Using Track Changes as an Author

If you are an author who needs to use Word’s Track Changes feature to review suggestions from your editor or proofreader, then this blog is for you. If, instead, you’re an editor or proofreader who needs to use Track Changes to make suggestions to a client, read last month’s blog on Using Track Changes as an Editor before reading this one.

For this blog, I’m using Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2016. However, the functionality and location of the buttons don’t change much from version to version. You should be able to follow this guidance regardless of which version of Word you are using.

Why Track Changes

Track Changes enables an editor or proofreader to make direct changes to the text so that an author can simply accept or reject those changes, and then they’re immediately incorporated into the manuscript. It saves you, the author, time because you don’t have to manually incorporate the changes yourself, which could inadvertently introduce additional errors.It also allows editors and proofreaders to make comments at the point that they’re relevant to you. The editor can point out a reason that a change was made at the point where it’s made rather than in a separate letter that says, “On page 342, paragraph 6, …” As edits are done, that location may change, so it’s really helpful to have comments that stick with the text.


When you open the Word document from your editor or proofreader, you’ll likely get something with comments to the right side and some red vertical lines to the left side. Usually, Word opens documents in this Simple Markup view.

This view is great for reading the manuscript in the form suggested by the editor or proofreader and brings attention to any comments or questions the auditor may have via the comments panel to the right. But it isn’t good for seeing every change that the editor or proofreader made. For that, it’s better to view the document in All Markup view.

To change your view, go to the Review tab on the ribbon, and in the Tracking section, change the top drop down from Simple Markup to All Markup.

Once you have All Markup selected, your view will change to show you the details of what the editor or proofreader changed, as well as any comments.
Now you’re ready to review the details.

What Track Changes Shows

If you’ve never seen a document with Track Changes applied, it may look a little strange and be difficult to follow. In general, Track Changes will put any changes in red font (unless you’ve changed your personal settings). Track Changes will strike through any deletions of letters, words, or paragraphs and will underline any new text. Comments will still appear in a pane to the right side, and any text that has comments will appear highlighted in pink. See image above for examples.

Formatting changes will also appear via bubbles in the right pane where comments are. If you click on the formatting change bubble, it will select the text that was changed. Otherwise, it’s not terribly clear exactly what was changed.

What Track Changes Doesn’t Show

Track Changes will indicate every change to the manuscript while Track Changes is on. Some editors or proofreaders will make global changes and just leave a comment to explain what she did so that your Track Changes view only shows the important things that need your attention. The most common example of a global change is changing two spaces at the end of a sentence to one space. You can see how it would become cumbersome to review every extra space at the end of every sentence and why your editor would want to save you from that hassle.

Lock Changes

If you strongly prefer to see every change that your editor or proofreader makes, you can turn on Track Changes before sending the manuscript to her and lock Track Changes with a password so that she can’t turn it off.

To turn on the lock feature, go to the Review tab of the ribbon where all of the Track Changes features are located. In the Tracking section, select the drop down arrow on the Track Changes button and choose Lock Tracking.

Enter the same password twice. Make sure it’s a password you will remember or write it down; otherwise, you’ll never be able to turn off Track Changes again.

Now when you send the manuscript to the editor or proofreader, he or she must leave Track Changes on constantly and will not be able to make any “silent” changes.

Now that I’ve illustrated how to do that, I encourage you not to use it. I understand that the manuscript is extremely important to you and that it’s taking a lot of trust for you to send it to an editor or proofreader. However, an ethical editor or proofreader will not make any changes without informing you. For the example I mentioned above about changing two spaces at the end of a sentence to one space, the editor should leave a comment in the manuscript or style sheet or in a separate email or letter indicating that she made that change. In other words, nothing should be truly “silent.” From an editor’s perspective, we want you to know all of the changes that we made so that you can learn from them and hopefully not make the same mistakes again in the future because it saves us time next time. Letting the editor or proofreader make these silent changes also saves you from having to review the same change over and over again. Focus on finding an ethical editor and then trust her to be transparent in her work rather than insisting on seeing every single change. If you’re working with a potentially unethical editor or proofreader, then by all means, lock Track Changes, but also ask yourself why you’re working with this person if you don’t trust her.

After you receive your manuscript back, leave Track Changes on while you review and make any changes of your own (more on this later). However, at some point, you’ll need to unlock Track Changes. To do so, take similar steps to what you did to turn it on: On the Review tab in the Tracking section, select the drop down arrow next to Track Changes. It will appear grayed out, but you can still select it.

Select Lock Tracking. A window will pop up for you to enter your password. Enter it and click “OK.” Now you can click on the Track Changes button itself to turn it off. If you click on the drop down arrow again, you can just select Track Changes again from the menu.

Review Changes

You have an overwhelming amount of information in front of you. How do you go about reviewing it? I recommend reading through all of the comments from your editor first before you dig in to the text changes. This way, you’ll be aware of any bigger picture issues your editor questioned before you start accepting or rejecting any changes.

