Automatically marking document edits with Track Changes

If you want to be able to track what changes have been made to a document, then you want to use the Word feature called (big surprise here) Track Changes.

Here’s a little tutorial on how to turn on Track Changes in Word (both the menu-based versions 2002 and 2003 and the Ribbon versions 2007 and up), plus some notes about the feature’s little quirks you’ll want to watch out for.

Track Changes makes it easy to figure out what’s changed in a document since the last draft, since turning it on automatically redlines the document as you type.

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Word 2002-2003

To turn Track Changes on, go to the Tools menu and click on Track Changes:

Tools menu, Track Changes

This will bring up the Track Changes toolbar:

Track Changes Toolbar in Word 2002

Notice that the icon second from the right looks like it’s been pressed and has distinct lines around it.  That indicates that Track Changes is on.   Here’s how it looks when Track Changes is turned off:

Track Changes Toolbar in Word 2002 - Track Changes turned off

See the difference?

Word 2007-2010

To turn on Track Changes in the Ribbon-based versions of Word, go to the Review tab, click on Track Changes, then click Track Changes:

word-2010-turn-on-track-changes-1

But here’s the easiest way to turn on Track Changes (assuming you have your Status Bar all pimped out): just toggle it on with one click here:

word-2010-turn-on-track-changes-2

You’ll really see the difference once you start typing:

And there’s also the tip-off at the bottom of the screen, in the Status Bar (you’ll see “TRK” lit up in versions 2002-2003 and “Track Changes: On” in the Ribbon-based versions).

There are a few things to keep in mind with Track Changes:

  • By default, each “author” or typist who touches the document gets his/her own “color” — that is, Bill’s changes will be in red, Laura’s in blue, etc.  It is possible to make them all the same if it really doesn’t matter who made the changes.
  • One thing people trip over a lot: If you make one set of changes and then undo them in a subsequent draft, there will be nothing in Track Changes to tell you that. In other words, if Bill inserts some text and Laura deletes all of it, the text simply returns to its original state — there’s no redlined insertion and a deletion to show the history.
  • Word 2002 didn’t use strikeout text (like this) to show deletions — it used balloons in the margins.  Word 2003 and 2007-2010 give you the option to do either strikeout or balloons.
  • You will want to be very careful to accept/reject  all tracked changes before sending a document to a recipient outside the firm.  In fact, your firm should have a piece of software called a “metadata cleaner” to clear out all tracked changes, comments, etc., before anything goes out via email.  Ask your firm’s system administrator or IT person about this.
  • If your boss wants you to print a “clean” copy of the document with or without the changes, don’t tear your hair out, and don’t think you have to do something drastic (like copy the document to another file, accept/reject all changes, etc.) to give him/her what’s needed.  There’s a little trick to this that I’ll show you in another tutorial.

For more information about Track Changes, see also:


Showing, hiding and printing tracked changes

Inserting comments with Track Changes

Reviewing, accepting and rejecting others’ changes in Track Changes

About the Author

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

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