How to use Word's Track Changes
Microsoft Word has hundreds of tools and features, and even though I’ve been using it for years and years now, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it’s capable of.
One such feature that I use daily – and could not do my job as well without – is Track Changes. Not every writer is familiar with this tool, so I thought I’d pull together a quick guide on how to use Track Changes.
What is it?
Track Changes is a way to, quite literally, track any changes you make to a Word document, including formatting, deleted text, added text and any parts that you move (whether that’s using the drag and drop method or cut and paste).
How to turn Track Changes on
Under the Review tab at the top of the document, click the Track Changes icon to turn it on. Here you can also decide which mark-up options you want to show, including Comments, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting.
How an editor uses Track Changes
Whenever I do a copy-edit, I always switch on Track Changes so the author is able to see every edit I’ve made on their story. Not only does this help them see exactly the kinds of errors I’ve spotted, but it also means they can easily Accept or Reject the changes that they agree or disagree with. Some edits are black and white, but others are about preference, so if I’ve made a change that the author doesn’t agree with, I want them to be able to revert that change easily.
Accepting and Rejecting changes
If you’re on the side of reviewing an editor’s tracked changes, it’s super simple to accept or reject them. You can right-click on each edit and select ‘Accept/Reject Change’, although if there are quite a few to work through this is a slow method.
A quicker approach is to navigate to the Review tab again and use the ‘Accept’ or ‘Reject’ icons there. Clicking either button will complete the requested action and it will also skip ahead to the next tracked change in the document so you don’t have to go scrolling through. If you’d like to make bulk changes, you can highlight a chunk of text and clicking either of the buttons will accept or reject every edit within that highlighted section. Alternatively, there are dropdown arrows next to each button where you can choose ‘Accept/Reject All Changes’.
How to ‘hide’ Track Changes
When Track Changes is switched on, you’ll notice in the screenshot above that it leaves a lot of coloured markers and lines over the text. This is great for highlighting where an edit has been made, but sometimes you just want to read the text without all those distractions. To do so, you have two options.
The first is to change the mark-up display using the dropdown menu next to the Track Changes icon. By default it is set to show ‘All Markup’, but you can set it to ‘Simple Mark-up’, which shows only the comments, ‘No Markup’, which shows nothing, or ‘Original’, which shows what the text was without any of the changes. Note, the latter option doesn’t delete the changes made, it just shows you what the text was before. If you change the settings back to ‘All Markup’, the edits will return.
The second option, and one that is much quicker, is to simply click the grey bar on the left-hand side of the text. Doing so will turn the bar red and automatically switch the view over to ‘Simple Mark-up’, showing only comments in the right sidebar.
How to view edits if you forgot to switch on Track Changes
Every now and then, I’ll be an hour or so deep into an edit before realising I forgot to turn on Track Changes. Or I’ll receive a revised manuscript back from an author and they haven’t used Track Changes, which means I can’t see what edits they’ve made. The easiest way to fix this is to use the Compare Documents feature.
First, save the file you’ve been working on under a different name if you haven’t already. In the Review tab, click the ‘Compare’ icon, and then ‘Compare Documents’. This opens up a dialogue box. In the ‘Original document’ section, choose the document that you started with prior to making any edits. In the ‘Revised document’ section, choose the file you just saved with the untracked changes. When you click ‘Ok’, a third document will open that automatically shows all differences between the original and the edited files using Track Changes.
Learn by doing
Track Changes can look quite complicated on the surface, but it’s actually one of Word’s more intuitive features. The best way to get the hang of it is to have a play around and test all the options out. Open up a new document, paste in some nonsense text, then switch on Track Changes and make a few edits. Once you start using it, you’ll realise just how simple it is, but also how incredibly helpful it can be for editing.
In fact, I even use Track Changes when working on my own writing. If I want to test out some changes but I’m not 100% sure they’re the right move and I don’t want to lose what I’ve already got, I’ll switch on Track Changes and give the edit a go. If I decide I like the new version, I accept the changes, and if I don’t I can just reject and go right back to how it was. No drama.