How to Use Track Changes in the Editing Process

How authors should use Microsoft Word's Track Changes feature during the editorial process, including viewing options and common issues.
A railroad station at sunset, with the tracks highlighted by the setting sun's rays.

Authors are often asked to navigate Microsoft Word’s Track Changes tool during the editing process. This feature allows both the editor and the writer to see what changes have been made to a document and to discuss issues related to the text in comments in the margin.

When Track Changes is turned on, you can see all of the edits made by various collaborators, each of whom gets their own randomly assigned color to distinguish their changes from the original copy.

At Flatpage, we use Track Changes in the manuscript editing process, most commonly in copyediting, but also for developmental editing and other forms of document evaluation.

How Track Changes Works

Track Changes can be found in Word’s Review tab, found at the top of an open document window. To turn this feature on and off, you can click on the toggle button marked “Track Changes.” (Note: If Track Changes is unavailable or you’re not able to turn it on/off, then the document might be protected, which will be discussed below.)

When Track Changes is in use, you can choose whether the changes are visible or invisible as you’re editing. The three basic view options are:

  • Simple Markup: This view is the easiest to manage as an author whose focus is primarily on the text rather than checking what’s been changed and for those who panic at the sight of too many red lines. You’ll see the comments in the margin, but the text itself will appear without highlighting, with the tracked changes hidden. You can also type in the document and see how it will appear when all the changes have been accepted.
  • All Markup: This view shows all markup. You’ll see all of the edits highlighted, including additions/deletions and formatting changes made by all editors. You can choose which changes and reviewers (editors) are visible using a drop-down menu. This view can be overwhelming for some authors and is most useful for the text’s copyeditor or other editorial professional during the various editorial passes.
  • No Markup: Without markup visible, the text will be unencumbered by highlighting, balloons, or comments in the margins. It can be helpful for some authors and editors to hide tracked changes before submitting a manuscript in order to catch common formatting errors like extra spaces or wonky paragraph breaks.

Check out this guide from Microsoft about how to toggle between the different views and all of their features.

When Track Changes is turned on, you can edit and write in a document as you would when creating the original. However, all of the additions, deletions, and formatting changes that you make will be tracked for your collaborators.

However, you should be aware that sometimes editors don’t track the most common types of changes, including removing extra spaces, transforming hyphens to dashes, and other basic formatting issues that don’t need your full attention. This prevents overcrowding!

Document Protection

Copyediting—the most common form of editing we do at Flatpage—generally includes multiple passes, or rounds of revision. In cases where the document(s) need two or more passes, we will return the editor’s “first pass” of edits marked with Track Changes.

At this time, we may opt to protect the document, or “lock” Track Changes, so that we can see all changes that you make to the document. (Note that document protection is not necessary for manuscripts that don’t need multiple passes.) 

When document protection is turned on, you will not be able to accept or reject any changes. However, you can still make changes directly to the text and respond to or resolve comments as you would normally.

We lock documents so that we can record all changes you make to the text for efficiency purposes. In other words, when the document comes back to the editor, they will only need to make corrections to the new or revised text, rather than reading the entire manuscript again.

Once the manuscript is returned to the editor for a subsequent pass, the editor will accept/reject any changes in accordance with the author or publisher and will record only any new changes that need to be reviewed.

Comments or Editorial Queries

During the editing process, editors will ask you questions (what we call queries) and/or provide clarification using the comments feature in the Review tab. This is the editor’s opportunity to get your feedback or to explain their rationale for making a change.

You can respond by making changes directly to the text or by discussing issues related to the text by replying to the comment. (Note: editors prefer if you make changes directly to the text yourself instead of asking us to make the changes for you using the comments.)

If necessary, you can respond to the comments by right clicking in the comment and choosing “reply to comment” (preferred), creating a new comment, or responding within the comment using your initials or other marker.

We highly discourage the use of notes to express your displeasure toward the editing process or having your work edited—we editors are just doing our job to make your text the best it can be and speak to your intended audience the best way we know how!

Resolving Comments and Changes

When the editing process is complete, you might need to remove any open comments and/or accept or reject outstanding changes (you can see these by toggling to the “All Markup” view or searching for the bar on the left margin of the page that shows you where there are remaining tracked changes).

You can do this either one by one, by clicking on the word or text that you want to resolve and then clicking “accept” or “reject.” You can also remove all of the comments at once by clicking on the drop-down menu next to the “Accept” and choosing “Accept All Changes.” 

The same basic principle applies to comments: You can remove them one by one by right clicking and choosing “delete” or you can click the drop-down menu next to the “Delete” comment bubble on the Review tab and choose “Delete All Comments in Document.”

Whether you’re involved with an academic writing project, like a journal article, book manuscript, or dissertation, or you’re an institutional or corporate client or an artist seeking assistance with your communication or marketing needs, the trained team of editors at Flatpage are here to help you navigate this often complex process!

About the author

Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.


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