How to Use Track Changes When Working with an Editor

Sophie Playle
How to Use Track Changes When Working with an Editor image

Many editors, myself included, will edit a manuscript using Word’s nifty Track Changes feature. This allows authors to see exactly what edits have been made to their work and gives them the power to reject or accept the changes.

However, if you’ve not used Track Changes before, you might feel a little overwhelmed when your editor returns your document to you covered in red text, strikethroughs and comment bubbles!

Don’t worry. Working with a manuscript edited with tracked changes isn’t as dramatic or difficult as it first looks. Read this short guide and you’ll soon be breezing through your edited manuscript feeling in full control.

My method: three file types

When I return an edited manuscript to an author, I provide three separate files:

  • The first contains all my edits made visible through the Track Changes feature so the author can see exactly what I’ve done.
  • The second has all the edits implemented, but my comments are still visible so the author can easily find and address any issues.
  • The third has all the edits implemented and all the comments deleted so the author can easily see a ‘clean’ version of the edited manuscript.

Not all editors work this way. This is just the method I’ve adopted because I believe it’s the most useful. It enables the author to have access to both the edits and the edited manuscript without having to know too much about the technical know-how of using Track Changes.

Saying that, to get the most from your edited manuscript and retain as much control as possible, it’s useful to know the basics. In this guide, I’ll show you how the feature works and how best to approach your edited manuscript for maximum control.

What are tracked changes?

Okay, let’s start with the basics. Track Changes is a feature in Microsoft Word that allows you to keep track of the changes you make to a document – or, in this case, the changes an editor makes to your manuscript. Each change can be either accepted or rejected. As the author, you get to decide which changes you accept based on whether you agree with the editor’s suggestion. When a tracked change is accepted or rejected, the edit is assimilated into the document.

How to turn on the Track Changes feature

It’s possible that you and your editor may not be using the same version of Word. If this is the case, the aesthetics of the feature will be slightly different. However, once you’ve found Track Changes in the menu, it works in pretty much the same way in all versions.

For most versions of Word, you simply need to go to the Review tab, and you’ll find Track Changes in the ribbon. Click the button and the feature will be switched on! (For Word 2003, you’ll need to go to the Tools menu along the top of the window and select Track Changes from there.)

In this guide, I’ll be using Word for Mac 2011.

(Click on any image to see a bigger version.)


What tracked changes look like

When you add text to the document, the new text will appear in a different colour and will be underlined. The colour of the insertions will depend on your settings, which are local to your computer. On my computer, I’ve kept the default red.

When you delete text from the document, either the text will be moved to the side of the document in a little balloon or it will appear crossed out in the body of the text. How it appears to you will depend on your default or customised settings, local to your computer. On my computer, the deleted text is pulled to the side in a balloon.

You’ll see a thin vertical line on the left of the text whenever a change has been made. This is a useful feature because sometimes it’s easy to miss small changes in the text, such as a deleted comma.


Notice in the example above that when text is inserted, it appears in red. Notice, too, that when text is deleted, it’s pulled out into a balloon down the left-hand side of the document; a thin red line connects the balloon to where the text has been deleted from. With both inserts and deletions, a thin vertical line appears down the right-hand side of the document to signify that a change has been made on a particular line.

In some places it appears that both an insertion and a deletion has taken place – for example, when changing the tense of ‘singeing’ to ‘singed’ the original word is deleted and the new word is inserted, so both a red insertion and a delete balloon is present.

How to accept or reject a tracked change

There are a few ways you can do this, all of them nice and simple.

If the tracked changes are presented in balloons to the right of the document, you can accept or reject an individual change by right clicking on the balloon and selecting either Accept Change or Reject Change.


Alternatively, you can navigate through the tracked changes using the Previous and Next buttons under the Review tab and use the Accept or Reject buttons. When you use the Accept or Reject buttons, you’ll automatically be taken to the next change to review.


