Learning to Use Track Changes

All of us have gaps in our knowledge. For example, there are a ton of words that I know how to spell and use accurately in writing (because I’ve read them often) but am unsure of the pronunciation. (I know, I know, I could look up the pronunciation, but how often am I going to use the word chimera in conversation, really?)

One fairly common knowledge gap among writers, I’ve often been surprised to learn, involves the use of (or even existence of) “track changes.”

“What is ‘track changes’?” you ask. See, I told you.

“Track Changes” is a function in Microsoft Word that, well, tracks the changes made to a document. And it’s the go-to editing tool of editors. And, yes, I know Google Docs has a similar function (and it also very helpfully keeps track of different versions of the same document), but believe me when I say that a familiarity with “track changes” in Word is or will become important to you as you work back and forth with editors.

Obviously, you can search the internet for instructions or video tutorials on using “track changes,” so I won’t try to accomplish more than a short introduction to this valuable tool (and the following details will be slightly different if you’re working on a PC; I use Word for Mac because, well, I’m a good person).

When you open a document in Word, you can pull down the “Tools” menu at the top of your screen; one of the choices you’ll see is—looky here—“Track Changes.” That’s the one you want.

Select “Track Changes,” and then “Highlight Changes.” Check all the boxes, then return to your document. With “Track Changes” selected, every change you make—deletions, additions, formatting changes, etc.—will be tracked and highlighted in your document (and detailed in a sidebar in your document), enabling anyone who looks at your document to see what changes you’ve made.

“But what if I want it to stop tracking the changes I make?” I’m glad you asked. All you have to do in that case is go back into the “Tools” menu, select “Track Changes” again, and unclick the appropriate boxes. Your subsequent changes will not be “tracked.”

“Okay, cool. But now my document is all marked up. What if I want to look at it without all those tracked changes?” You’re just full of questions, aren’t you? To make the markup go away, all you have to do is pull down the “View” menu and deselect “markup.”

“But what if I want to send an editor a completely clean copy after I’ve been tracking changes? Won’t he or she be able to see all my changes?” Well, yes. That’s a big reason we use “track changes,” so different parties in the writing (such as collaborators) and editorial process can see what changes others have made.

“Will those tracked changes be there forever then? I don’t think I like that. I just want to go back to a crisp, clean manuscript page.” Settle down. You’re getting all worked up for nothing. In your Word-for-Mac document is a “Review” view. See it up there? No, not at the very top of your computer screen; in the document itself, where “Home,” “Insert,” etc., appear? Click on “Review,” and lo and behold, your “track changes” choices allow you to “accept” or “reject” each change, either one-by-one or all at the same time. It’s a magical land of enchantment. I guess I could’ve sent you there from the very beginning instead of all the pull-down rigmarole I put you through, but I think it was more fun that way.

Once you’ve done the process a few times, you’ll settle into a rhythm and routine that will make the review and revision process a little more orderly and fun (after all, lots of colors are involved). You can even customize your “track changes” colors and other preferences to make it more useful for you.

But believe me when I say, “track changes” will make your writing life much easier when the time comes to work with an editor on a book manuscript. And you want that. You really do. So, whether you’re working on your first book or eleventy-first book, get familiar with “track changes.” You’ll be glad you did.

And if you use “track changes,” feel free to add tips, helps, warnings, protests, and outbursts in the comments.

[The image used at the top of this article can be found at this site: Association for Learning Technology].

 

 

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