Tracking in Microsoft Word

(with a note about using Google Docs)

When you send me your ebook, magazine, or newsletter, the first thing I do is edit and proofread it on my computer screen. I use the power of Word's imperfect grammar and spelling checkers plus my own professional judgment to get things started. Also, if there's heavy rewording and reworking to be done, Word's cut-and-paste is so much easier than the pen and paper methods I used for so many years.

But when I think it's perfect, it's not. I print it, stick it on my clipboard, see what I missed, and mark it up. Doing the work in this sequence ensures that the printout won't be too messy after I attack it with my editorial pen.

But how do I get all this information into your document in a format that you can easily understand? As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Microsoft Word has a Tracking feature that I love enough to write about.

The editor clicks a menu option in Word to turn Tracking on. Then, every time he suggests a change, deletions are marked out with a red line and insertions are created in red. Later, a different person (the author) can review the suggested changes and Accept, Reject, or Ignore each one individually. (Ignore is useful if he wants to ask the editor "Why did you do that?" before making a decision.)

4655 suggested changes

One of my customers said, "I don't want to edit my editor." That's fine. The author's always right, and for him I did not use Tracking. A doctor in Thailand told me that he looks at all that red, concludes that it's a good edit, then clicks the "Accept All" function instead of reviewing them at all. That works too. When I'm the author, though, my editor changes nothing without my knowledge and approval, and Tracking is how we ensure I'm informed.

Note the example of the doctor in Thailand. As you are editing, you want to do it in such a way that, once the author has clicked Accept or Reject to every single suggestion, it's ready to publish. If he clicks Accept All, it's ready to publish. If he clicks Reject All, it's ready to publish.

Don't manually highlight your changes, because then the author has to review your suggestion, make a decision, click Reject or Accept, and then clean up your font color or yellow background or whatever else you did. Use the computer, don't fight with it. Let Tracking do the work.

(The preceding paragraph was inspired by an editor who no longer edits my novels.)

A related feature is Comments. Think of them as sticky notes. There are things you can address in the document itself, things you can ask the author about by email or phone call, and then other stuff you'd rather just draw their attention to with a Comment. The author reads your Comment, does what needs doing, and deletes the Comment. I don't use them often, but when I do, I warn the author. We don't want the document being printed or going to a formatter with undeleted Comments.

As the editor makes more and more redlined changes, the document can become illegible, or at the very least the spacing can become unclear. But fear not. You can toggle between seeing the manuscript with markup and without markup. That's not the same as Accept and Reject; it's just a way to change the view so you can see what's going on.


If you select Review in Word, you'll see the menu bar above.

Older Versions of Word

Older versions of Word won't have that particular menu, but the concepts will be the same. Right-clicking should bring up a menu with some Tracking options in it.

With some of the older versions of Word, you may have to switch to an option called "Original Showing Comments" in order to even see what I've suggesting changing, never mind Accepting and Rejecting. I'm using Word 2016, and an author told me her version is older, but she didn't know how much older.

Google Docs

You can choose between Editing (making changes outright) and Suggesting (allowing the author to evaluate your suggestions) by clicking that little button on the right side of the menu. Also, note the Comments button above it. Google Docs doesn't have all of Word's Tracking features, but it has the ones you need.

Google Docs

Updated November 19, 2017
© Copyright 2000-2017, Michael LaRocca
Durham, North Carolina 27707