Using Track Changes as an Editor

If you are an editor or proofreader who wants to use Word’s Track Changes feature to share your suggestions with your client, then this blog is for you. Next month’s blog will be from the other side: how to use Track Changes to review your editor’s or proofreader’s suggestions.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.

Review Tab

You will find everything related to Track Changes on the Review tab of the ribbon in Word.

I will talk about Comments and Track Changes more below, but additional tools you can find on the Review ribbon include Spelling and Grammar checker, Thesaurus, Word Count, and Compare. All of these tools are helpful for editors and proofreaders, as well as for authors.

Select Spelling & Grammar to have Word do a spelling and grammar check. Depending on your settings, you may already see spelling and grammar issues via squiggly lines in the manuscript. But it’s useful to do a last check before sending it back to the client to make sure you didn’t overlook anything. The tool will give you options to ignore the suggested change or to make it. There are also additional options sometimes, depending on the circumstances, such as an Ignore All button. Word also takes you to the appropriate part of the manuscript where it’s suggesting a change. There, you may decide to manually make a different change than the one suggested.

Do you have an author who has a pet word that he uses frequently? Double-click on the word to select it, then select Thesaurus to get a list of synonyms. If applicable, it also includes the different possible meanings of the selected word so that you can quickly narrow down your choices. For example, for the word “wipes,” the thesaurus gives possible meanings of “smears,” “cleans,” and “erases,” with synonyms for each.

Word Count gives you a summary of your entire document, including number of pages, words, and characters.

Be careful with this tool though. If you have an area selected, it will apply the word count to only the selected area. For example, I selected a single paragraph in the same document as the one above and got these results instead:

I sometimes work with translated material, and occasionally the document the client sends has both the English version and the foreign language version. I do not want to charge for any work on the foreign language version, so I highlight the English portion and use this tool to find the English-only word count. That way, I charge the appropriate amount for my services.
The last tool I want to mention is Compare. You might find occasion to use Compare if you sent a manuscript back to the author and he subsequently sends a new version to you, but he didn’t mark what he did or didn’t change. With Compare, you select the old version (the one you sent to the author) and the new version (the version the author sent back to you), and Word will show you the differences between the two, much like if Track Changes had been used.


Comments are one of the most valuable tools for editors. You can use them to call attention to an area and make suggestions to the authors on how to change it. You can use them to explain why you made a change. You can also use them to make notes to yourself—just remember to come back and clean those up before you send the manuscript to the client!

To use comments, first select an area of the manuscript by clicking and dragging (or using keyboard shortcuts Shift + arrow keys), then select New Comment from the Review tab of the ribbon (or Ctrl + Alt + m on the keyboard). You’ll get a window to the side of the manuscript in which you can enter comments.

Comments are critical for communicating with the author at the point where it matters. You would not want to point out an issue in a paragraph by saying, “on page 57, third paragraph,” because that location may change as you or the author make edits. A comment will stick with the associated text no matter whether you or the author add or delete text above it.

Using the icon in the upper right corner of the comment, you can also reply to existing comments. This is useful if you and the author are having a conversation back and forth. You can maintain the original comment as well as the history on it.

By right-clicking on the comment, you can also mark it as complete or delete it. Marking it complete keeps it within the document, but it fades and minimizes so that you know you don’t need to worry about its content any further.

On the other hand, once you delete a comment, it is gone from the document. It’s useful to delete comments that you made to yourself that you don’t necessarily want the author to see. For example, on your first pass through a manuscript, you may make a note that you need to come back and think about something some more, or you need to see how the rest of the plot plays out before making a recommendation. Or, if you’re doing a developmental edit or manuscript critique, you may record your gut reaction to something, which may be a little too harshly worded for the author.

