Track Changes is a digital editing feature of Microsoft Word that enables users to literally track changes and revisions in a word document. In an educational setting track changes is a useful tool for both students and teachers, as its features are designed specifically to facilitate collaborative work and for making clear comments and notations. In this article we will learn how to use the feature in Word.

How to Use Tracking

1. To get started editing a document, first look for the Review tab in Microsoft Word 2010. Here you'll see the Track Changes button; click to toggle Track Changes on or off.

2. If you click on the down arrow, you'll open a sub-menu. Click Change Tracking Options to open the full Options menu, and view Microsoft's presets.

The preset options for Track Changes are excellent, and while we don't really recommend changing them, you do have the ability to modify how edits and revisions appear in the document. The defaults, are, for example:
  • Colors and Comments delineated by author
    • The first author who works on a document, their changes might be in blue, the next might be in red and so on.
  • Insertions will be marked with an Underline, Deletions with a Strikethrough
  • There will be a line at the border that shows that this section of the document have changes made.
  • Moves will be marked in green

In Text Markup

Track Changes become visible as soon as you start editing the text of your document. By default, Microsoft will show any and all revisions: comments you make, inserted and deleted text, formatting changes, etc. You can change what you see through the 'Show Markup' menu. Here is where you can control which edits are tracked and which aren't; for example, you may want to just show comments made about the material, or only show insertions and deletions, leaving out smaller formatting changes. By default, all changes will be shown, but users can toggle them on or off at any time to make them visible or invisible.

Once you've decided what you want to see, just start editing the text like you normally would. Your revisions will begin to appear in the text as you make changes. This is what a document might look like after multiple revisions:

Once you begin editing your document, you'll see the changes appear in your text as in the example below.
  • In-line additions and deletions will appear in red text within the context of your written paragraph.
  • Format changes like adding bold or italic words will appear in the margin.
  • Moves will also be marked in the margin, so you can keep track of where things are.

View Revisions

There are several different ways to view how your revisions are shown on the page as well. Under Show Markup - Balloons, you can choose whether to show all revisions inline (removing the editing margin from view, and all the balloons therein), to show all revisions in balloons in the margin (as demonstrated above) or, to show text revisions - such as insertions and deletions - in the text, and formatting and comments off to the side.

We recommend the third option: Show Only Comments and Formatting in Balloons. It's a personal preference, but we think this is the easiest to see and read.

Making Comments

Adding comments to a document is a great way to annotate and mark graded papers without needing a physical, printed copy. It's also easier to read (no handwriting dilemmas), and because comments re-order themselves according to where you are in the text, your annotations will always be where you want them, making a revised paper simpler to follow.

To make a comment in a document, open the Revision Tab, then highlight a piece of text (a letter, a word, sentence or paragraph). Next, hit the New Comment button on the ribbon menu. A comment bubble will appear in the editing margin; simply type whatever it was you wanted to say. To exit a comment, click anywhere on the main text. To edit a comment, click back in the comment bubble. Your cursor will appear there and you can type/edit as normal.

If a paper is being edited collaboratively - such as for a thesis or shared project - comments can be used for editors to communicate with each other. Different users' comments will appear in different colors, so it's easy to distinguish who is saying what. Collaborators are also able to make comments on revised text, as demonstrated below.

Show Final vs. Show Original

Then a document has been fully edited, it can be a little hard to read. If you want to preview what it will look like when the editing is over and Track Changes are off, click 'Final: Show Markup' and select one of the options listed. You can compare the original with the final, see the final without any markup, see the final with markup, etc.

This step is most important for users who will be submitting the document for review - be that for a grade, an application or whatever. If a lot of revisions have been made in the original text, it's easy to miss small errors created in the editing process. Periodically checking what the document will look like with all revisions hidden from view will help prevent errors in spacing and formatting in the final copy.

Removing Track Changes

If you're planning on sharing a revised document with another person and you don't want them to be able to see any of your edits and comments, you will first need to either Accept or Reject all proposed changes - including any ones you've made yourself. This is a critical step if you know that someone else will be reading your document, because once you've made changes to a document, they will be immediately visible to anyone who opens the file.

To do this, look for the Accept and Reject buttons in the ribbon menu. Open the context menu by clicking on the down arrow, and then either verify or reject each change to the document. If you know that you want all of your changes to be final, select the Accept/Reject All Changes in Document option. Once this is done, you will immediately see all markers for formatting and text changes disappear; they will either be integrated fully into the text, or erased, depending on whether you are accepting or rejecting changes.

After removing the markers for text changes, you will need to manually delete all comments as well. To do this, select a comment by clicking on it - you will see the highlighted text selected also - then click the Delete comment icon in the ribbon menu. Advance through the comments by clicking the Next button, until all have been deleted.

Save Options

If you want to preserve your document with the revisions but still have a comment-free version to send to others, you can simply save your clean copy as a new document. To do this, open the File menu, and choose the Save As option.

In the Save As window, type a new name for your document in the 'File Name' box, then click Save to save.

Another option is to save your file with its old name, but as a PDF. First, hide all revisions and comments. Then open the Save As menu, and under Save as type, select PDF. Saving to PDF compresses all changes and makes your document un-editable, making your revisions permanently invisible.

Video Tutorial

Prefer a guided tour? View the video below:

Updated by Steven Quirk 10/22/13