If you've ever opened a document that had more strikeouts than a beer-league ballplayer, you're familiar with Microsoft Word's "track changes" feature. It's one of the most useful tools for collaboration, but in practice a marked-up document can quickly overwhelm with its tangle of additions, deletions, and comments all displayed in multiple colors — one for each contributor. It's enough to make you want to put a big red "X" on the whole thing.
But before you do, read through our guide to safely — and sanely — navigating a multi-authored document using track changes. We're confident that by the time you're done you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Review, accept, and reject changes
Once you've opened the document you'll be reviewing, select the Review tab, click the Track Changes button, then select Track Changes from the list box to turn on this feature. When the All Markup option is selected, the tracked document displays with all changes by all users, with each users' edits in a different color. Also, notice the gray vertical track lines in the left margin, which indicate a change on the adjacent line.
All those visible changes can be distracting when you're reading a document. Fortunately, Word 2013 offers an additional option called Simple Markup, which is now the default choice when you turn on Track Changes. Simple Markup just displays a red vertical track line adjacent to each line of text with changes. As you read through the text, click the track line to toggle between All Markup (line turns gray) and Simple Markup (line turns red). Now you can review the document with the multi-colored edits on or off as you prefer.
In fact, this is the quickest and easiest way to get through the process. Skim the document toggling between Simple Markup and All Markup. When you see a change you don't like, place your cursor anywhere on the marked change, click Reject, then choose Reject Change from the list box. When finished, click Accept > Accept All Changes to globally accept all the remaining edits.
If for some reason you don't agree with most of your colleagues' changes, click Accept on the ones you want to keep and choose Accept This Change from the list box. When finished, choose Reject All Changes to globally reject all the remaining edits.
When you're finished, save the document with a new filename to denote the modified version. This is particularly important when collaborating with a large group. Also, to turn off track changes, click the Track Changes button again, and it changes from blue back to white.
Adding and managing comments
When you're reviewing a collaborative document, comments are often necessary to explain or suggest an edit. Comments can also be used to issue formatting requests to the layout team, graphic design crew, or printer.
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