Review Comments

To review comments, place your cursor at the top of page one. On the Review tab of the ribbon, there’s a Comments section. Simply click the Next button to go through the comments one by one.

Of course, you can navigate backward by choosing Previous. If you’d like to leave your own comment, select the text that you’re going to comment on, then click on the New Comment button. A bubble will appear in the right pane, and you can type your comment. You can also select a comment and click the Delete button to remove it.

There are a couple of other features with comments that you should be aware of. First, you can reply to a comment. To do so, click on the comment, then click on the icon in the upper right corner. An indented bubble will appear underneath the comment where you can type your reply. You can also reach this tool by right-clicking on the comment and selecting Reply To Comment.

Rather than deleting, you can also mark a comment complete. This will leave the comment in the document in case you want to reference it later, but it will gray it out so that you know it doesn’t need your immediate attention anymore. Right-click on the comment and select Mark Comment Done. The comment will now be grayed out but still available.

Review Text

Now that you’ve reviewed comments and have a good idea of what, if any, big picture issues there may be, start reviewing the text changes, including formatting changes. Start by putting your cursor at the beginning of page one. In the Review tab of the ribbon, in the Changes section, click the Next button to get started.

At this point, decide whether you want to accept or reject this change or skip it for now. If you want to skip it, just select Next again to go to the next change. Of course, you can also select Previous to go back to one you skipped.

The Accept button has some options. If you click on the arrow below Accept, you’ll have a menu of choices. Most of the time, you’ll want to choose to accept the change where your cursor is and move to the next change. Good news—that’s the default! To do this, you can just click on the big Accept button rather than clicking on the arrow to get the menu options.

I’ll briefly cover the other options: Accept this change will accept the change where your cursor is but will not take you to the next one. Accept all changes will accept all changes in the document. You probably don’t want to do this, at least not until you’ve had a chance to go through all of them. The last option is to accept all of the changes and stop tracking. This will accept all of the changes throughout the manuscript and also turn off Track Changes. You may want to make this a last step before publishing, but probably not before then.

You can also accept a change by right-clicking on it and choosing Accept Deletion, Accept Insertion, or Accept Format Change, as appropriate. Note that every change is tracked separately. If a word is deleted and replaced with another word, there is one deletion change and one insertion change. You will have to accept or reject both changes. It’s also important to know that Track Changes recognizes comments as changes, so it will take you to comments again as you’re going through the text changes. This is good because you’ll be able to review the content with appropriate context.

The Reject button is very similar to the Accept button. If you want to reject a change and move to the next one, click on the big Reject button rather than the drop down menu. If you do click on the drop down menu, you’ll have the same options: reject and move to next, reject change (and do not move to next), reject all changes in the manuscript, and reject all changes in the manuscript and stop tracking. Again, you can also right-click and reject changes.

After the changes to the text have been accepted or rejected, either the change or the original text, as appropriate, is kept in the manuscript, and its opposite is removed. All red font will go away. For example, here are the same two paragraphs I’ve been using in the example images, but with all changes accepted and the comment deleted.

You can’t tell that there were any changes. It’s just seamless. This is why Track Changes is such a popular method for editing. The editor can make the changes, and the author just has to accept or reject them without further effort to incorporate them into the manuscript, where additional errors may be introduced.Note that developmental editors generally make few changes to the manuscript itself and instead provide many comments with suggestions for improvement. This is to avoid making large changes and therefore becoming an unwelcome co-author. However, changes to the text are common in copyediting and proofreading, where much of the story will not change and fine-tuning of the text is called for instead.

Your Changes

If you make any changes outside of a copyeditor’s or proofreader’s recommendations (which is likely), I encourage you to leave Track Changes on. This way, if you send it back to your copyeditor or proofreader for a last look, she’ll be able to see what you changed and will be able to focus on those areas a little more than the rest of the manuscript. Your changes will show up in a different color, so it’ll be easy to distinguish who made which changes. When I get a manuscript back from an author, I generally review their changes first, then go back to the beginning of the manuscript and do a last look over the whole thing.

Note that this advice doesn’t apply for a developmental edit. You will likely have significant changes from a developmental edit that doesn’t merit keeping Track Changes on for your changes. It would just make the manuscript very messy. Additionally, for the next round of editing, it would be best for the editor to approach it with fresh eyes and read your revised story as it is rather than what it used to be.

Turn Off Track Changes

After the last changes are accepted or rejected, go to the Review tab on the ribbon and click the big Track Changes button. It should no longer appear to have a darker gray background. Now your manuscript is ready!

For more information on how to use Track Changes, see part one of this series where I talk about how to use Track Changes from an editor’s or proofreader’s perspective. In that blog, I talk about how to use track changes when you’re the one making changes, but I also talk about how to access some of the advanced options and the other features on the Review tab of the ribbon.


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