The Author’s Survival Guide to Track Changes

Track Changes—a fate worth than death? Though revising an edit full of tracked changes and comments can seem utterly intimidating the first time, a few simple guidelines will keep you safe and sound. Truth be told, thanks to this guide, I haven’t lost an author to Track Changes yet. You too can emerge unscathed—and with a fresh, clean manuscript, as well.

Before you begin, remember that you really can’t go wrong if you save early and often. Keep saving regularly as you go so that if you make a big mistake (easy to do in the era of global search and replace), you can step back to a recent version.

1. Read your editorial report.

Read your report first so you know what to watch for during your edit.

Your editorial report is broken down into categories to show you a high-level view of the issues your edit has addressed. Read your report first so you know what to watch for during your edit. Your editorial report is a detailed document; you’ll probably want to read it a number of times in order to absorb everything.

Not everything that’s discussed in the editorial letter is also marked in the manuscript and vice versa. You’ll need to go through both files to absorb all the details to effectively revise your manuscript.

2. Save your manuscript with a new file name.

Your file naming system should let you identify the most recent version of your manuscript at a glance. You can get as granular as a file name that includes the title, editing status, revision status, and date: GirlLineEditedRev1_0613. Here are more ideas on how seasoned authors keep their manuscript files straight.

If you wrote your book in Scrivener or some other specialized novel-writing software, don’t revert back to the other format after your edit. Every time you convert a file from a tool like Scrivener to Microsoft Word or the reverse, you risk accumulating junk code in your file that could cause problems during formatting and e-publication. Once you’re out of the writing and developmental editing stage, it’s time to stay in Microsoft Word.

3. Prepare your Microsoft Word setup.

This simple setup process will save you days of revision time.

My edits typically include hundreds of comments and thousands of actual revisions. That’s a lot of feedback—and there’s absolutely no reason you should start at the beginning of your manuscript and click, click, click your way through each and every one of them.

This simple setup process will save you days of revision time.

Get a handle on Track Changes. If you’re new to using Track Changes, watch this brief Track Changes video tutorial from my colleague and friend Katherine Trail. If you run into more questions or problems, I like this thorough explanation of how to use Track Changes. For help with instructions that don’t cover your particular version of Word, run a Google search for: track changes Word [date of your Word version].

Turn off the Revisions Pane. The Revisions Pane in Microsoft Word is the devil; it gobbles computer processing resources like lost souls. If it’s already turned on, you’ll probably see it in a tall column on the left side or possibly horizontally at the bottom of the screen.

track changes

Click the X on the top right corner of the pane. Begone, foul Revisions Pane.

Instead, send comments to the balloons. On the Review tab, click the little pull-out arrow at the bottom right of the Track Changes area. Check everything in the left column to select it, set “Balloons in All Markup view show” to “Comments and formatting”—and, of course, make sure the foul Revisions Pane is set to Off. Your options should look like this:

track changes options

Change the color of the edits. I know that what I’m about to say sounds just like a BuzzFeed headline, but you won’t believe how much easier your edits will be to read if you change the colors of the additions and deletions.

Unfortunately, Track Changes colors are saved locally on each computer, so the settings I use won’t “stick” to the manuscript when I send it back to you. You have to make these changes on your own computer. Do give them a try—your brain will thank you for helping it make sense of the markup.

track changes

On the Review tab, click the little pull-out arrow at the bottom right of the Track Changes area. Then Click Advanced Options.

You may be tempted to go crazy and choose a personalized color palette, but the color scheme I’m about to recommend will make reading the markup much more intuitive. Set Insertions to Teal and Deletions to Gray – 25%. Then set Moved From to Gray – 25% and Moved To to Teal (or purple, because who doesn’t need more purple in their life?).

track changes

Don’t change anything else. You’ll find the gray deletions fade away and the teal insertions pop out—bonus!—without the angst so often associated with red ink.

4. Resolve the comments.

Now you’re ready to peek behind the curtain and start revising your manuscript. If you’ll be sending your manuscript back to your editor for another round, you’ll work with Track Changes turned on; otherwise, turn Track Changes off so that your revisions don’t produce more tracked changes to deal with. To toggle Track Changes on or off, click the big Track Changes button near the middle of the Review tab. If the button is highlighted/colored, Track Changes is on.

track changes

The first step of revisions is dealing with your editor’s comments. To begin, you need to make the edits show up on your screen. Set the drop-down box at the top of the Track Changes area on the Review tab to Final: Show Markup (or, in Word 2013, All Markup).

