How to Use Track Changes When Working with an Editor

Sophie Playle

Most 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.

Updated May 2020

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.

The Liminal Pages method: three file types

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

  • Full Edit – The first file contains all my edits made visible through the Track Changes feature so the author can see exactly what I’ve done.
  • Comments Only – The second file has all the edits assimilated into the text, but my comments are still visible so the author can easily find and address any issues.
  • Clean – The third file has all the edits assimilated into the text 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.

Even so, 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 the Track Changes feature on/off

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 to find Track Changes. 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 Microsoft 365 Word for Mac.

Step 1: Go to the Review tab.

 

Step 2: Click on the ‘Tracking’ button to see the options.

 

Step 3: Here, you can toggle Track Changes on/off.

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  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.

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.

A document edited with Track Changes will look something like this.

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 to 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 ‘pours’ to ‘pores’ the original word is deleted and the new word is inserted, so you can see both a red insertion and that text has been deleted from the same place.

You can also see my name above every change. If more than one person works on a document with Track Changes turned on, this means you can see who had done what to the document.

Though I don’t show it here, text that has been moved from one place to another will show up in a different colour. On my computer, moved text appears in green.

How to accept or reject a tracked change

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

You can accept or reject an individual change by right clicking on the change (either the red inserted text or the deleted text at the side of the document) and selecting either Accept Change or Reject Change.

Right clicking a change brings up the options of accepting or rejecting the 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 and then selecting Accept/Reject All Changes in Document. Be careful, as this could be irreversible!

Be careful – accepting or rejecting all changes can be irreversible!

Understanding the Comments feature

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

Click New Comment to … add a new comment!

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

Text that’s been commented on will appear highlighted (here in pink) and the associated comment will be visible to the right of the document.

With a Liminal Pages edit, it’s likely you’ll have quite a few comments on your manuscript – possibly hundreds!

These will be either:

  • short explanations of some of the edits
  • a request for you to check that your intended meaning has been retained
  • a query that requires your input or
  • a note of praise.

If I have any queries I need you to answer while I’m conducting your edit, I’ll ask them over email.

However, depending on the kind of comments I’ve left for you, you might want to reply to some of my comments. To do this, you can either email me your responses, or you can respond directly in the manuscript by inserting another comment.

To do this, click on the original comment, and then click on the New Comment button 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 All Markup (the default on my computer). If you click it, you’ll see you have some more options: Simple Mark-up, No Markup, and Original – all quite self-explanatory.

(Why does Word hyphenate ‘Mark-up’ in one place and have it closed-up as ‘Markup’ in another?! Perhaps they should have hired a copy-editor.)

You can choose your document view from the dropdown menu when clicking here.

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 No Markup 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.

Changing your document view 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 this setting!

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, crosscheck 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 a recurring grammar issue has been corrected), 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 (and will slow down your computer), 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 No 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 Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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