by Jenny Hansen

Do you have critique partners? Editors? Beta readers? Family and friends who look over your Work in Progress?

I’m betting you trade writing pages with someone and, for those of you who don’t know how to use Track Changes, you buy a lot of paper. And ink cartridges. And red pens (or whatever friendlier color you use to write in the margin and remind your critique partner to use an active verb).

Even if you do use Track Changes, are you doing so efficiently? It is one of the most useful word processing features for writers. Best of all, even though this post focuses on Word, Google Docs has a Track Changes feature as well.

Quick Primer for Track Changes

Turning It On

 Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature can be activated a few ways:

  • Older versions of Word: Go to the Tools menu and choose Track Changes
  • Any version of Word: Hit Ctrl+Shift+E (sub in the Cmd button if you’re on a Mac and remember, you don’t type in the plus sign for keyboard shortcuts)
  • Newer versions of Word: the Review Ribbon is where you’ll find the Track Changes feature.
  • Double click on Track Changes in the status bar at the bottom of your Word window. (Pre-Word 2007, it said TRK.)

Note: Your status bar is the area that starts with “Page 1.” If you right-click on the status bar, you can turn on any number of things, including Track Changes. If you do this, glancing down at the status bar is the easiest way to tell if Track Changes is on.

What does Track Changes do?

While Track Changes is on, everything you do to a document is being recorded. Every space, every deletion, every bit of formatting. Everything.

The Reviewing toolbar has a great button that allows you to choose things like Original, Simple Markup (showing below), All Markup, No Markup. This button is invaluable if you want to print out the manuscript without all the changes showing.

If you have personalized your User Information in Word’s Options (located at the bottom of the File menu) your name will appear next to the changes you make. If your critique partner decides to print up the document with the changes he or she will be able to tell your manuscript changes about transitions from that of your other critique partner who might be wild about head-hopping and adverbs.

General tab of Word’s Options

Below is what this markup looks like so you can see the line in the left margin that shouts, “Yo! Change here.” and the type of change made in the right margin.

Showing “All Markup”

How Track Changes Saves Time

My favorite part about the Track Changes feature is that the person receiving the critique can activate it on his or her own computer and choose to Accept or Reject Changes.

You can do this several ways:

  • Right click on each change and Accept or Reject it.
  • Click on the menu bar to Accept. Word will move to the next change, and then the next, and so forth.
  • If you really trust your editor or critique partner, you can accept all changes and be done with it.

Remember: every change offered by a critique partner, editor or beta reader does not have to be accepted, as you know. At the end of the day, this is your book.

Other suggestions

Visit your Review ribbon and play with it. Seriously, you want to be super familiar with it before you’re in a time crunch. Pass your mouse across all the buttons so that the tool tip will tell you what each button means. If you have more questions about the content in this blog, go to Microsoft Word’s Help and find out more.

Get friendly with the Comments feature. It is located on the Insert ribbon, to the right side of the middle. Comments allow you to offer an opinion, that will show up in the right margin with the other Track Changes markup. It can be easily referenced and then deleted.

Note: In a former life, I was a software trainer, so you are welcome to ask me anything about this feature. The post was born the other day when I heard an experienced writer ask how to print a document without showing the comments.

Do you use Track Changes? What do you like or dislike about it? Are there features that you struggle with? Let’s chat about it down in the comments!

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About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.