“Track Changes” Is Your Friend.
Mine Too.

Recently a friend commented on my post about formatting a manuscript to be edited, asking, “Do you have another tutorial for how the writer should respond to your comments and corrections in track changes?”

Here it is.

Track changes, you’ll recall, is an editing tool in Microsoft Word; it’s a way for two or more people to make changes to a document without finalizing those changes (until it’s agreed they should be finalized). Every change made—whether a deletion or an addition—can be seen in living color.

That is, when I am working in your document with track changes turned on, if I add words, they appear in red.* When I delete words, they appear in a red “balloon” out to the right in the margin.

I’ve written about using track changes before (here and here, for example), but I know from experience that a lot of folks don’t really know how to do it. So let’s get down to brass tacks. If you’re serious about your writing, you will end up working with an editor at some point, so you need to know how to deal with track changes.

Here’s a checklist. I work on a Mac, so PC users may have a slightly different way of getting to usage, but you can figure it out.

• Your page view should be PRINT LAYOUT (which is under the VIEW menu).

• Load the reviewing toolbar by choosing VIEW menu, scrolling to TOOLBARS, then scrolling again to REVIEWING. You know what a toolbar is, right?

• Now turn track changes on by clicking on the TRACK CHANGES button on the reviewing menu. It’s right next to the NEW COMMENT button.

Got that? Now here’s how we’ll work together, using track changes.

When I am reading your manuscript, I’ll do two things that will be immediately visually evident:

• I’ll leave notes in the margins. These appear as balloons in the right margin also. They won’t be red, so you can easily distinguish them from deletion balloons.

• I’ll make changes to the manuscript using track changes. These will most likely be red.

You can clearly see where I’ve been and what I’ve done. It may be a little shocking; there may be a lot of red. But remember, if I so much as remove an extra space, a red balloon will be created (it will look like it’s empty if I’ve deleted a space; otherwise it will contain deleted words). So don’t worry about all that red. I’ve made changes but everything you did is still there.**

Next, you must have a look at those changes. While the manuscript is back in your court, I want you to accept my changes before you start making your own changes; this will keep the document from getting too full of red balloons. If you don’t care for a change I’ve made, that’s fine; you can choose to reject it.

To accept changes, select the material in question, then click on the GREEN CHECKMARK icon on the REVEWING TOOLBAR. (To reject, select the material and click on the RED X icon.) Remember to accept my changes before you start making changes of your own. Remember also that just going down the margin and clicking the X in the deletion balloon isn’t helpful; there’s still all that red text in the manuscript. It is much more time efficient to highlight a changed section then choose the ACCEPT CHANGES icon (the green checkmark).

Does it seem like there are a lot of changes and you’ll be doing this for the next three years? Welcome to my world. :) Generally, I read a page, look at the changes, then select/highlight the one page, and click on the green checkmark. This makes the process manageable. You can accept the entire document if you desire, but if you’re like me, you want to see it and process it first. So I do it a page at a time. Sometimes a paragraph at a time.

One more thing: I need you to carry your share of the load in this process. So if you send the document back to me without having physically accepted or rejected my changes, I’ll assume you meant to accept them and do it for you. (Although this will not make me happy.)

Did you catch that? When you send the manuscript back to me, I want it to be cleaned up so that only your most recent changes are showing.

So the process looks something like this if we’re doing a developmental edit for your publisher:***

1. I read your manuscript.

2. I read your manuscript again. First I save it as another document, then make copious notes in the margins and in a separate document. I make a few changes to the manuscript with track changes turned on.

3. I write up your editorial notes. While I’m doing this, I’m working my way through the manuscript a third time.

4. I send the manuscript and editorial notes back to you.

5. You turn track changes on and begin the rewrite. First, you accept or reject my changes.

6. When you’re done, you return the manuscript to me. It is clean except for your changes.

7. I save this as a separate document again. Then I go through and accept your changes as I read the manuscript again. More than likely I make more comments and other changes with track changes turned on. Then I send it back to you.

8. Repeat steps 5, 6, and 7 until there are no changes to review.

Capisci?

I know this is not the most interesting post in the world. But now you’ll never have to pretend you understand track changes. Leave me a comment if I haven’t been clear. I know it’s a lot to grasp. But open a Word document and play with it; the more you use this tool, the easier—and more automatic—it will become. We haven’t discussed comments either. I’ll save that for the next post.

* Actually, it could be another color, depending on how your preferences are set, but red is the default.
** In point of fact, I never work on your original. I do a SAVE AS and retitle the document: TitleofBook1stPASS.docx.
*** If you are an unsigned author, it is a somewhat different procedure after step 4.

