How to use Track Changes

If you work in any profession that involves writing, you’re almost certainly going to be using Word’s Track Changes feature, or the Google Docs/OneDrive equivalent. Academics and postgrad students, who spend a lot of time writing and sending documents back and forth between teams, supervisors and journal editors will definitely need to use this handy function. Track Changes is a powerful tool that allows users to collaborate and review documents seamlessly.

As proof-readers, we use Track Changes all the time to ensure that our clients can check the changes we’ve made to their work and ensure that they are happy with those amendments. This tool is reasonably intuitive, but if you’ve not used it before, it can be confusing. And, like many Word functions, even if you’re used to the basics, some features can be hard to wrap your head around.

In this blog, we’ll explore the various aspects of Word’s Track Changes function, including switching between simple mark-up and all mark-up, as well as displaying revisions in balloons or in line.

  1. Enabling Track Changes

To begin, open the Word document you wish to edit and navigate to the “Review” tab at the top of the window. In the “Tracking” group, click on the “Track Changes” button to enable the feature. Alternatively, if you use a PC, you can use the shortcut “Ctrl + Shift + E” to toggle Track Changes on and off. If you’re on a Mac, use “Command + Shift + E” to do this.

  1. Simple Markup vs. All Markup

By default, Word displays changes using the “Simple Markup” option, which just uses a red line to indicate that some changes have been made in that section. However, you can switch to the “All Markup” mode to view a more detailed representation of the revisions made. To switch between these two modes, click on the drop-down arrow next to the “Display for Review” option in the “Tracking” group. Select “Simple Markup” to view changes discreetly, or choose “All Markup” to see specific revisions in detail

These images show you the difference between simple and all mark-up modes, using examples from my own PhD.

Simple mark up
All mark up
  1. Displaying Revisions in Balloons

Word offers the flexibility to display revisions and comments either in balloons or in line with the text. In ‘all markup’, Word will default to using balloons, as you can see in the image above. Balloons make it simpler to see what text you will end up with, whereas inline revisions (see next point) can be tricky to follow.

However, if there have been extensive changes made to a piece, the text that is visible in balloons contracts, meaning you can only see some of the changes that have been made. As you start accepting the changes, you will see more and more of the edited text in the balloons.

To enable balloon display, follow these steps:

  1. On the “Review” tab, click on the small arrow in the “Balloons” button within the “Tracking” group.
  2. Choose the desired option from the drop-down menu. “Show All Revisions Inline” displays edits in the text, while “Show Revisions in Balloons” presents changes in the margin.
  3. To specify the type of revisions shown in balloons, select “Balloons” again and click on “Show Revisions in Balloons.”
This image shows you how to display revisions in balloons
  1. Inline Display of Revisions

You can also choose to display revisions in line with the text. This is particularly useful when working on shorter documents or if you want to see every single change that has been made.

To display revisions in line, follow these steps:

  1. On the “Review” tab, click on the small arrow in the “Balloons” button within the “Tracking” group.
  2. Choose the “Show All Revisions Inline” option from the drop-down menu.

The two images below show the difference between balloon and in-line revisions for the same (poorly written!) piece of text. Sometimes it’s useful to switch between these two modes. I generally work using balloons, but if I’m working on a heavily edited piece and there is one sentence where I really want to see what’s been amended, I’ll go to inline – and then almost always switch back again.

This image shows what balloon revisions look like when a lot of changes have been made
Inline revisions
  1. Managing Revisions and Comments

Track changes provides various options for managing revisions and comments efficiently. Here are a few essential features:

  1. Accept or Reject Changes: To accept or reject a specific revision, right-click on it and choose “Accept” or “Reject” from the context menu. You can also choose to accept all comments and stop tracking if you wish to. It’s worth doing this now and then with a document which is going backwards and forwards many times in a big team, or it can become too messy and jumbled to read.
  2. Reviewing Changes: Use the “Previous” and “Next” buttons in the “Changes” group to navigate through revisions quickly.
  3. Adding Comments: Click on a specific section of text and select “New Comment” in the “Comments” group to provide feedback or clarifications.
Take back control with the Track Changes feature!                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Getting to grips with Track Changes can help streamline the proofreading process and help you communicate with your supervisors more easily about your ideas. By switching between simple mark-up and all mark-up, as well as choosing between balloons or in-line display for revisions, you can feel in control when you revise your beautiful thesis or paper. Whether you’re an academic, a postgrad student or a researcher, understanding the versatility of Track Changes can make your life easier.

If you have any questions about using track changes, or want us to use track changes to make your language sing, get in touch with the friendly team of PGPR experts using the box below.