Two indispensable editing features include the Track Changes and Comments in Word. While undeniably powerful software tools, it can be overwhelming to learn how to best work within such files. This post will familiarize beginners with essential pointers for effective document navigation while also offering more experienced users a few useful tips.
Each copy edited or proofread manuscript I return to clients includes two file versions: one where all changes and comments are still visible and another clean copy where all Track Changes and Comments have been accepted and deleted from the document.
The Track Changes and Comments example images in this post are from my client Gerald Freeman’s memoir I Don’t Believe God Wrote the Bible. Gerry and I worked together through a manuscript critique and copy edit, which was then followed by me writing the book blurb as well as a press release.
The images below were made using Word 2013. While other versions of Word may look a bit different, the general concepts remain largely the same. Opening a document in All Markup mode will likely strike terror into most author’s hearts. All that red! Never fear. Let’s acquaint ourselves with the Review tab on the file menu.
PC users can zoom in on the images here by hitting ctrl + multiple times (follow this link for mac instructions.) Clicking on each image will also open it in a new window where it will then be displayed in a larger size.
The drop-down menu offers four options for the mode Track Changes can be viewed in: Simple Markup, All Markup, No Markup, and Original. Note that Track Changes is highlighted in blue on the file menu to indicate the feature is currently active. When on, a strikethrough line appears in the left margin to indicate a change has been made and will appear in all markup modes.
Beneath the Track Changes drop-down menu, the Show Markup menu allows the user to further customize the way corrections and comments appear on the screen. The menu is the Reviewing Pane, which allows the user to display the changes and comments within the document in a horizontal or vertical list. I generally prefer to make my screen text as large as possible by using the zoom bar in the lower right corner.
Deletions appear with a line struck through them, and insertions are underlined. Some writers prefer to comb through the Tracked Changes and Comments one by one, accepting and rejecting each as they go. Others will flip back and forth between the four markup modes to gauge changes. Another option is to work entirely within the No Markup mode to experience the text as the editor did in the final version.
Chances are, a greater majority of the edits made will be acceptable rather than unacceptable. Though wading through all of the available Track Changes and Comments options may feel a bit daunting, repeated attempts at document navigation will help develop an approach you feel comfortable with.
As a writer, I personally prefer to work with the clean and marked up versions of the copy edited documents side by side. In order to make an opened file cover half of the screen, place the cursor at the top of the file in the area above the menu titles. Left click and hold down in order to drag the window to the corner of the screen until it snaps into place.
Comments can be combed through on an individual basis and deleted once attended to as well. This can come in especially handy when I work with with a client on a manuscript critique and then a follow-up copy edit. Or in the case of multiple rough drafts or multiple authors, the comments feature is a great way to identify the author of each addition.
In order to change how the author name appears within the comment bubbles or to tweak the color of the comment highlights and corrections, click on the arrow that is off to the side of Tracking on the menu bar. This will reveal a pop-up menu. From there navigate to Advanced Options to access the menu shown above.
What additional pointers would you add for new users? What is your preferred method for working with Track Changes and Comments in Word?
Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the sample images in this post. Use of the book cover falls under fair use guidelines.
Great post, Jeri! I’ve collaborated on a few manuscripts through work and Word’s Track Changes and Comments tools are great. With the Comments the author can respond to editorial suggestions (for example, explaining why she needs to that statistical test instead of another) which helps the other reviewers to avoid already resolved issues. I’ve yet to use it in my own revisions, but I think it will help me in remembering why I chose to drop that paragraph or change that character’s name. My biggest problem is memory: I don’t have enough of it. Tracking would help me document my revision process.
I LOVE track changes and Comment. It’s so much easier than having to compare documents, because you can see instantly where changes have been made and what they are. I particularly like the fact that the original text remains until the change is accepted, so I can see what was originally there. I don’t always accept the changes, so it’s good to see what I wrote in the first place. Comments are invaluable for suggestions and explanations. I’ve learned such a lot from comments left by my editors.
Cheryl, I know that feeling of learning a lot from comments left by editors and have been on both ends of that process. When I don’t compare documents side by side, I tend to work in simple markup mode. I get really distracted by all the markings on the page in full markup mode. It’s great to be able to switch.