 

Tweet: No more excuses: here’s a tutorial on how to use track changes.
Tweet: If you’re serious about your writing, you need to know how to deal with track changes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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12 Comments

  1. Alice says:

    I use track changes in Word 2010 on a PC almost every day in my job. I don’t know if the Mac version has this option, but the easiest way for me to review changes and make decisions to accept or reject is to use the “next” and “previous” buttons under “review.” That way, I don’t miss anything and each change is automatically highlighted.

    • Jamie says:

      I use those to search for comments too. There’s also the vertical line that appears in the left-hand margin; it indicates a change has been made in that particular line of text.

  2. Adam says:

    I wish you had written this post a few months ago. I had never used Track Changes before I got my manuscript back so I didn’t know how to accept them. All I figured out how to do was hide them and make my own comments. Whoops.

    • Jamie says:

      I totally understand. You are NOT the only one. I used to beg my old publishing house to let me write them a little handbook on everything a new author should know. But … no. Here’s the thing, though—you can ask me anything and I promise I won’t laugh. :)

  3. Jamie,

    You may think “this is not be the most interesting post in the world,” but I found it quite helpful! Although several of my published friends have used Track Change with me when reviewing some of my work, I was often lost by about the third go around.

    I’m saving your thorough step by step explanation for future use. Thank you.

  4. Michelle Ule says:

    How do I make it STAY Final? I’ll click on Final (for view), email it to myself and open up a doc full of track changes.

    Thanks, Mom!

    • Jamie says:

      Hmmm. That’s VERY interesting! I’ve never heard of that happening! Have you experimented with having track changes turned on (or off) when you do it? You might also try doing a save-as after you’ve accepted all changes and switched to final, then emailing. …?

  5. Mari Adkins says:

    When I had Office 2003, the track changes feature operated when and how it wanted to. Pain in my rear. I have Office 2010 now, and it’s much, much saner. Am passing your tutorial along. :)

    • Jamie says:

      That’s interesting. I loved Office 2004 for Mac but was forced by a client to switch to 2008, which was and continues to be a complete disaster. I’ve seen that there is 2011 for Mac, but I just don’t know if I can put myself through it. I’d be interested to know if any Mac users have experience with the newer version.

  6. Sarah says:

    It looks a lot more complicated than it actually is. And I might be the only writer alive who actually loves to see all the red on my screen. It means I’ve got work to do and it’s doable. If I didn’t see any changes, I would be worried. :)

    • jamiechavez says:

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: serious writers welcome (and usually enjoy!) the editorial process. :)

  7. […] Back to Jamie Chavez Read>Play>Edit Your sometimes cranky editor writes about books, writing, & editing, words & language, and the publishing industry. Skip to content About « “Track Changes” Is Your Friend. Mine Too. […]

  8. […] Yes, both are word processing programs. In theory both have layout capability (though I wouldn’t bother; if you want a professional-looking layout, use InDesign). And in theory, both have the ability to track editorial changes (though I don’t find Pages’s interface very user-friendly). You know about track changes; we’ve talked about it. […]

  9. […] a while back, I wrote an article with some basics about track changes. We’ve also talked about why you need to use MS Word when you’re working with an editor, not […]

  10. […] loop. I mean, I work a lot, I have a process, and that means I am intimate with Microsoft Word and track changes. But it’s been a dozen years since I worked inside a corporate publishing house. Maybe something […]

  11. […] done because he doesn’t know how to use track changes. (Although I always send a link to this and encourage […]

5 Trackbacks

  1. By The Best Stuff Is in the Margin on 15 February, 2013 at 8:31 am

    […] Back to Jamie Chavez Read>Play>Edit Your sometimes cranky editor writes about books, writing, & editing, words & language, and the publishing industry. Skip to content About « “Track Changes” Is Your Friend. Mine Too. […]

  2. By A Plague on the House of Apple Pages on 8 June, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    […] Yes, both are word processing programs. In theory both have layout capability (though I wouldn’t bother; if you want a professional-looking layout, use InDesign). And in theory, both have the ability to track editorial changes (though I don’t find Pages’s interface very user-friendly). You know about track changes; we’ve talked about it. […]

  3. By Short Saturday: Track Changes From A to Z on 13 February, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    […] a while back, I wrote an article with some basics about track changes. We’ve also talked about why you need to use MS Word when you’re working with an editor, not […]

  4. […] loop. I mean, I work a lot, I have a process, and that means I am intimate with Microsoft Word and track changes. But it’s been a dozen years since I worked inside a corporate publishing house. Maybe something […]

  5. By A Teachable Spirit on 6 March, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    […] done because he doesn’t know how to use track changes. (Although I always send a link to this and encourage […]

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