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Sometimes the old ways are the best. Word provides too many features to throw it aside for web documents all the time. If you need to share a rich document with someone else, it’s hard to beat it as a platform.
Track Changes lets you share your documents with other users and track changes and suggestions in Word, which are fed back to the original. And it’s easy.
I’m using Office 2010 beta for this, but most of the functionality is available in earlier versions. You just need to look around for where it’s hidden.
We’ve discussed using Word before. I’ve given some pointers on how to best make use of styles, and our writers have supplied a number of other Word help posts. Ryan posted a set of great Word tricks. Just in case you’re not sure of the best direction for your documents, Tim has some good advice on choosing online or offline options.
How It Works
Track Changes is a feature which lets a reviewer (or multiple reviewers) make changes to a document, and then for the author to accept or reject the changes, along with notes and suggestions, one by one or in bulk.
You can use a network or email the document around. The changes, and the tracking, are stored in the document itself. You can easily track changes in Word by multiple reviewers, but there are no mechanisms for multiple reviewers to edit the document simultaneously. For that, there are a few other options, such as Google Docs.
You need to turn Track Changes on before you can use the features. It’s no good making changes to a document and then realising you need to track the changes.
Starting & Stopping Track Changes in Word
Click the Review tab in the ribbon. There are three sections of interest to us in here – Comments, Tracking, and Changes. For now, just click the Track Changes button in the Tracking section. Click it again to turn it off. Just in case you’re not familiar with the Office 2010/2007 colour scheme, buttons which are turned on glow a sort of orange colour. They are grey when switched off.
It’s quite possible to only track certain changes, and not others. For instance if you only want to keep visibility on changes that you’re not sure of. Just turn Track Changes on and off as necessary.
As the author, turn Track Changes on before sending the document to others, to encourage them to use the feature. Note that you can’t easily compel them to do so.
You’re The Reviewer – Tracking Your Edits
So your camera club secretary has forwarded you a document that’s she has drafted for the upcoming exhibition. You need to suggest some changes.
Just make sure Track Changes is turned on, and then go right ahead and edit as you normally would.
It’s fairly easy here to track what you’ve changed. It’s all the blue stuff. Anything which has been deleted is crossed out. Any new text is underlined. Where you have replaced some text, it’s just noted as both a deletion and addition.
Any paragraphs which have changes are marked with a vertical line to the left.
It can get confusing with regard to the layout though, as there is text in here which won’t be in the final copy. You can change the way things are viewed from the ribbon.
If you click Final then you will only see what the final result will look like.
Go ahead and make some more changes.
Comments are suggestions or questions which don’t actually change the document, and are shown differently, in a vertical banner to the right of the document.
You add them by clicking on the New Comment button. We use the other buttons for reviewing the comments later on.
In a more complex situation with multiple consecutive reviewers, the balloons show in different colours for clarity.
Formatting changes are shown (by default) in the new format in the document, and the change is detailed in the balloon.
You’re The Author – Working Through The Changes.
Your document has been reviewed by the finance officer, and he has emailed it back to you. Now you need to go through the changes, and deal with them. You have three options for each change. You can accept, decline, or modify.
You can also just accept all the changes at once, but let’s work through them.
Open the document, click on the Review tab in the ribbon, and click on the button to move to the first change. The change will be highlighted. Accept or reject the change.
The cursor automatically removes either the highlighting or the change itself, depending on which option you chose, and then moves on to the next change.
Just work your way through the rest of the document, accepting or rejecting as you go, or editing the changes if some sort of compromise works better.
When you get to the comments, you’ll find you cannot accept or reject those. Instead you need to decide if you still need them, make whatever edits you think are appropriate, and then delete each of them with the Delete button in the Comments section if appropriate.
Once you’ve made whatever changes are appropriate, turn Track Changes off again, save the file, and move on.
One word of warning. It’s a relatively common problem for people to accidentally send a document out to a third party with Track Changes still turned on, and all of the changes and comments still visible. If you did this to a customer, for instance, you might well be somewhat embarrassed. Newer versions of Word help to try and prevent you from doing this, but it’s still feasible, and still more common than you might think. Be careful out there.
Do you use Track Changes in Word? What do you like about it? What frustrates you? Anything you’re stuck on? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see if I can help out.