If you do make comments to yourself, consider adding something you’ll remember to every comment so that you can easily search for them. It should be something that wouldn’t appear in the manuscript or in your comments to the author. For example, maybe you can use your initials or your dog’s name. You’re going to delete these comments before they go to the author, so it can be something completely nonsensical, as long as it’s easy for you to remember and to apply to each comment that’s for your eyes only. For example, I use “*CN” for mine. My initials could possibly show up in the manuscript (unlikely, but possible), but they definitely won’t appear with an asterisk. Before I send the manuscript back to the author, I can do a quick search for “*CN” to make sure I’ve deleted all of the comments that were not meant for the author.

On the Review tab of the ribbon, you can also navigate between comments using the Previous and Next buttons in the Comments section. You may have many pages between comments, particularly for copyediting or proofreading, so these buttons are helpful for navigation. This way, you can easily make sure you have reviewed every comment prior to sending it to the author.

Track Changes

Track Changes is useful when you want to make changes to the manuscript but keep the changes visible to the author. It also allows the author the ability to accept or reject those changes according to his preferences.
Turn track changes on by selecting the Track Changes button on the ribbon. If you accidentally select the drop down arrow, just choose Track Changes from the menu selections. Once Track Changes is on, it will show up darker than the surrounding ribbon.
Now you can start making changes. You’ll see new text appear in red and underlined and deleted text show in red and struck through. You’ll also see a vertical line in the left margin to indicate that there were changes made in that line. This view is called All Markup.
Note that if you add a letter, as in “hands” above, only that letter shows up as underlined. To make the change more obvious, you may want to delete the entire word and re-type it. I probably wouldn’t do that in the case of adding the “s” to “hand”; if there was a word that was misspelled, and I needed to add a couple of letters here and there and take some others away, I would probably just delete the word and re-type it to make it easier to review.

For example, here’s a letter-by-letter change:

And here’s a word change:

As you can see, when deleting and re-entering the entire word, it’s easier to see the end result.

If you prefer a cleaner view while working on the manuscript, you can click on the vertical line, and the text will only show what it would look like with your changes. This view is called Simple Markup. The vertical line will change to red as an indication that there are changes hidden from view.

I often switch back and forth between views while I’m editing depending on the situation. For example, it’s difficult to tell what happened with a formatting change, such as removing a paragraph break, while seeing the details of Track Changes in All Markup view. But if I switch views, I can easily see if it’s now formatted the way I intended.

The Tracking section of the ribbon has some other views. Click on the top menu to the right of the Track Changes button to see your options. See “All Markup” in the image below.

We already discussed All Markup and Simple Markup. The No Markup option shows what the document would look like if all changes were accepted and all comments were deleted. There is no vertical line to indicate that there are changes nor is there indication that there are comments. The Original option shows the original document before there were any changes or comments. I don’t use these two views very frequently, but it’s useful to know they exist.

In the “Show Markup” menu just below the views (see image above), you can select what you want to see when viewing markup. I generally turn off Formatting. If I make a change to formatting, I don’t generally want to see a bubble to show that change to me. Here’s an example of changing a word to italics:

By turning off Formatting, the change is still made, and the author will still be able to see that I made the change; it just hides the notification from my view.
Similar to the navigation buttons for Comments, there are also navigation buttons for changes:
I will cover these more in the next blog, which will cover Track Changes from an author’s point of view. But in general, these help you move back and forth through the changes and allow you to accept or reject changes easily.

The last thing I want to point out is that there are some advanced options available.

If you click on the small icon in the bottom right corner of the Tracking section of the ribbon (see image above), a new window will open.

You can change some options within this window, and even more by clicking on the Advanced Options button. I’ll leave these options for you to explore on your own.

Know that whatever options you choose for your own viewing of track changes, whether it be the font color (accessed via Advanced Options) or the view, your viewing options do not affect the author’s viewing options. If you choose to view the document in Simple Markup, he can still choose to view All Markup. If you change the font color to green for additions and purple for additions, he will still see it as red unless he has changed his own settings. This gives you the freedom to set up the view for what works for you, but it’s important to understand that your client may not see things the same way you do.I hope you found this blog useful. Be sure to check out next month’s blog, which will be on how to use Track Changes to review an edited or proofread manuscript.


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