Go through the entire manuscript doing nothing but dealing with the comments. As you resolve each issue, delete the comment by clicking the Delete button on the Review ribbon, or right-click on the comment itself and select Delete Comment. Unless your manuscript is headed back to your editor for more edits, you should address and delete every single comment from your file.

5. Reject the edits you don’t agree with.

track changesAccepting an edit makes it part of your manuscript, while rejecting one deletes it. Please don’t slog through your manuscript pressing Accept or Reject one edit at a time. By following these steps, you’ll save yourself hours, even days, of revision time.

Make sure Track Changes is turned on. To turn Track Changes on, click the big Track Changes button near the middle of the Review tab. If the button is highlighted/colored, Track Changes is on.

This first pass is all about rejecting edits you do not want to keep—things you want left as you originally wrote them. To reject an edit, highlight the text containing the edit and press the Reject button on Review ribbon. You can also right-click on the highlighted text and choose Reject from the menu that pops up.

During this pass, you’ll also revise edits your editor has made that you’d like a different way. If you originally wrote “she hissed” and your editor changed it to “she said” (whew—bullet dodged!) but you prefer “she said with a glare,” this is the time to make that revision. Or if your editor gave you an idea for improvement but you have a better way to accomplish it, take care of that right now.

  1. Reject edits you do not want to keep.
  2. Change edits or suggestions that you like but want to handle differently than your editor did.

Again, skip over the corrections and edits you like and want to keep. Simply pass them by with no action.

The process of rejecting edits should be fairly light and easy. If you find yourself rejecting multiple edits per page, you might want to question why you’re ignoring the professional advice you’ve paid for. Talk to your editor to find out the reasoning behind any revisions you take issue with. It may be that you simply need to set the edit aside for a bit to give yourself time to regain your objectivity.

6. Accept All on the rest of the edits.

Once you’ve rejected or revised any edits you don’t want to keep, accept all the rest of the edits at once using the Accept All Changes command. Click the arrow at the bottom of the Accept button and choose Accept All Changes. Since you’ll be accepting many more edits than you’ll reject, you’ve just saved hours and processed your edit in a fraction of the time and clicks.

7. Check for remaining comments and edits.

Do not merely set the document to not show changes and comments; that won’t make your file ready for publication.

In order to prepare your manuscript for the next round of editing or for publication, you must accept or reject all the changes and address and remove all the comments and queries. Do not merely set the document to not show changes and comments; that won’t make your file ready for publication.

To check for any last comments and revisions you might have missed, click File > Inspect Document and check the box for Comments, Revisions, Versions and Annotations.

Word will tell you if it finds any more comments or edits, but I don’t recommend that you let it remove them automatically. You’ll want to track those down and accept or reject them yourself. An easy way to find them is clicking the Next button that’s just to the left of the Accept and Reject buttons on the Review tab. You can do the same with comments by clicking Next on the big button in the comments area.

From editing to publication

I strongly recommend that you get a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript to proofread it before you publish. I typically make thousands of revisions and hundreds of comments on a manuscript. You’ll be touching and tweaking many of them, introducing a whole new potential for errors. A different set of eyes will be able to spot residual typos and errors. My article about editing error rates will help you understand what to expect from an editing pass and why.

This is a great point at which to also pull in eager family and friends who’ve volunteered to help. Keep in mind that you’ll need to carefully vet their recommendations; their knowledge of current grammar, style, and usage or storytelling conventions will not always be on target. I’d be happy to review any points they find that you’re unsure of, and I can recommend professional proofreaders as well.

If at any time your computer seems to be bogging down under the weight of the edits, check my advice for helping your computer cope with extensive Track Changes.

This article was refreshed in February 2018.

Nib_100Uncertain if your manuscript is ready for editing? Test your story with a Plot Accelerator, an affordable way to make sure your novel has all the story power it needs to succeed as commercial fiction—before you commit your editing budget to a full evaluation or edit, or even before you begin writing.