Writing Tip: Using “Track Changes”

Using “Track Changes”

Like most publishers, Freedom Forge Press uses the “track changes” feature in Word to communicate edits to authors. If you don’t already know how to use this feature, it’s important that you learn. If you do it right, it makes editing easy. If you do it wrong, it creates more work for both author and publisher.


There are already a number of helpful tutorials about how to use “track changes.” A quick YouTube search brings up lists of videos, many of them focused on one element of the “track changes” feature. Here is a helpful, concise video: http://youtu.be/uANGRpCEucg.


I can’t stress this enough. I hear about so many authors putting two files side-by-side and trying to replicate the editor’s edits on an old file. This is making a million times more work for yourself, and it will annoy the editor because there will be formatting issues you won’t truly be able to see—issues the editor has corrected that will go uncorrected, making duplicate work for a busy editor. So when you receive the edited file from your editor, save it to your computer (make sure you don’t save it over your original—just in case. I usually call mine “Document_round1.docx” (or round 2, or 5!). Then, open up the file your editor sent you. Work directly on that file. Do not go back to your original file.

The Review Tab

It all starts with the review tab. I’m using Word 2013, but the newer versions all have a similar appearance. When you click on the “review” tab at the top of the page, this is what you will see:


If you have an older version of Word, most of the same features will be there, though it may look slightly different cosmetically.

When you receive feedback from the editor, there will be two things you’ll see. One is editing comments, usually in red or blue. The other are comments in the margin. Let’s take a look at a sample manuscript. This is what the author sends in to the editor:

The editor will typically do two types of edits: formatting and content. First, let’s talk content (because it looks less “scary” in Word). The editor will make suggestions to improve your content. Since it’s still your story, though, most editors want you to be at least aware of what changes they’ve made. Some editors do this as a courtesy. For others, they’re genuinely giving you a choice. To show the changes I’m making as an editor, I would click the “track changes” button under the “review” tab in Word:

Here is what changes would look like after a fairly aggressive edit:


But usually, editors don’t only want to make changes; they want to explain those changes, too. To do this, they will use the “comment” feature under the review tab:


The comment will then appear to the right on your screen:


So far, nothing too scary. We’ll look at how to work with both comments and edits in a moment. First, let’s see what it looks like when your editor changes formatting. In the example below, the editor has decided to use single spacing for the manuscript and change the font. Here is what you will see:


It looks really scary, but it’s just Word telling you every change that was made. There are ways to make it look less scary, though the more you work with it, the less intimidating it gets. In Word 2013, you can customize what you see. For instance, under the “tracking” menu (a sub-menu of the “review tab”), you can choose “simple markup,” “all markup,” “no markup,” or “original.”


When you click the pull-down arrow, the menu will expand to look like this:


You can play around with which option you prefer, but for authors, it’s usually best to use “all markup” so that you can see exactly what the editor has done. “Simple markup” simplifies the appearance of the manuscript, but it makes it more difficult to see what changes have been made. “Original” flips back to the original version of the manuscript in case you want to see what it looked like in the first place.

You can also customize the view by clicking the pull-down arrow that says “show markup.” This lets you customize what types of edits you see:


When I’m working with a piece from the editor, I like to look at all types of edits made, but some authors find formatting edits distracting. Here’s what the edited manuscript would look like if we unchecked “formatting” above:


The formatting has still been changed, but it’s hidden from the author.

Now let’s look at how you can work with these changes once you receive them from your editor. First of all, if you really trust your editor, you can simply go to the accept button…


And from the pull-down menu, select, “accept all changes.”


Doing this creates a clean, edited manuscript with only the comments still showing. Most authors, however, want to see and approve every change made. If you simply click the “accept” button, it will accept the change and move on to the next one. This way, the author can see each change. If there is a change you don’t like, you can use the “reject” button to reject that particular change. If you want to explain to your editor why you want to reject a change, place your cursor at the change, and click “new comment.”


This will allow you to explain why you want to reject the change.

Speaking of comments, even once you’ve gone through all the changes and accepted/rejected them, you’ll still see the comments. To delete a comment, right-click on that comment and select “delete,” or use the “delete” button under the “comments” sub-menu. The pull-down menu allows you to delete a particular comment, or all comments. To expedite my editing, I usually delete all the comments at once, after I’ve gone through each and every edit.

The more you play with “track changes,” the more you will understand it and see how useful it is. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t be afraid to search for tutorials on the features you want to understand more completely.

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2 Responses to Writing Tip: Using “Track Changes”

  1. I think I have more questions. After the author makes all changes and/or accepts all edits, then what? Must the Author hit “save” and just close the manuscript? How does the edited ms. get back to the editor? Will the edits made/changes/accepted show up to the editor automatically in his e-mail? How does the author save the edits and changes made to the ms. in his Word program with comments? Does he “save” under a new title for his own records? I’ve tried accepting/rejecting, making changes, and editors don’t get the changed ms. I’ve been told to “save” the changes, but save it to what? My Word program (save as…)? Do I resend the changed ms. as an attachment?

    • Val Muller says:

      When you open the document from an email directly, make sure you always hit “save as” and save it to somewhere you’ll remember–otherwise, the default is for your computer to open the document in a temporary file which is very difficult to find, so even if you hit “save,” you probably won’t be able to find it.

      I usually hit “save as” and call it something like “StoryTitle-valedits2.docx.” Once you’re using the version you “saved as,” anything you accept/reject, or any changes you make or comments you make will be saved with the document (just save it once more before you close it). Then, email that “saved as” document back to the editor as an attachment. The editor should then be able to see them.

      It sounds like maybe in the past, your computer saved the changed to a temporary file because you hit “save” instead of “save as.” So yes, “save as” to somewhere you’ll remember, and then email it to the editor as an attachment. Does this make sense?

What do you think?