Help with Writing: Advanced Word, Part 2b

As I mentioned last time, Track Changes is the most useful tool in Word — and definitely one of the most important to master. I was surprised by how much I had to say about effectively using this tool. In this second post, I explain how to use your newfound Track Changes skills for collaborative writing.

Collaboration with Track Changes

I haven’t said much about the Comment feature yet, but it’s a very useful tool, especially if you’re working collaboratively. Adding a comment is like scribbling in the margin of something on paper. You can add comments to your own work as well as to others’ while you are reading/grading. I like to add comments to myself as I write drafts, because sometimes I know that a piece of evidence is necessary, but I’m not sure where it will be most effective:

example of MS Word track changes comment

I also use this feature to add questions to the work of students and colleagues, but for privacy reasons I can’t post those here. You’ll have to use your imaginations.

Another major way to use the Comment feature is in publishing, where editors can leave you notes vice-versa. This feature is particularly useful in editing because you can reply to an individual comment by putting your cursor inside the comment and hitting New Comment. Here is an example:

MS word track changes with reply

TIP: When you reply to a comment, your reply is automatically indented inside the original comment bubble. So it’s easy to follow a conversation!

If you are collaborating, you can also use the Accept Change, Reject Change, and Resolve button to keep the project moving forward.

The Accept and Reject Change features are the same, but opposite, so we’ll look at only accepting changes (but you should know that you can reject them as well). When you are ready to finalize your document, click on the Accept Changes button to see a few different options:

MS Word Accept changes box

These are largely self-explanatory. You can review all changes one by one, accepting some and rejecting others; you can accept all changes in the document; or you can accept all changes and the document and turn off Track Changes to boot. If I’d had a section of text with one or multiple changes highlighted, I could also have accepted the change/changes in that section, but not the rest (for example, if you love the changes in one paragraph but aren’t sure yet about the rest of the document, you could highlight that paragraph and Accept All Changes Shown). I tend to wait until the end to use this feature, so usually the choice is between accepting all changes or reviewing them one at a time. Depending on the nature of the document, who’s been reviewing it with me, and how long it is, I might choose one or the other option. For example, I tend to accept all changes when I am editing my own work. But when I’m getting feedback from others, I review each change before accepting it. If you don’t want to accept a change, you can either move to the next for review, or you can Reject it outright — sometimes that’s okay, although if you are rejecting every change you might want to reconsider your editing and review practices. If you are open to receiving help from others and you’re sending your work to the right people, you should be changing your work when you get feedback!

When you are working with Comments, you can delete them when you’ve addressed them (or chosen not to) by choosing Delete Comment (next to New Comment). If you’re done working, you can even Delete All Comments in Document.

MS word track changes delete comment

Don’t worry — the default is to delete only the current comment, and you can always hit Undo.

I generally prefer not to delete comments, but instead to mark them as resolved. This only works in files with the extension .docx; if you are working with a .doc, you should ignore this tip!

To Resolve a comment, click anywhere in the comment you want to resolve, then click the Resolve button (next to Delete Comment). You’ll see that the text of the comment goes gray.

I prefer this option because it’s the equivalent of leaving a paper trail. Everyone involved, including you, can see the original comment. If you forget why you made the change in the first place, you have a reference point. (Long-time readers may also remember that I am kind of a hoarder, so maybe this is not the best option for you. But it’s definitely the preferred option for me!)

You can also choose not to accept, reject, or resolve changes at all, but instead just alter your viewing mode. This option is next to the Track Changes slider.

ms word track changes various types markup

Up to this point, we’ve been looking at changes with the default, All Markup, checked. But you can also choose No Markup, which shows you the final version (as if you’d accepted all changes); Original, which shows you the first version (before you started making changes); or Simple Markup, which only puts a line in the margin to indicate changes.

I think that all probably sounds a little confusing, so here is the same paragraph using all four options (you can click on the image to make the text bigger):

The top option is Simple Markup, with just the line in the left margin. If you look at the right margin, it’s grayed out, like a normal Word window. The center option is the full version: All Markup. This should be familiar by now, because it’s what I’ve been using for all of the other screenshots. On the bottom left, we have No Markup, the final version of this paragraph; and on the bottom right, we have Original (which you’ll notice is a very different paragraph). You can choose to work and save in any of those modes, or toggle between them. I definitely find myself switching between All Markup, No Markup, and Original when I’m working on something long. It’s helpful as a way to instantly compare how your paragraph used to read vs. how it reads now, and I find it’s a much faster way to insert sentences and paragraphs that flow well with the original text. I don’t have much use for Simple view, which reminds me of Draft Layout in Word without Track Changes. If you like Draft Layout, maybe Simple view is for you. The main point is that you can use any view you want in Track Changes, and you should pick the option that most closely matches your working style and preferences.

Finally, speaking of preferences. I mentioned in the first post that the default color of comments is red. If that’s not your favorite, you can change it to a color that better suits you! Go to the main Markup Options menu and hit Preferences  to get a popup menu:

You can adjust these colors to your preferred options, and that will transfer to all new and open documents with Track Changes activated.

I hope the last two posts have convinced you that you should be using Track Changes, or if you already use it, that you should be using it more. As usual, if we’ve missed something let us know in the comments or on social media!



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