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WordPress’ revisions system can be a big help to writers. It allows you to “go back in time” to an earlier version of your document if need be, and to choose which one by viewing exactly what changes were made from one version to the next.

The Compare Revisions screen can be confusing at first, but when you understand how it works, it’s not difficult to use. It’s worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with it, because you may really need it at some point. The best way to “get” how it works is to create a test post and then experiment and play with it yourself until it makes sense to you.

It’s like a time machine

While you’re writing or editing a post or page, WordPress automatically stores a copy of each saved draft or published update. It records these in the database and keeps them forever – all of them, even if there are hundreds of them. These revisions can all be accessed and compared with one another, and any one of them can be restored as the current working version.

To see and work with revisions on the Edit Post screen, look in the right sidebar in the Publish meta box for Revisions and click Browse. This opens the Compare Revisions screen.

Compare two consecutive revisions, or any two revisions

There are always two revisions shown, side by side. The newer revision is on the right, the next older revision on the left. Differences between the two are shown with highlighting. Initially, the current saved version will be shown on the right, and the next-to-newest revision on the left.

Using the slider or the Previous/Next buttons, you can scroll backwards through time, one revision at a time. The revision on the right is the one you’re considering restoring. The revision on the left is there so that you can compare the two and see which changes were made to the revision on the right. Typically, you’ll be comparing the most recent revision, the one you’ve been working on, to an earlier revision.

Don’t let it confuse you that there’s a label way over on the left that identifies the revision which is on the right. The placement of that label doesn’t make much sense to this writer, but that’s just the way it is. That label on the left always refers to the revision on the right.

The revision on the right is the one which will be restored if you click Restore This Revision. It then becomes the current, saved post, whether it’s a draft or published.

You can also compare any two revisions, even if they aren’t consecutive, by selecting the checkbox Compare any two revisions. This provides two slider-handles which can each be set to any one of the revisions. Just as when comparing two consecutive revisions, you can view the “any two” revisions side-by-side, with the differences between them highlighted. If you like, you can restore the revision that appears on the right by clicking Restore this revision.

Another way to access Revisions is by the list which appears somewhere below the Post Edit box if it is enabled in Screen Options. Clicking on one opens the same Compare Revisions screen discussed above.

Autosave. In case you weren’t aware, WordPress automatically saves any post or page you’re working on every 60 seconds. This is no reason to let up on saving early and often, but it’s good to know that if your power or Internet goes out or your browser crashes, your work will be saved. WordPress saves just 1 autosave of a post or page at any given time, overwriting it with the next autosave. Autosaves are a special type of revision and are stored along with all of the other revisions. An Autosave revision can be compared and restored just like any other revision.

You may not use the revisions feature often, but it has the potential to be a lifesaver when important content has been deleted.