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Tracking Changes in Word 2003: Five Things People Forget To Do

The Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word is very handy for wordy folks like your Informit editors. But even ordinary mortals might come to like and use revision marks if they follow through on Laurie Rowell's suggestions in this article.
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Back in the days when markups were all done on paper, editing generally involved 1) scribbling out and inserting text, and 2) writing a set of questions or comments directed to the author. Because the tracking feature in Word lets you do manuscript markup electronically, it only makes sense that it offers two comparable features: revision marks and comments.

The presentation of these features changed with Word 2002. In earlier versions of Word, revision marks were always presented as color-coded entries in text, while comments were buried someplace you had to hold your breath and cross your eyes to find. The default setting since Word 2002 has been for all revisions and comments to appear in balloons out in the right margin. More on this feature later.

To get into revision mode—so that everything you type or delete in a document is taken as a correction—open the Tools menu and click Track Changes. The Reviewing toolbar will pop into place with the Track Changes toggle highlighted (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 The Reviewing toolbar offers navigation for revision marks.

Notice that the display at the left end of the toolbar says you’re viewing your document in a state known as Final Showing Markup. This document state allows you to see your changes as you make them. You can turn on tracking and make corrections while viewing the text in Final state (see Figure 2), but you won’t see the changes you make as revision marks (unless you switch back to Final Showing Markup). It will just appear to you that you’re making changes in your text.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Select a viewing preference from the drop-down list.

Entering revision marks in Final mode is convenient if you’re making changes and comments on a document already corrected by three other people. At least you can read the text as you review it. Of course, you can’t see the comments of the other reviewers or the original text; instead, what you see is the text as it would look if all the current revisions were accepted. If you have a question, however, you can select Original from the drop-down list to see what the writer had in mind before everyone else on the team got hold of it.

The murky byways of Word’s tracking mode are frequently not found in the procedures, but in the process. Of my five points, some make you look better, some save you time. In addition to ensuring that your reputation remains lustrous, you should save enough time between documents to take an ergonomic walk through the halls—perhaps for a gaze out the nearest window.

Ask Yourself, "Do I Need To Use Revision Marks?"

This is not an issue of utility, but one of policy, and the answer to this question is a resounding yes if you’re a writer who must route your work through multiple reviewers. Anyone who has ever had to reconcile the conflicting markups of an opinionated team of six by thumbing through hard copies has murmured blessings on Word’s tracking feature. If you’re sending to a group, just remember: It must go to one reviewer at a time, in rising hierarchical order. The person with greatest authority over the result goes last. In that way, each reviewer will reconcile his or her comments with those of previous reviewers, saving you from having to do it.

If you’re a writer, editor, or subject-matter expert working with professionals who use the tracking feature all the time, this feature can be a handy device for the daily give-and-take of ideas.

However, there are times when you might want to skip the tracking. Rev marks force somebody to make a decision (accept/reject?) at each and every text change. This approach can waste time if the changes don’t need to be questioned. If you’re correcting nonfiction text so that it conforms to the Chicago Manual of Style or your company’s in-house style guide, the commas, apostrophes, and semicolons are not matters of opinion; they’re matters of rule. Do they need to be discussed with the writer? Judge your own political situation, but in my experience you can save time and effort if these matters don’t have to be negotiated. The first time I got a manuscript back from an editor and the copyediting changes were not in revision marks, I’ll admit I was surprised. Ever since, I’ve just been grateful.

Here are a few other instances where you might consider skipping the tracking:

  • If you’re a writer or editor with a very busy client, revision marks can focus precious time and effort on trivial decisions. Where possible, just comment or use judicious highlighting.
  • If you have a client who doesn’t use the tracking feature, the process can trigger that client’s frustration.
  • If you have a writer who is controlling but makes numerous errors, minimize the rev marks.

Whenever I decide not to send revision marks to an author or reviewer, I still track my changes as I make them, and save a file with the tracked changes in it. That way, if someone asks, I can attach the document with rev marks to the next outgoing email message.

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