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Time to Master Microsoft Word’s Track Changes

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With millions of employees across North America working remotely for the last year and a half, new tools for collaboration have sprouted up everywhere. Along with everyday platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, more robust applications for file sync and share have enabled even greater collaboration. And once-complicated forms of connectivity like VPNs have become standard for securing remote workers and the data they share across devices and networks.

While we all expended extra energy learning the ins and outs of these new tools, one of the strongest collaborative functions in one of the most commonly used programs became even more critical: Microsoft Word’s Track Changes.

Throughout the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaborative work on Word documents—sharing, editing, and reviewing—remains constant. And Track Changes makes multiple rounds of edits easily readable by specifying which user-created which changes and where sensitive information may have been removed or marked for further review.

But Track Changes can still be an intimidating tool—especially when you open a document full of red-line edits and comments from multiple users. Track Changes has become even more integrated into the Microsoft 365 productivity suite, connecting with the cloud-based OneDrive file storage system to allow users to view and restore past versions of a document. That makes it even more important to understand Track Changes so that collaboration is actually enhanced, instead of sinking us deeper into a tangled web of markups, highlights, insertions, and deletions.

That’s why CMIT Solutions has collected four all-encompassing tips for Track Changes champions and novices alike. One person’s ease of use might be another person’s struggle, but with some standards for this commonly used editing tool, everyone can work smarter and more collaboratively—today, tomorrow, and for as long as Microsoft Word remains in use.

(Note: the following tips apply most accurately to Microsoft Word 2019. Older or newer versions could include slightly different procedures.)

1. Toggle Track Changes off and on.

Before you begin making individual edits to a document or resolving comments in the margins, make sure you’re starting in the same place as your collaborators. Turn Track Changes off and on by clicking Review in the top menu bar, then selecting the Track Changes button, which should turn from “Off” to “On.” Or, you can use a common keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+E).

If Track Changes doesn’t show up in your status bar, follow the steps below:

· Right-click the status bar at the bottom of your Word window, where you can add or remove several status indicators, including Track Changes.

· Once you add it, the Track Changes status indicator should automatically display as an on or off button.

· Alternatively, you can click on the Review tab to see whether Track Changes is on or off.

· Toggle the status indicator as needed to begin adding comments to those already in the document, or to move on to the next step.

2. Get comfortable reviewing, accepting, and rejecting changes.

Once you’ve got your document open and ready to edit with Track Changes on, determine what’s included under the Show Markup menu setting. Most commonly, all comments, insertions, deletions, and formatting changes are tracked as you make them; you can also select Highlight Updates so that changes are easy to see for the next user.

If you’re a reviewer, you can accept or reject changes from a previous collaborator by pointing your mouse at the intended change and clicking Accept or Reject; if you’re responsible for compiling multiple rounds of changes, you can also select Accept > Accept All Changes or Reject > Reject All Changes depending on the status of the document.

3. Simplify your look at an edited document.

Trying to absorb the overall outline of a document crammed with Track Changes can be frustrating. For an easier view, select Simple Markup under the Show Markup menu—in many versions of Microsoft Word, it’s not the default option, so the extra step is necessary. Simple Markup places a single red vertical mark next to each line of text that contains changes. As you skim the document, you can expand the red mark to toggle between All Markup, displayed with a gray line, and Simple Markup, which shows up in red.

4. Add comments and questions.

Track Changes goes beyond simple line edits, allowing users to compile all comments or questions into one section of the document—avoiding a lot of back and forth via email and messaging app. Comments and questions can also be added so that they flow down the sidebar alongside Track Changes, allowing contextual edits to be made or allowing users to request review and approval for certain questions.

Comments can get complicated, though, so consider the following options before deciding on the best way to display them:

  • Show Revisions in Balloons, which posts comments in interconnected windows to the right of the window
  • Show All Revisions Inline, which highlights the specific text with a specific color inside the paragraph, using vertical lines to mark the comment, followed by the initials of the editor
  • Or Show Only Comments and Formatting in Balloons, which displays the comment text on the right connected by dotted lines.

You can change the format at any time, but choosing one you’re comfortable with can make editing easier. Once you have your format selected,

  • Hover over the text where you want the comment inserted,
  • Click the New Comment button under the Review tab,
  • Complete Word’s Review Screen panel that links your selected text to a comments box,
  • Enter your comments and press Esc when finished.

Want to edit or reply to another comment?

  • Click the connected balloon on the right side of the page next to the highlighted text, make any updates, and close.
  • To reply, click the page curl icon in the toolbar, enter your reply, then click the X to close.

If you’re still confused by the ins and outs of Track Changes, don’t worry—you’re not alone. But if you’re ready to boost your knowledge so you can collaborate more efficiently with colleagues, CMIT Solutions can help. Need help with Microsoft 365, Word documents, or Track Changes? Contact us today. Know of another timesaving tip that makes Track Changes a breeze? Let’s talk.

We believe in the power of ongoing education and training to help everyday computer users work smarter and faster—a must in today’s rapidly changing and remote-focused digital world.

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