Understanding and using the "Track Changes" system of computer editing markup

Track Changes is a feature of word processing programs used for editing, and this is the name Microsoft Word gives it. The feature is not, but should be, well-known to everyone who writes anything.  We always use it. What it does is make editorial changes visible so that the author can see what the editor has changed. This also facilitates the author’s choosing to reject (or keep) particular changes. The reason for this is that it preserves the author’s authority over the text, as it means that he or she has the final say, and in a way the editor’s changes are all (only) suggestions. The editor will know what is right or best in an impersonal and objective sense, but the author at least is the authority on what he or she means or wants to say. And all language use is both subjective and objective in this sense. You should assume that we are all probably right, but we might not be.     

The Track Changes, or Tracking, feature  can be as tricky as any computer program function.  Similar features exist in other programs such as Apple's Pages, though it has fewer features than in the Word version for PC or Macintosh.  The feature is located in different places in the menu structure in different versions of Word, including between and within the PC and Mac platforms.  You can look for it under "Help" if you don't see it when browsing the menus; try the keywords track, tracking, reviewing.  To produce a text that is visibly edited, you merely want to turn Track Changes on.  When it is on, all additions and deletions will automatically show up marked, in a color other than black, and, with deletions, usually in the margin (this is an option: it is better than struck out in the text).  You can also write comments and have them appear in the margin and referenced in the text.  Usually this is "Insert--Comment." The recipient of a marked up text can choose to accept or reject a change or all changes.  Edits and comments are distinct objects and in Preferences (under the Word menu on my computer) you can set the colors of comments to differ from that of edits, and this will distinguish marginal deletions from comments.  The deletions and comments will also show your name, which is set under "User Information" under Preferences; you can change it there to a company name or anything else.  

If you are an author who has received back an edited text with Track Changes, you need to know how to “accept” or “reject” changes. I recommend first reading through the text with edits and rejecting any edit you don’t like or agree with. It is inevitable that there will be some of these in any document of any length. (For instance, we might be mistaken about what you meant to say.) And then, when you have gone through the entire text, since everything that remains you want to keep, choose “accept all changes in document” (the wording will be something to that effect).

In response to comments, it is best to make changes to your text that accord with the comments, not write the editor with a reply to the comment or a comment of your own. This will save time and money.

Pages does not have the same display of deletions as Word (it cannot display deletions in the margin) and is inferior for that reason.  Marked up changes do carry over from Pages to Word, and one can easily convert the former to the latter.  Tracked changes are lost when text is moved or copied.  The display of them can be toggled; turning it off does not remove them.  The author of a text with Track Changes will want to accept the changes, which I do by reviewing them all one by one, rejecting those I don't like, and then finally accepting all of them (those that remain).  The comments have to be deleted one by one.  An author could obviously be very embarrassed if he or she submitted for publication or review by business colleagues a text with the editor's comments merely hidden, and showing on the colleague's computer.  I find that using Track Changes can slow the processing time in a Word document, most often when there are lots of comments.


William Heidbreder