and copied, it was called blackline—as the lines were black instead of red.

Today, redlining and blacklining are used interchangeably, and both simply refer to the process of showing changes, markups, and amendments.

When should you redline a document?

Document redlining comes in handy when multiple people are drafting, collaborating, and reviewing agreements or contracts.

In the early stages of creating or negotiating a contract, redlining is an essential part of scrutinizing legal terms, analyzing minute details, and nailing down conditions and contract provisions. And before a contract is signed or moves forward to the next stage in its lifecycle, redlining helps to highlight anything that needs changing.

The challenges of traditional redlining

Redlining can be complicated and time-consuming, involving a lot of back-and-forth negotiations between collaborators. And without the right software or tools in place to help you manage the process, you’ll likely encounter some recurring challenges along the way.

Untracked changes

Any changes you make to your document need to be tracked.  

If you’re using applications like Word or Google Docs, forgetting to turn on “track changes” or “suggesting mode” can make it difficult for other contributors to identify what’s been tweaked, removed, or edited or who’s made those edits. At best, untracked changes to agreements and contracts introduce errors and slows the negotiation process and at worst these untracked changes can lead to legal gaps and void contracts.

Hard to read

A common issue with traditional redlining methods is that documents can quickly become cluttered and hard to read. And the more changes you make, the easier it becomes for small errors like spelling mistakes to slip through the cracks.  

Broken formatting

After accepting redline changes to a document, formatting can break—forcing you to reformat it to fix how it looks.

The same is true if you share your document across different software solutions. If your formatting style isn’t compatible with another platform, it’ll likely be automatically stripped out or replaced.

A better way to redline documents and collaborate online

Done right, redlining eliminates the need for constant emails and meetings to gain alignment. But with traditional editing tools, redlining is often an afterthought. However, there are tools out there that give you the functionality to manage redlining at scale and collaborate from anywhere.

Manage changes fast in a single document

When you have different versions of the same agreement floating around, you risk edits to outdated documents or having to reconcile conflicting edits—which makes your job harder and slows the entire negotiation process down.

The best way to ensure everyone is tracking their changes on the most recent version, has visibility over who has made changes, and can see what changes were made is by working from a single, collaborative cloud document like a Google Doc or Dropbox Paper. These documents create a single, collaborative source of truth that tracks all changes in real-time.

And using a collaborative cloud document not only ensures everyone is relining on the most recent document but it also means your formatting doesn’t break by shifting between different software tools.

What’s more, many of these collaborative document tools integrate with eSignature solutions. For instance, eSignature tools like Dropbox Sign integrate with Google Docs, Word, and Dropbox Paper, so once redlining is finished, you can turn your document into a legally binding agreement for everyone to sign in just a few clicks. This removes the need to export and upload documents, making it easier to collaborate across the entire negotiation process.

Manage redlining at scale with centralized document storage

Simply using a cloud document might work fine when you’re only managing one or two negotiations, but when you’re managing tens or hundreds, things can get messy fast. That’s why you want to bring even more order to your redlining process with centralized cloud storage tools that have built-in editing and eSignature functionality.

Agreement storage tools like Dropbox let you redline, accept changes, and edit documents without ever leaving the interface.

Plus with native eSignature functionality built directly into the platform, once documents are agreed upon and ready to sign, you can send them directly for signature from the Dropbox interface.  

Working from a single cloud tool equipped with all the tools to manage the redlining process reduces the not-insignificant amount of time you would be spending downloading documents and attaching them to emails or uploading them to other tools.  

From redline to sign, make negotiations simple

Document redlining is a key part of finalizing any contract negotiation, so it’s essential to get it right.

With document tracking, easy integrations, and flexible collaboration tools, eSignatures in Dropbox, powered by Dropbox Sign give clients a better experience while saving considerable time for your teams.

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