Writing Craft

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].

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Quest for Originality

Are you tired of being told by a publisher “We simply don’t do books like that”? or “Yours is certainly out of the box, but is not what we are looking for at this time”? What’s the Deal with Boxes? In general all books are sold under a category. Be …

Read More

4 Keys to Creativity

Maybe you’re not one of those writers who sometimes says (or thinks), “I’m just not very creative.” But you may sometimes be jealous of others’ creativity. Or wish at times that you were more so. Join the club. We could all use at least a little more creativity in our …

Read More

Influencers

This blog is part six of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction. After reading through this series, I realize I had written quite a bit about my husband’s opinions. The examples and thoughts expressed reminded me of how immense his influence is …

Read More

Popular Story Tropes in Current Fiction

When we think of fiction, we put books in genres based on the story line. Then within each genre, they are separated by subgenres. The Book Industry Study Group has defined over 100 different classifications of fiction. These BISAC codes are what you find on the back of the book. …

Read More

That Look

This blog is part five of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction. I once tried to leave the house with bare lips. This did not go over well with my husband. “Where is your lipstick?” he asked. I applied some immediately. In …

Read More

Read Old Books, Write New Books

C. S. Lewis (maybe you’ve heard of him) famously commended the reading of old books: Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our …

Read More

Vegan?

This blog is part four of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction. Pity the poor body under dietary restrictions. And haven’t we all been there at one time or another, for one reason or another? At home, we can manage. Never mind …

Read More

Busybodies and Redheads

This blog is part three of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction. One of my elementary school teachers, a blonde, gave birth to twin boys with bright red hair. Her husband was dark-haired. Perhaps in this day and age of sensitivity and …

Read More