Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature makes it easy to annotate and revise documents without creating a mess of cramped marginal notes and scratch-outs. But turning an edited file — or sometimes multiple files — littered with brightly colored additions, deletions, and comments into a unified whole can be tedious work if you don’t take advantage of the full range of Word’s editing powers. Here are some timesaving tricks (all of which should work with Word 98 and later) for dealing with even the most-complicated editing scenarios.
By the time you get a revised document back from your boss or editor, it may be a jumble of color, strikethrough text, and conflicting edits — particularly if many people worked on it. If you don’t see any changes, open the Highlight Changes dialog box (Tools: Track Changes: Highlight Changes) and make sure the Highlight Changes On Screen option is selected. Your job now is to sort through this chaos of color, so you can decide which changes to keep and which to ignore.
Accepting Change If you don’t already have it on screen, open Word’s Reviewing toolbar, which provides quick access to the most-important editing tools. Before you start incorporating edits into your final document, you may want to turn off Track Changes so you can edit your document without creating more tracked changes. To quickly turn the Track Changes feature on or off, click on the TRK button at the bottom of the screen, or click on the Track Changes button in the Reviewing toolbar.
Because some editors — your boss, for example — hold more sway than others, you may want information on the origin of a change. Hovering the cursor over any tracked change will show you its author, as well as the date and time it was entered (this information is taken from the User Information panel in Word’s Preferences). If nothing appears, open the View panel in Preferences and make sure the Screen Tips option is selected.
You can move through your tracked changes manually by control-clicking on each edit and choosing either Accept Change or Reject Change from the contextual menu. These commands affect the entire addition or deletion, even if it’s several paragraphs long. For more-refined control, select the exact letters or words you want to accept or reject and then control-click on the selection. If you make a mistake, you can always undo it.
When you have lots of edits, control-clicking on each one can be a lot of work. In these cases, you can let Word step through them for you. Open the Accept Or Reject Changes dialog box (Tools: Track Changes: Accept Or Reject Changes). When you click on Accept, Reject, or one of the Find arrows, Word automatically jumps to and highlights the next edit. Although you can accomplish the same thing with the Reviewing toolbar, using the Accept Or Reject Changes dialog box offers a distinct advantage — navigating with keyboard shortcuts. Use the return key or F for Find, I for Find Previous, A for Accept, and R for Reject.
Getting a Better View If you’re having trouble following the revised text because of heavy editing marks, adjusting how revisions are displayed may help you find your way. For example, if looking at deleted text is too distracting, you can hide it completely. Open the Highlight Changes dialog box and click on the Options button. Here you can define how insertions, deletions, and formatting changes are displayed. If you have difficulty seeing certain colors, you should definitely give this dialog box a visit.
You can also test your edits before committing to them by changing the View options in the Accept Or Reject Changes dialog box. By default, Word activates the Changes With Highlighting option, which shows everyone’s edits in all their colorful glory. To quickly see what your text looked like before anyone messed with it, choose the Original option. To see what would result if you accepted all the changes, click on Changes Without Highlighting. Leave this dialog box open as you work, and you can alternate between the different views.
Seeing It All It’s easy to miss small or hidden edits when reviewing documents. To make sure you’ve covered everything, check for vertical lines in the left margin; these indicate the presence of a tracked change.
The Track Changes feature is ideal for deleting or rewriting part of a document. But for questions, disagreements, or discussions, Word’s Comments feature is a better choice. These electronic sticky notes let you add commentary to a document without cluttering the flow of text.
To comment on a particular sentence or phrase, highlight the text with your mouse and click on the Insert Comment button in the Reviewing toolbar. Word indicates the presence of a comment with light yellow highlighting followed by the editor’s initials.
To read a comment, hover the cursor over the highlighted text. The comment appears in a pop-up label next to your cursor. (As with tracked edits, you must have Screen Tips turned on to see these labels.) Rather than scanning a long document for yellow highlights, you can use the Reviewing toolbar’s Previous Comment and Next Comment buttons to jump from query to query.
To get an overview of what people are saying, open the Comments pane — which appears at the bottom of the screen — by clicking on the Edit Comment button in the Reviewing toolbar (or View: Comments). Click on a comment in the Comments pane to jump to its place in the text.
When you’re ready to delete a comment, control-click on a highlighted word and choose Delete Comment from the contextual menu. (You can click on the Delete Comment button in the Reviewing toolbar, but make sure that the Track Changes option is turned off. Otherwise, you’ll only strike through the comment.)
To print out comments along with the rest of your document, open the Print panel in Preferences and select Comments. (A check mark will also appear next to Hidden Text.) Word will print the comments in a separate list (organized by page number) immediately after the main body of the document.
If your document will undergo many rounds of editing, you may want to save a copy of the document after each pass. Word’s underused Save Version feature makes this easy. It stores multiple incarnations of a document in one file, so when you e-mail your document to the other members of your group, they’ll have access to all earlier versions of that document.
To save a document as a version, click on the Save Version button in the Reviewing toolbar (or choose File: Versions, and click on Save Now). Add explanatory comments (to help you remember something about this version) in the Save Version dialog box, and click on OK. If your team is working over a network, consider activating automatic versioning: go to File: Open Versions, and select the Automatically Save A Version On Close option. Word will save a version every time someone closes the file, so you can backtrack if someone really makes a mess of the document.
If you decide you prefer the report as it was two days ago, you can easily return to that version. Just go to File: Versions, and double-click on the version you want. To start over using this version as a base, use the Save As command.
Keep in mind that saving multiple versions will bloat your document’s file size. When you’ve finished editing your document, you should perform a Save As to create a new, smaller file that does not contain all previous versions.
If you e-mail a document to several people at once, you’re likely to receive an assortment of documents, each containing different edits. Instead of looking at each file individually, you can save time by merging them into one convenient location.
Save all the edited documents to your hard drive. Open the original document, and choose Merge Documents from the Tools menu. In the dialog box that appears, select the first edited document and click on Open to begin the merging process. When it’s done, your starting document will contain the tracked changes from both documents, in different colors (by author). Keep going until you’ve incorporated all the files.
If one of your collaborators forgot to turn on Track Changes, Word’s Compare Documents feature comes to the rescue. Open your original document and select Compare Documents (Tools: Track Changes: Compare Documents). Select the edited file and then click on Open. When Word is done comparing the two documents, your original file will have the edits inserted as tracked changes.