A Beginner’s Guide to Track Changes

I received some feedback on my post about The Wonders of Track Changes, both online and in real life. It was very exciting – I didn’t know it was such an interesting post. Also I am very cool, finding these kinds of things exciting. Anyway, the general consensus seems to be that some people are curious to learn more about how track changes works, so I put together a short tutorial to cover the basics. If you have some experience in track changes already, there might not be much new here for you, but I included some shortcuts and hints as well.

As a quick refresher, track changes is a function in Microsoft Word to help you see changes made, especially if they are pending and you aren’t ready to commit to them yet, or to stay organized when two or more people are editing the same document. It can get confusing when more than two people are using track changes, so the ability to add comments comes in useful here. I use track changes all the time with my agent, and it works really well. I think we have a good system figured out.

Sometimes track changes is referred to as an ‘electronic text recorder’, or as a ‘redlined document.’ I see the latter a lot in my day job, when negotiating contracts or terms and conditions. I dislike the electronic text recorder term – isn’t that what Microsoft Word itself is, pretty much? However, I think redlined document is pretty common in a variety of fields.

The first step, obviously, is to open up the document you want to edit. Here is a screenshot of a little scene I wrote for this exercise. Aside from being useful to this blog post, it was also really fun to write something short without an agenda. I’ve been working on novels for so long that I almost forgot what that felt like. It probably goes without saying, given the focus of my blog, but all of my examples are geared toward writing fiction.

original text


Now I’m ready to edit this. In Microsoft Word, go to the ‘Review’ tab to turn on Track Changes.

turn on tc

Now that Track Changes is turned on, any changes that you make in the document will be highlighted. This includes small things like adding a space, removing a comma, changing the font size, etc.

Maybe this scene is missing something to better show the motivation of the narrator, and something to demonstrate that he isn’t necessarily a likable character. I added a paragraph, which shows up in blue.

new paragraph

I didn’t spell armour wrong! I’m Canadian!

Next, I decided to change some wording. I deleted a couple of words, and replaced them with new phrasing. The deleted section turned red, and the new part is blue. It’s easy to see how the sentence changed.

change wording

Later on in the scene, I decided that the mercenary’s dialogue didn’t quite make sense. I added a comment for this. It’s kind of odd, making comments to myself in this scenario, but you could add comments to send back to a fellow writer or reviewer. You could also add comments if you want to revisit a section later on – the comment will make it easy to find.

new comment


Now that I’ve addressed my comment and added a new line of dialogue to better clarify the mercenary’s train of thought, the comment remains intact, but the new line shows as added.

address comment

I have finished this round of editing, so I can review the changes. Being able to move from each change to the next is particularly helpful when you’re working with a 400 page document, something that might not be properly demonstrated with a one page sample.

review changes


When I receive notes back from someone else, I’ll usually read through them all before accepting or rejecting any changes. When it’s time to actually make changes, there are two ways. The first is to just hit ‘accept’ or ‘reject’. This will do so, as specified, and automatically go to the next recorded change. (This is the same result as the first option in the drop down, “Accept and move to Next”). There is also a drop-down option to give you a little more control between moving to the next change, or remaining on the page to review how it looks.

accept change drop down


First, I’ll accept the wording changes. This makes the text look normal again – the new words are no longer blue, and the deleted section has disappeared. There is no longer any change showing.

word change accepted

Maybe I’ve decided that the paragraph I’ve added doesn’t really bring anything valuable to the story, and bogs it down with wordiness. I will reject that change. This will make the entire paragraph disappear, as if it never existed.

reject change drop down

rejected new paragraph


I still have to deal with the dialogue section, which had the comment. I will accept this change. The blue text is now black, matching the rest, but the comment still remains.

comment - accepted added dialogue


I need to delete the comment, as it is no longer relevant since the dialogue has been addressed. I usually just right click on the comment and delete it that way, but you can also delete it from the Review tab.


delete comment


A second way to delete a comment

A second way to delete a comment




Now I have a clean word document, with no changes showing as they have all been either accepted or rejected. Any new changes will be tracked, unless you go back into the ‘Review’ tab at the top and turn off Track Changes.

Here are a few other handy Track Changes tips:


  • Press Ctrl Shift E to turn Track Changes on and off
  • Remember to check your spaces after you are done accepting or rejecting changes. Adding or removing sections may bump chapter titles onto different pages.
  • Don’t highlight text. This just doesn’t mesh well with Track Changes, as the author will have to make the change and remove the highlight.
  • Consider rejecting items as you go, and then when you have reached the end of the document, you know that everything left can be accepted. I’m not sure this tip will work well with a 400 page document like a novel that may request some thematic changes involving new or altered scenes, but this tip has its place in straightforward documents.
  • Remember that the formatting is user specific, so it may show up differently on another individual’s computer. You can format the settings (maybe I’ll cover that another time) and sometimes you may want everyone involved in the collaboration to format the same way.

tc optionstc options choiceThis was a fairly basic tutorial, but hopefully for anyone who is new to Track Changes, it will be of some use as a starting point.

This link has some more detailed formatting instructions for anyone who is interested in using Track Changes at a more detailed level, and this one does as well.


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