Tracked: When Track Changes Drives You Bonkers


by Ali McCart

When I first discovered Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature, I was in my first week of grad school. The professor of my book editing class had handed out directions on how to turn on Track Changes, and I was eager to get home to my desktop computer to try it.

In a few swift clicks, Track Changes was turned on, and everything I did to the author’s manuscript—from deleting an extra space to moving an entire paragraph—was tracked. The best part was, the author didn’t have to retype any suggested word changes as she would have had to do if the edits were on paper; she could just right-click and accept or reject the edits. I’ve been enamored of Track Changes since.

two It stands to reason, though, that authors might not love Track Changes so much. The editor gets to start with a clean document and mark it all up. The author has to receive a document with a lot of colored lines and bubbles, trying desperately to make sense of what text is now standing, what’s been shot down, and why an entire paragraph is colored as if it’s brand-new text. The internal monologue might go something like this: Why did the editor type all that? It feels vaguely like my words, but if the text is colored, the editor must have done it. No, I’m sure I wrote that phrase. Oh, I see, the editor moved the paragraph from down there to up here. I suppose that does make more sense. But now I have to right-click on every single edit to accept or reject it? This will take days! And every revision I make just adds more colors. I need a break, and I’m only on page one.

But don’t worry. These two tricks will help make your life as an author in revision much easier:

Hide Your Changes
By far, the most common complaint I hear from authors is that they don’t want to leave Track Changes on when they revise because it just muddies everything up. Yet, we editors really need authors to leave Track Changes on during revision so we can efficiently review, edit, and fact-check the new text. But there is a way to make everyone happy:
  1. In the Review tab of Word, look for the Show Markup dropdown menu and click on it.
  2. Hover your mouse over Reviewers, which should bring up an extra window to the side with your and your editor’s names.
  3. Click on your name to remove the checkmark next to it.
Now, Track Changes is still recording your edits, but you don’t have to see them. When the editor gets the manuscript, he can turn this feature back on, and voilà! Every revision is visible.

Accept Edits in Bulk
It’s tedious to click on every single edit to accept or reject it, especially on the first or second round of edits, when it’s common for the editor to have made quite a few changes. The good news is, you don’t have to! Try this:
  1. If you agree with an edit, ignore it. (Yep, you read that right.)
  2. If you disagree with an edit, reject it.
  3. When you’re done reviewing edits in the whole document, first make sure the editor’s changes are the only ones visible, per the above tip. Then in the Review tab, look for the Accept dropdown menu and click on the small arrow to extend it.
  4. Click Accept All Changes Shown. This bulk accepts all your editor’s changes that you mentally agreed with but still keeps your revisions tracked (even if hidden) so your editor will be able to see those.
If you can’t ignore the “accepted” edits for the whole document, go through steps 1 and 2 the same, and then intermittently highlight a passage you’ve just reviewed—a paragraph, a page, a chapter, whatever. Then do steps 3 and 4 for just the highlighted passage. Another option is to just do steps 1 and 2 and let your editor do 3 and 4. We’re happy to do little favors like this.

Of course, there are lots of other tricks to do with Track Changes too. You can change the color of your edits; adjust whether you see edits in-line, in the right margin, or in the left review pane; or hide all the edits completely. Advanced users can probably even make the really important edits do flips. Well, maybe not—but you might be able to get a first-year grad student to believe you can!

If you’re looking for more tips on customizing Track Changes settings, check out these sites:

AliAfter two years living on an Alaskan island, Ali McCart is happy to be back in the land of specialty doughnuts and craft beers. No matter where she is, though, she stays cozy with Track Changes—whether she’s editing clients’ manuscripts, friends’ resumes, or students’ scholarship applications, Track Changes are always there.