Marie, I haven’t used Word’s editing features much in my own revisions though I can see how it would come in just as handy. I tend to draft in Scrivener.
You know I have a copy of Scrivener. I’ve had it for about two years. Still don’t know how to use it … sigh. I know there’s plenty of tutorials out there, but when I’m pressed for time, I always revert to what I already know, which is Word. I even stopped using Pages (Apple’s version of Word) a while ago. Broke down and bought myself a Mac-enabled version of Word and Excel. My aging brain just doesn’t gracefully jump from one editing/writing program to another any more. (I’m not sure that my brain was ever that graceful but at least now I can blame my limitations on my age ;))
I dove into Scrivener back in the day when I had the time to and am glad I did. I really like how it accommodates brainstorming and planning stages so well, plus it’s easy to compile a mobi file. The PC version isn’t as good as the Mac version for making pdfs for upload to CreateSpace though.
After learning how to use track changes/comments long ago, I wondered how I ever lived without it! Odd that I was tutored on this by a lawyer when I was involved in a case where we were trading documents. Since then, though, I’ve been grateful for it in my writing when collaborating with an editor or even my critique group. This is a great tutorial! You are so right… invaluable tool!
Jacquie, I always use Track Changes and Comments in the critique groups I’ve been in, but so far have found most people I’ve joined up with still give handwritten feedback. That drives me batty. Even if I was grading student papers now, I would have them submitted electronically and I would give feedback that way and teach students how to use it. My handwriting is way too scary.
Track changes is a bit overwhelming when you start, so this is a great detailed post to guide you. Now, like Jacqui, I dont know what Id do without it. I use it all the time to share work with my critique group. It really helps you to be more precise in your comments I think too. Thanks Jeri:-)
Kathy, when I see editors who state they still will give handwritten feedback and corrections, I get an eye tick. Using Track Changes and Comments really is so much more efficient.
It is great post to help many.
I am happy that I am familiar with these and many other features of Word due to two reasons, my work and my husband 🙂 . My husband is Master in Computer science so, he is always telling me about many such features.
These two features that you have discussed are great to use. I use them also while writing blog post, but unfortunately, I can not locate and remove my grammatical mistakes and related to other English language rules, like you have commented about featured and joining word in one of your image.
But it is always great to read your posts as they are so informative. I hope the BHB is also going great.
Ana, it’s always great when a fellow teacher notes my posts are informative. Thank you 🙂
I find that the grammatical corrections are almost always a slam dunk “accept”. I work with a hard copy of my novel in my lap. I visit each comment on the computer screen and then go through the hard copy to the pages affected. Oftentimes a comment affects the manuscript in many places, and I just plod along, taking each comment and thinking about it, and then applying it to the novel where ever it applies. It’s a nice feature that ‘comments’ appear at the place in the novel where it occurred to the reviewer/editor to comment, but it may very well be an issue that wends its way through the whole book.
Larry, plodding along is probably the best word for the overall process. I always make sure to point out how my grammatical margin comments that offer additional explanation are always more in the first couple of weeks. The same types of corrections tend to be made over and over again though as you point out.
Yes, all that red would make me want to give up completely! But I understand it’s a necessary evil. If I ever get serious about writing a book, I know I’ll have to learn how to do this. Or maybe I’ll just send you my manuscript and let you do it for me! 🙂 Happy new year!!
Meredith, that’s what I’m here for! Happy New Year to you as well.
Great share Jeri, thanks! 🙂 Sharing!
Debby, thanks for the share.
~~~~~As always, Jeri,
thank you for your knowledge and expertise.
Your voice is appreciated greatly by the technically challenged. xx
Kim, I’m glad to be of assistance to the technically challenged. When I first started using Track Changes it felt like an alien world, but it does eventually come to feel like second nature to use it. Now I could never live without it. Hopefully this post can help ease new users in a bit less painfully.
