Working with ‘Track Changes’ in Word

The ‘Track Changes’ option in the Review tab

When an editor or proofreader works on someone’s text in Microsoft Word, it is usual for them to use ‘Track Changes’ (one of the options in the ‘Review’ tab). The great advantage of this is that the author of the text can see the corrections and/or amendments that have been made by the editor/proofreader, and decide whether to accept or reject them. This can either be done by going through the text and accepting or rejecting each change or, if the author feels sufficiently confident in the changes that the editor/proofreader has made, by ‘accepting all changes’ in one go.

Options to accept changes

For anyone working on a text – either an editor working on someone else’s text, or an author revising their own draft(s) – it can be useful to have Track Changes turned on, but not to have to see them all the time, as the mark-up can be distracting and actually lead to more errors being introduced (particularly errors of spacing, when you cannot always immediately see whether you have deleted or added a space). Fortunately, you can work with Track Changes on without having to see them, until you want to – by selecting/deselecting what you want to see in the ‘Show Markup’ dropdown menu. 

So whenever I’m about to start work on a text, I go to the Review tab to switch on Track Changes, and then go to Show Markup, where I untick ‘Insertions and Deletions’ and ‘Formatting’. I also recommend that, if a client gets back a text back from me which is heavily marked up, they read it through with ‘Insertions and Deletions’ and ‘Formatting’ unticked, so that they can see the text clearly (and so they don’t despair at the amount of red markings).

‘Insertions and Deletions’ and ‘Formatting’ unchecked

There is one idiosyncrasy of Track Changes to be aware of, and that is that if you copy and paste a text with tracked changes into a new document while you have Track Changes turned on, Word will automatically assume that you have agreed all the changes and so they will not show up as tracked in the new document. If you want to keep the tracked changes showing, so that you can review them later, or so that someone else can see them, you need to do the following (which may seem counter-intuitive):

  • Ensure Track Changes is turned OFF in the document you want to copy from
  • Select the text you want to copy
  • Ensure Track Changes is also turned OFF in the document you want to copy to
  • Paste the text into the new document
  • Then turn Track Changes ON in the new document, and the tracked changes will duly appear.

On editing

Very good advice on editing from “Mrs Hawkins” in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington:

‘When you are editing copy, Mrs Hawkins, what sort of things do you look for?’ said Howard Send. ‘Exclamation marks and italics used for emphasis,’ I said. ‘And I take them out.’ It was as good an answer as any. ‘Suppose the author was Aldous Huxley or Somerset Maugham?’ he said. I told him that if these were his authors he didn’t need a copy-editor.