How To Do Powerful & Productive Editing Using ‘Track Changes’ in Microsoft Word

track changes in wordBefore I started using Microsoft Word and Apple‘s Pages to write, edit and revise long writing projects, I would laboriously print out drafts of my documents and use  red or green pens to edit what I had written. Then I would go back to my simple word processor and make those corrections in my document file. I would sometimes print my document three or four times to make additional markups.

But when I started working with actual editors who required my writing to be done in Word, and who actually gave me copious feedback and suggested changes to work, I discovered the Track Changes tool in Word. Track Changes is the one feature that has changed my writing process for the better. With Track Changes, you and your editor or other readers can make all the edits and changes you want in your document file, and Word will record those changes so you can, if need be, delete those edits or keep them. Track Changes means you can experiment with revising parts of your text without the fear of losing your original thoughts. Plus, if you get a pesky teacher or editor who makes edits to your work that you don’t like; well, you can delete them and move on.

So as a follow-up to the article I recently wrote about using the Comments tool in Word, let’s explore the Track Changes tool. If you have never used it, be prepared to discover a hidden treasure for writing.

Setting Up Track Changes

First, here’s what Track Changes looks like in Word:

track changes in word

After you turn on Track Changes (on a Mac: Tool > Track Changes > Highlight Changes or on a PC, Review > Track Changes) and you or another reader of your document makes edits (e.g., deletes words, adds and changes sentences, make formatting changes and so on), Word will insert a balloon in the margin of the page, with a thin line connecting to where the edit was made. If a word is changed, for example, Word will display in the balloon the original word that is replaced by a new word in the body of the text. If one or more words is deleted, Word will record the deleted text in a balloon. Your name or the name of the person who made the edit, as well as the date and time of the edit will appear in the balloon’s toolbar.

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If you move text around in your document, Word will record in a balloon the text you moved, and then it will create another balloon for where you reinserted the moved text. The moved text will be highlighted in green and will be double underlined. Clicking the “Go” button in the balloon will take you to the spot where the moved text was originally typed.

microsoft word track changes

Finally, notice the check and x buttons in the balloon’s toolbar. These are useful for when someone edits your document using Track Changes. Clicking the check means that you accept the change, and at that point the balloon will disappear. If you click the x, the change will be rejected and the edits will be replaced with the original text.

Enabling & Disabling Track Changes

In addition to activating Track Changes in the Word toolbar, you can enable and disable the Track Changes tool in three or four other places in Word depending on what version of Word you’re using. In Word for Mac 2011, the Track Changes On/Off button exists in the Ribbon bar of Word.

microsoft word track changes

The Track Changes button can be inserted in Word’s toolbar (View > Toolbars > Customize Toolbars and Menus…). You can also create a keyboard shortcut, if one is not provided for your version of Word.

Notice also when you select Tool > Track Changes > Highlight Changes you will get several options for how you want to deal with the Track Changes tool. If for example you want Word to record changes, but you find the balloons popping up in the margins a little too distracting, you can de-select the “Highlight changes on screen” button.

microsoft word track changes

Other Preferences Options

As Word tries to be everything for everybody, it provides many options for how you may want Track Changes to work. When you click the Options button (see above) or Word > Preferences > Track Changes, you get more options than you probably care to think about. You can change the markup colors for the edits you make. You can track or choose not to track the movement of selected text.

microsoft word track changes

If the whole balloon still drives you crazy, you can deselect the “Use balloons to display changes” and Word will still track the changes and display them inside the body of the text (see below), which is similar to the old pen and paper method of marking changes, but with a lot less mess.

microsoft word track changes

Reviewing Changes

In the latest versions of Word, you get several ways to review, and accept and reject, your changes. You can simply scroll up and down the pages and view them, or you can use the navigation buttons in the Ribbon to move from one edit to the next. This is useful for longer writing projects.

how to track changes in word

You also have options for the type of edits you want to review. This is useful when you have lots of edits in the margins and you need to sort your way through the stacks. It’s not a pretty sight when an editor sends you back edits in nearly every paragraph of writing. This happens to even the best of writers.

track changes in word

You can also click in the menu bar (View > Sidebar > Reviewing Pane) and all your edit will be displayed, stacked on the left side of your document.

When you first use Track Changes in Word, it may seem very uncomfortable especially if you’re accustomed to the old pen markup method. But when you see how the tool can save you time, as well as save you the need to print out stacks of paper, it will be well worth the effort to learn how to use the Track Changes.

Let us know what you think of the Track Changes tool, and what other tools in Word you find useful for writing. Also check out our other articles about Word, including How To Make Use Of Research Feature in Microsoft Word 2007, , How To Build a Mind Map In Microsoft Word, and How to Make Index Cards in Microsoft Word 2007.

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