Awesome post, Jeri, like many said before me – I do not now what I’d do if there were no word tracking and commenting feature 🙂 I am one of those authors who like to dig deep into the tracked changes. Most, if not all are always accepted but the thorough analysis helps me improve. After all, it would be silly not to pay attention and repeatedly do the same mistake, even though the editor corrected it and explained why that is (ahem, was :D)
Something which I really liked and had not seen before working with you, Jeri, was that you not only made changes and tracked them; you took the time to explain why you did a certain change, why you recommended it, etc. This way you not only edit, you teach the author to write better and give them the choice to go in one direction or the other, with or without the changes. That is invaluable!
Diana, my commenting style with grammatical fixes seems to be influenced by my years as a teacher. I wouldn’t feel right making a correction without offering an explanation the first time around. I can attest to how deeply you dig into corrections or comments. Working with you really was amazing and made me feel like all my editing blood, sweat, and tears was really making a difference.
Hi Jeri, I love the track changes feature in Word. I’ve been using it with my assistants for a long time. Its helpful to know what exactly as changed. I also like the compare documents function, so if im not sure if someone changed a document, I can just do a compare to original to be positive. Works much better than a line by line reading comparison. Ugh. Word is a super software.
Susan, line-by-line comparisons can indeed by tedious. I get peeved when some writers complain that Word has too many bells and whistles. It’s easy to ignore features we don’t need or use on a regular basis, but even better to know those features are there for when we need them.
Track Changes and Comments in Word, powerful tools for writers and editors, indeed..
I am wondering how the the main group of optimal suggestions is created… does it have to be with a general basis for expanded options, which would be later on bounded through further contributions somehow?. Or is it just an static writing platform?.
Great post to start the new year dear Jeri… I hope you have a wonderful 2016… Best to you. Aquileana ⭐️
Aqui, by optimal suggestions do you mean the corrections the user is adding or the choices in the dropdown menu?
I mean the choices in the dropdown menu… I was somehow wondering if your own eventual contributions are added there as it might happen, for instance, in Google’s Translator…
Thank you, Jeri… I always learn from your posts. Aquileana ?
Aqui, no the dropdown menu is just to switch markup modes. It doesn’t collect a bank of the types of changes the user consistently finds themselves making on a consistent basis. However, I do use a bank of helpful grammar links that I often insert into comments, but that bank of link comments isn’t integrated into Word. I have it saved in a separate Excel file.
Awesome information! It’s always a great idea to refresh track changes or other computer functions. I usually review my changes viewing All Markup and a vertical review pane. It gives me a better idea of what I did and what has been changed.
When I use track changes, I also like to provide overall comments at the beginning of the document and end comments at the end of each chapter.
Thanks for posting.
Denise, I do make some end comments in addition to the ones I leave throughout though I also write an overview letter that highlights the main changes as well.
jeri, great step by step instructions. I used this feature many times over my manager career with coworkers and clients and it works great. Now in my own business, I use Microsoft OneNote with clients for social media generating and tracking what was sent and it works great too. Thanks for sharing and happy new year.
Sabrina, I’ve only shared one OneNote notebook, but I can see the possibilities there.
When I worked as part of team preparing proposals we relied heavily on comments and track changes. It allowed several people to provide feedback and suggestions on the same document. Then we reviewed the feedback as a group to select what changes stayed and what didn’t.
Donna, it really is a powerful tool that makes document collaboration so much more bearable. Well as bearable as proposal writing can be that is 😉
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as All Markup Mode. It sounds like it would be extremely valuable, especially in your line of work. To be honest, up until recently I had Word 2003 installed in my computer. Now I use Open Office. Obviously, my needs are very basic. However, if I were to every write a book (could happen some day), I will definitely have to make the transition back to Word. I am sure I will have lots of catching up to do at that point.
Erica, Openoffice does indeed get the job done for many users. I’ve also used the markup feature in Google documents, but am not as used to it as I am with Word.
Jeri — I use track changes, too, although I don’t use the strike-through on the original copy because I think that can be confusing to the writer. The copy flows better without that and you can always see what was deleted in the right margin. At least that’s my feeling.
Jeannette, I agree as well. It’s hard to work with a document in full markup mode.
Thanks for the useful posts, Jeri. Great resource for authors who want to get more out of their word processor.
Bridget, I learn new things about Word all the time. Though I’m often surprised about some basic functionalities that many people don’t know about.