A Guide To Microsoft Word Track Changes

Being an editor, proofreader and beta reader means that I have a great knowledge and a large amount of experience when it comes to Microsoft Word track changes. I want to use my experience and knowledge to help others when it comes to using this part of Word. I promise that although this might seem like alot to take in, track changes is actually easy once you have the know how. Read on!

So, first things first, open your doc up in MS Word. You can use the desktop or online version. The document will open and you’ll be able to edit it as normal. To be able to use track changes, click the ‘editing’ button, as shown in the picture below. This will then show a drop-down box. You then need to select ‘reviewing’.

To properly begin using the options track changes gives you, you now need to click ‘review’. This opens up a different tool bar. Because you’ve swapped from editing to reviewing, whenever you edit the document, most changes will show up in red. The image below shows what I mean.

The next image gives you a brief explanation of each option on the ‘review’ toolbar.

Next, I’m going to go through what you would usually do with track changes as an editor, proofreader or beta reader. I’ll then move on to how you usually use it as an author. You can read the section that applies to your profession, but I think it’s helpful to understand how it works in as many ways as possible.

Editor, proofreader or beta reader

So, within my work, I prefer to use track changes. To me it’s the easiest and communicates easily, and can ease yours and your authors workload. I always okay this with the author first as there are other options.
So, once you’ve been sent the docutment, you’ll open it, set up track changes as I explained above, and then begin your work.
I realise that this is a track changes guide, but I think it would be helpful to mention that I always like to make sure I have some kind of brief or specification list from the author, as it allows me to personalise my work to their writing.
Moving on, you’re working through the doc, and you’ve come across something you want to delete. You delete the text as you would normally. Upon pressing cut, delete or backspace, track changes will kick in, and it should look like this:

Next, you’ve come across an incorrect spelling, or wording that needs changing. I find it easiest to delete the whole word and then add in the proper spelling/wording, it makes it more obvious for the author. It’ll look like this:

At this point, you might need to add a comment to explain why you’ve done something. This is easily done by clicking the ‘new comment’ button, which will open up the comment bar to the right, and a box for you to write in. Once you’ve written in the box, press ctrl + enter to post.

If you’ve added a comment but need to change or delete it, click the three circles on the edge of the comment box.

You might also come across a sentence or a paragraph that needs rewriting in some way. You don’t want to just delete and rewrite it yourself, because the author needs to understand the reasoning, and they need to make the decision on how to rewrite it. Instead, you can highlight, and then place a comment to explain your highlighting and give suggestions. The highlighter tool is found by clicking ‘home’ on the upper tool bar, and then you’ll see the little highlighter image. To highlight, select the text then click the highlight button. The process will be a little like this:

Sometimes it can be much easier for everyone if you highlight different things in different colours. For example, on this document I’ve highlighted sentences to be reduced in yellow, and sentences that could flow better in blue. Be sure to add a comment in at the very top of the document showing what colour means what. The image below shows you a good example.

Next, You need to make a formatting change, e.g. resize the heading. You can of course do this, but it won’t always show up as obviously that you’ve made that change. Instead of it being red, you may only see the grey bar on the left hand side, as the picture below shows. I would suggest that you always add a comment to show and explain these changes, so they aren’t missed.

These are the main things you’ll need to do as as editor, proofreader or beta reader.
When you’ve finshed working with a doc. I would recommend that you always double check your changes and comments, to make sure that you haven’t made errors or missed anything, and that your comments are clear and consise. This is easily done with the comment and track change arrows that I showed on previous images.


Moving on, if you are the author of a document, and you’ve recieved feedback from someone using track changes, you now need to look through their work and accept or reject the changes made. Different people will comment in different ways, but I tend to put the important stuff that applies to the overall doc at the top. Make sure to start at the top and read through the comments as you go so you don’t miss anything.
In the document that I’m using, I’m going to go through and accept and reject the changes made.
To start with, my editor has changed the title, and put in a comment to tell me. I’m going to accept this by clicking the tick next to the ‘track changes’ button. I know it’s been accepted because the grey bar to the left disappears.

Alternatively, you come to something you want to accept, and this is shown by red text. Simply click on that accept button, and the writing should automatically change:

Now you find something you don’t agree with. You reject it. Simply click the cross as shown below, and the red edit writing should disappear, leaving you with your original:

Whether you accept or reject a change, your editors comments might remain. To remove or resolve a comment you need to click the three circles as the picture below shows. Then make the relevent selection. Once you’ve resolved the thread, the comment box should dissapear. Only do this when you’re confident you’ve finished with that comment. Alternatively, you might want to reply to a comment instead. To reply to a comment, simply type in the ‘reply’ box and then hit the reply triangle. Then the person you’re working with can easily see your responses.

My Top Tips

I’m now going to give my top tips for working with track changes, because even when you know how to navigate and use track changes, I think it can help to know a few extra things.

The most important thing I think you need to know is that you do not need to write a comment for every single edit you make. The more comments you make, the more clogged up word can get, and it can cause it to run slower or crash. So, when writing a comment, think — is this really neccessary? If you’ve just made a simple spelling change, or deleled an extra word then no, it’s probably not. If you’re needing to explain why you’ve highlighted something, then yes it’s worth it.

Another really good thing to do when you can is group your comments together. For example, if you’ve had to edit a punctuation mark consistently, multiple times throughout the document then you could just give one comment at the top of your doc to explain this. E.g. “Any dashes that have been changed or added in are to allow correct punctuation. For clarity, please see this link ………….. on the difference between en and em dashes.” This makes it easier for everyone, as whoever reads your comments doesn’t have to go through tons of them, and you don’t have to type as many.

If you’re working with a document that already has edits or comments on it, and you find it distracting or confusing, please remember that you can click the ‘track changes’ button. You can then select to only view the edits you’ve made.

Another thing I think it’s important to do is to always save a copy of the original that you’ve been sent, and remember to save regularly throughout your process. Mistakes can happen, I’ve had confusing format changes come out of using track chages and had no idea how I could actually fix them. I’m always glad that I have an original to look back at or a recently saved copy so that I don’t have to start from the beginning. If you need to look back over resolved or deleted comment threads, you can always look at the original.

Really though, I found track changes pretty easy to understand and grasp. The best thing to do is probably to open up an old document of yours and play around with the different options until you understand them all. I hope this guide has helped you understand and grasp the basics, please let me know if you’d like to see more guides on specific things that are helpful to those in the writing world!

Published by Amy Ollerton

Hi! I'm Amy—a professional copy editor and proofreader living in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. I provide friendly, personalised services that boost writing while retaining the author's unique style and voice. I write a little myself, shown through my blog. Alongside my work, I read books, enjoy baking, and explore the Highlands with my partner and my dog, Lula. If you've ever any editing queries, feel free to get in touch!

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