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Editing Tools in Microsoft Word

By Erin M. Hartshorn
Copyright 2009 by Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved

I recently did a crit for a friend, and after she got it back, she asked me what editing software I had used to mark it up. She was very surprised to hear that it was all done in Word, using two functions: Track Changes and Comments. Their names reflect what they are used for: Track Changes can show additions, deletions, formatting changes, and where changes have been made; Comments allows text to be added -- comments or questions -- without affecting the word count or pagination of the document. If your manuscript is copyedited electronically after acceptance by a publisher, the odds are that they'll use these tools, so it's a good idea for you to become familiar with them now.

My directions here are going to be based on the version of Word that I'm using (Word X for Mac, aka Word 2001); your version might use slightly different wording or locations. If you're using the newest versions (2007 for Windows or 2008 for Mac), with the new ribbons (rather than menu bars), you may have to look at Help to find these functions.

Track Changes

On the Tools menu, scroll down to Track Changes. Choices will include "Highlight Changes," "Accept or Reject Changes," and "Compare Documents." Right now, we're going to focus on the first one. If you select it, a box with three check boxes pops up, allowing you to track changes while editing, to highlight changes on screen, and to highlight changes in the printed document. At the bottom, there is a button for options.

The options controls how changes are shown. The most common arrangement is for inserted text to be underlined and deleted text to be struck through, generally both in different colors to call attention to them. These colors are determined on each computer where a document is viewed. For example, I use violet to show insertions and teal to show deletions, but on somebody else's machine, they might be blue and red. (There is also a "by author" choice for color, which allows the publisher to know whether changes were made by the developmental editor, the copyeditor, or the author.) This box is also where you'll decide whether to show changes made to formatting (in case things need to be italicized or unitalicized, perhaps) and where to call attention to changes -- left margin, right margin, or outside border. Choose what you want shown and how you want it displayed, and then click "OK."

Now you're back to the box with the three check boxes.

The first choice toggles whether or not changes are being monitored. This can also be toggled in the status bar on the bottom of the document. Near the lower right corner is a button next to "TRK." Click, and the button turns green. Congratulations -- now your changes are being tracked. Copyeditors may make some changes without turning this on, for simplicity, such as replacing multiple spaces with single spaces, or removing spaces before a paragraph return. You need to select this check box for those options you selected to go into effect.

The second choice determines whether these changes are shown on the screen as you type (in those colors you selected, remember?). Toggling this back and forth will show you the final edited version or the version with all the changes showing -- helpful if you want to compare original wording with suggested revisions, for example.

The third choice is exactly like the second, but for printed copies.

Choices made, click "OK," and you're ready to type. You might want to practice this on a copy of one of your own stories first to get a feel for how it works before you try it on somebody else's. The advantages of using Track Changes include nothing gets lost (all deletions are clearly marked, and the words can be retrieved) and small changes such as commas aren't missed. A disadvantage shows up with moved text -- it's marked as deleted in one place and inserted in another. Since the inserted text is seen as "new" by Word, further changes to the text aren't called out, so words or even sentences that may be added or deleted are harder to spot.

Accept or Reject Changes

Once you've got a file back all marked up with pretty pixels, whether from a critique partner or a copyeditor, what do you do with it? One thing you can do is read through it without the changes showing on screen to see how it flows. If something strikes you as off or still rough, show the changes to see what, if anything, was done in that stretch of text.

When you're ready to decide what changes to keep and what to eliminate, go to the top of the document and select Tools | Track Changes | Accept or Reject Changes. You will have the choice of viewing highlighted changes, non-highlighted changes, or the original text. I usually use "Changes with highlighting." Click "Find," and Word will take you to the first change. Once you click on either "Accept" or "Reject," Word takes you to the next change, and so on throughout the document. When you're finished, click "Close," and you'll be taken back to the original document.

If you're critiquing and you've changed your mind about a change you suggested, simply highlight the addition or deletion before going to Accept or Reject Changes. After you reject those changes, Word will give you a chance to continue with the rest of the document. Simply click "No" and go back to your critique.

If you want a copy with all the changes incorporated, simply click "Accept All." (Save in a new file, just to be safe!) This can be handy if you have crits from two different people that you're trying to compare. Instead of going back and forth between two documents, accept all changes in both documents, and then use the Compare Documents feature to see where they differ.

Compare Documents

If someone has made changes without tracking them within a file, as long as you have the original file, you can still see what's been altered. First, make copies of both files just in case Word does something flaky. Open the altered file, then select Tools | Track Changes | Compare Documents. A dialogue box will open, asking you to choose a file to compare with the current document. Choose your original file. Deletions and additions will be marked in the colors and styles you have chosen under "Highlight changes" (see above).


Comments are simplicity itself compared to Track Changes. The Comments function is accessed through Insert | Comment. Pretty simple, yes? To see Comment markers in text, make certain that you have set your options to show hidden text. Comment markers will have the initials of the commenter (as entered into the user information in Word), followed by a number. Older versions of Word show Comments in a separate Comment Pane; when printed, they print on a separate sheet at the end of the file. More recent versions of Word allow the choice between this behavior and having Comments printed in the margin next to the text.

If you find Track Changes too cumbersome, you can make all your editing suggestions using Comments. However, check with the person whose manuscript you're working on; going back and forth between text and Comments too many times can be rather onerous.

There you have it -- two professional editing tools you can use to electronically mark up manuscripts. Play around with them, practice using them, and when someday you receive a copyedited manuscript back from a publisher via e-mail, you'll know exactly what to do about all those funny-colored words in the file.