How to use Track Changes

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How to use Track Changes

A simple guide to one of Microsoft Word’s most vital functions

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Lee Dickinson, chief editor

By Lee Dickinson

Bookediting.co.uk chief editor

Learning how to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word is scary for novice users, so here’s the simplest guide on the net with all you need to know.

If you’re working with an editor, their changes will only be shown with this function turned on, so you’ll need basic knowledge. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to use. Once on, it’s easily tweaked to your own preferences.

So, where is Track Changes? At the top of the document, on the ‘ribbon’, you’ll see a row of ‘tabs’ starting with ‘File’ on the left. Word has had many redesigns over the decades but, whatever your version, the ‘Review’ tab you need is toward the right of the row of tab options.

Microsoft Word Review tab

Press that and you’ll see, in the buttons below the tabs, the beast of which we speak, about halfway along the ribbon.

Microsoft Word's Track Changes button

The Track Changes button doesn’t have to be selected to show editing changes. If it is on, your changes will be tracked in the same way as your book editor’s, but in a different colour until you save the document, when the colours will match. So, if you don’t want your changes to be tracked, possibly causing confusion over who’s made the change, turn Track Changes off. If you have a later version of Word, the button has a top and bottom half, with the lower option giving the choice of turning the function off for you, for everyone, or locking the tracking.

To see changes, to the right of the Track Changes button are two ‘Markup’ dropdown menus, with the top one offering ‘All’, ‘Simple’ and ‘No’ options. Word defaults to ‘All Markup’, so you’ll see every insertion, deletion and formatting change.

With ‘Simple Markup’, margin comments alone will show and,
you guessed it, ‘No Markup’ shows no markup. These are great options when you simply want to read the text without the distracting marks.

The dropdown’s ‘Original’ option puts the text in its pre-editing state, but please note that it doesn’t delete the Track Changes, which return with ‘All Markup’.

Track Changes markup button

In the middle dropdown menu (don’t worry about the bottom one), ‘Show Markup’ options are for insertions and deletions, plus formatting. You’ll want the first option with a tick next to it, but switching formatting markup off can be a great option to avoid margin clutter.

Accepting or rejecting changes is simple. To the right of the markup dropdowns are the ‘Accept’ and ‘Reject’ buttons. With ‘All Markup’ on, Word will move to the next change after each press. If you choose the wrong option, simply press the Control key and ‘Z’.

Track Changes accept and reject buttons

I mention Ctrl+Z (this works on many different programs, and can be a lifesaver) because, in a book editing document with hundreds or even thousands of changes, you’re likely to fall into a clicking stupor.

To combat that, you can make bulk changes by highlighting sections of text (left mouse click and drag) and using the same buttons to approve or reject every edit in the selection.

If you’re super confident in your book editor, or just want to avoid a trance, you can ‘Accept All Changes’ in the document. In modern versions of Word, this option is on the lower half of the ‘Accept’ button, below the tick. The ‘Reject’ option has the same bulk choices in reverse.

Track Changes accept all

Straight after using either option, save a version in a new name, so you can refer back to the previous Track Changes version. Don’t use Ctrl+S to save here; go to the ‘File’ tab in the ribbon, then select ‘Save As’.

That’s everything you need to know about how to use Track
Changes. Try it and you’ll see the red scrawl, at first daunting and reminiscent of primary school humblings, is perfect for collaboration and better writing.

© Lee Dickinson, Bookediting.co.uk, 2023

This article’s writer, Lee Dickinson, is an advanced professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and chief editor at Bookediting.co.uk. You can read his blog here.

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