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How To Use MS Word to Track Edits and Revisions | Kestrel's Aerie

How To Use MS Word to Track Edits and Revisions | Kestrel's Aerie

How To Use MS Word to Track Edits and Revisions

While flailing about, trying to come up with a post worthy of your time, Tami suggested this topic. I was looking for something quick, easy, and brainless, but the more I thought about it (and exchanged Tweets with Tami), the more the idea grew on me.

If you work with a coauthor, an editor, or simply want to track revisions to your writing yourself, the best tool available to most of us is Microsoft Word. Say what you will about the software giant, but there really are no alternatives that measure up, including Google Docs and Open Office, when it comes to tracking and managing edits.

I recently had the privilege of editing volume one of Tami’s web-serial, Choose, which should be published Real Soon Now®. Tami uses Scrivener for her writing, which, although it uses a proprietary format, does export to a Rich Text Format (RTF) file. That file, in turn, gets emailed to me, and I import it into Word.1

Since I’ll be discussing both versions of Word, keep in mind that Word 2007 is the Windows version; Word 2008 is the Mac version.2

And this brings us to the crux of the matter, which applies whether you are editing your own, or someone else’s work: How can you use Word’s reviewing tools to manage changes, whether edits or revisions?

Track Changes

While a lot of “old-school” users of Word aren’t too fond of the “ribbon” introduced in Office 2007, it really is pretty robust. In fact, Word 2007 is a fairly robust upgrade to the previous version in just about every way. But the ribbon makes accessing Word’s reviewing tools even easier: You don’t have to search submenus to figure it out. Instead, simply click the Review button on the toolbar, then the Track Changes button (click to enlarge all photos):

Track Changes - Word 2007

Track Changes – Word 2007

Note the Comments box just to the left of the Tracking box: As you’ll see shortly, comments are invaluable for the reviewer to communicate with the author. (Comments are also a very handy way for authors to make notes for later follow-up.)

On the Mac, click the main menu Tools button, scroll down to Track Changes, and select “Highlight Changes”:

Track Changes - Word for Mac

Track Changes – Word 2008 for Mac

From this point on, every change you make to the document, including additions, deletions, spelling corrections, and format changes (e.g., bold to italic) will be documented. Here is a sample page from each version of Word, with the Windows version on the left; Mac on the right (note the changes are not all the same between these two screenshots, but that isn’t really germane):

Sample edits - PC

Sample edits – Winword

Sample edits - Mac

Sample edits – MacWord

Incidentally, even this small sampling should give you a pretty good idea why a manuscript submitted for editing must be double-spaced!


Making comments is one of the most important ways you can help yourself (or the author for whom you are editing or proofreading) highlight items that may need a closer inspection.

When I’m writing, I use comments to remind myself that I may need to do some research (how long does it take to drive from the Madonna Road off-ramp on US 101 in San Luis Obispo, to the intersection of Broad and Higuera?), develop some backstory for a new character, or other things I don’t want to do right now.

When I’m editing, I’ll use comments to explain a suggested change, point out a stylistic convention, or ask the author what they really mean in a particular section. I don’t necessarily want or expect a response, but at least I’ve alerted the author to something that other readers may also question.

In Word (both versions) you can also do some limited formatting in comments, in terms of bold, italic, and underlining. It will also convert :) into a smiley.

Accept/Reject Changes

Congratulations! You, or someone else, has painstakingly gone through your opus and highlighted a whole bunch of stuff you need to consider. While the temptation to hit “Accept all” (if you did the editing) or “Reject all” (if someone else did it) may be very tempting…don’t! If you find yourself falling into that trap, then it’s time to take a break until you can focus again on the details.

Here’s what the controls look like for each version:

Accept Changes - PC

Accept Changes – PC

Accept Changes - Mac

Accept Changes – Mac

The Winword implementation is especially friendly, with its “Accept and Move to Next” option; on the Mac, you need to click the “Move to Next” button after each change is accepted or rejected. One thing to keep in mind is, if you accept or reject a change but want to look at it again, you can use the “undo” function here as well as elsewhere in your writing and editing.3

Now What?