You also have the option of accepting or rejecting all the changes in a document in one fell swoop. You can do this by clicking on the little arrow next to the Accept or Reject buttons on the ribbon and then selecting Accept/Reject All Changes in Document. Be careful, as this could be irreversible!

Understanding the Comments feature

An important part of the Review ribbon is the Comments feature, which is often used at the same as Track Changes. If you want to comment on the text, simply highlight it with your cursor and click New under the Comments section of the Review tab. (It might be slightly different for different versions of Word.)

A comment balloon will appear in the right-hand margin of the document – where any tracked changes balloons appear, too – and you can write your comment here.


With a Liminal Pages edit, it’s likely you’ll have quite a few comments on your manuscript – possibly hundreds! These will either be short explanations of some of the edits, a request for you to check that your intended meaning has been retained after an edit has been made, a comment or query about the story that requires your attention, or a note expressing how beautifully written or effective I’ve found a particular line of your prose.

At Liminal Pages, if I have any queries I need you to answer, I’ll ask them over email. However, some editors allow the manuscript to be sent back and forth for various passes and revisions, and you’ll be able to reply to a comment directly in the manuscript by inserting another comment. Simply click on the original comment, and then click on the New comment button in the Review ribbon to create a new comment directly below the original. Your comment boxes will appear in a different colour and, depending on your settings, may contain your name, too.

Understanding and using different document views

Word displays tracked changes by default once the feature is activated, but you can change how you view a document that contains tracked changes. Under the Review tab, you’ll see a drop down menu that says Final Showing Markup (the default). If you click it, you’ll see you have three more options: Final, Original Showing Markup, and Original – all quite self-explanatory.



Important: Changing a document’s view on your computer does not change how someone else sees the document on their computer. So if you select Final in the view menu without having accepted or rejected the tracked changes and deleting any comments, the file will still retain all of the tracked changes and comments, even though you can’t see them. All the tracked changes and comments will reappear as soon as you reopen the file on your computer or when someone else opens it afresh on their computer.

If you want to change the way the marked-up text is shown, you change choose what to see and what to hide under the dropdown menu Show Markup. This might be useful if you want to see only comments or only tracked changes, for example, but at Liminal Pages I provide you with documents containing various views so you don’t have to fiddle around with the settings!

How to review your edited manuscript

So this is what you really want to know, right? If you’ve got your head around everything we’ve looked at so far, you should find this process super easy.

There are two ways you might decide to review your edited manuscript:

  1. Look at every tracked change individually and decide whether to accept or reject it while addressing any comments and deleting the comment balloons as you go.
  2. In the manuscript file that has all the changes accepted with just the comments remaining,* address any issues raised in the comments, deleting the comment balloons as you go. After that, read through your manuscript carefully. If you spot anything odd or something doesn’t read right to you, cross-check it with the fully marked-up file and change your current version to how you want it to be.

*As I’ve said previously, if you choose me as your editor, I’ll provide you with a document set up this way. Alternatively, you could save a new copy of your file and accept all the changes in the copied document – don’t do this to the original, otherwise you may never get those markups back!

Generally, I recommend the second method because it’s less overwhelming.

If there have been a lot of changes made to your manuscript (for example, if sentences have often been recast for better flow or to correct a recurring grammar issue), I highly recommend you follow the second method.

Sometimes, too, when there’s too much markup or too many comments to fit along the right-hand side of the page, a little ellipsis (…) will appear next to some balloons to show that there’s more information, just not enough room to show it. You can click on the ellipsis to see the rest of the balloon text, which will appear in a new separate reviewing panel. Really, you only want to be dealing with this if absolutely necessary because it’s such a pain, so following method two above really can make it easier on yourself!

If you only have one document to work with, I recommend you make a copy before you start accepting or rejecting changes. So that you’re left with a clean final draft, make sure you’re viewing Final Showing Markup, all changes have been accepted or rejected, and all comment balloons have been deleted. Voila, you have your final draft.

I hope that’s helped!

Sophie Playle profile picture
Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in copy-editing and critiquing, working directly with authors. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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