Alright, you’ve made your edits and incorporated them. Hopefully, you’ve addressed all the issues brought up in comments. And of course, you’ve saved your revised document in two or three places.4 So now what?

If you’re working with a coauthor or editor, it’s time to collaborate again. You have a solid draft now, but there is probably plenty of opportunity to further tighten up the writing. Don’t get rid of earlier drafts, of course, but use the current one as a baseline.

If this was your first time through the document, you’ve cleaned up typos and grammar goof. Your manuscript is clean, but is it tight? Is it ready for primetime, either posted on the Web, or ready to be shopped around to agents and publishers? If not, it’s back to work on the next revision…but that’s something better left to those who know more about such things.

I hope I’ve been able to demystify some of the intricacies of working with Word. It’s such a robust, feature-rich application that many people are understandably cowed by it. I’ve tried to break down this facet of the program into an easy-to-grasp set of steps that should make your editing process less of a thing to be dreaded, and more of one to relish.
  1. I use Word for Mac, of course, but Tami only has access to Word for Windows. Fortunately, they both use the same file system!
  2. I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming Office 2010 for Mac, which will incorporate all the snazziness currently found in Office 2007 for Windows. Yes, it is confusing that the “later” version for the Mac—2008—doesn’t reflect the features of the “older” 2007 iteration for Windows.
  3. Keep in mind there is a limit on the number of undo levels, which can be changed in your user preferences or options within Word.
  4. Yes, I’m serious! Local hard drive, thumb drive, cloud storage: at least two out of three, with some sort of offsite storage as well.


7 Responses to How To Use MS Word to Track Edits and Revisions
  1. Kirk
    February 23, 2010 | 18:24

    linkies no workie. (sigh)

    Your links to examples are returning 404s.

    (And yes, you can delete this message if you want.)

    • Kestrel
      February 23, 2010 | 22:40

      Arghhh…I worked for an hour on those and got confirmation they were working again. And now…not working. No idea what is going on. :( Will work on it some more!

      EDIT: Okay, this is very strange. The links are fine if you view the front page of the site; but if you open the post itself, they’re fubar. Clearly, something got borked somewhere. I’ll work on it on Weds. In the meantime, I apologize again. /confuzzled and frustrated

  2. Kirk
    February 24, 2010 | 05:10

    Yep, we now have pretty pictures that link to bigger pretty pictures.

    No idea why it borked, either, but you found it.

    • Kestrel
      February 24, 2010 | 08:36

      I suspect I do know: I upgraded Wysiwyg Pro a couple weeks ago, and changed one setting. I thought I knew what it meant, but clearly I didn’t (well, I do now). Restoring that setting back to the original was the key.

      For the curious: The setting had to do with relative URLs for links. I now know it means relative to the blog post, not to the blog itself. So the embedded links on the single post page were referring to a subdirectory of my blog structure with the name of the article, which of course doesn’t exist. Hence…gnarly 404 errors.

  3. Tami
    February 24, 2010 | 07:27


    Did you still need those edits from me for a later post? I’d say you covered what they would help with admirably here.

    The images are now working on your site, but oddly enough still not in my feed reader.

    Excellent post, and I can attest to the amazing value of this method for sharing edits between two people. (And to Steve’s top-notch editing skills!)
    Tami´s latest blog post is NaNo2010 > The List My ComLuv Profile

    • Kestrel
      February 24, 2010 | 08:35

      Nope, I think we’re good. I think I went in a slightly different direction than I envisioned.

      The reason the pics don’t work in your feed reader is because the feed isn’t resent when I do updates. I considered deleting and reposting…which would trigger FeedBurner to resend. I’ll keep thinking about that through the morning.

      And just so you know, folks: When you work with a writer as talented and skilled as Tami, editing is way more fun than work! <3

      • Tami
        March 4, 2010 | 11:48

        *blushblush* <3
        Tami´s latest blog post is Roadmaps My ComLuv Profile

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