People send me edits on blogs, web copy and other written materials in all sorts of ways. Some will highlight their changes in red and leave little notes, like (DELETE THIS WORD). Others will just make their changes without noting them in any way, so I have to guess what’s been changed. The tragedy of it is, there is a very simple way to track changes already built into Microsoft Word (or OpenOffice, if you’re into open source). This awesome tool lets you track every deleted comma and lets you insert comments so you can ask for clarification or give direction. It’s super easy to use and will make your collaborative writing projects so much easier. So let’s get to it.

Step 1: Turn on Change Tracking

Change tracking is not enabled by default, so before you get to editing, you’ve got to turn it on. Our examples today are using Microsoft Office 2007, but it’s fairly similar for Microsoft Office 2003. Go to your ribbon–that is, the editing bar at the top–and select “track changes.” Now you’re in business.

Where to find the Track Changes Button in Word

Step 2: Make Your Edits

What Tracking Changes in Word Looks Like

Type whatever you want. Is someone super comma friendly? Delete ’em, and they’ll see where the extra punctuation was. Correct spelling mistakes, reword clumsy sentences and edit until your heart’s content. If you have edits you don’t want to show (sometimes I’ll make an edit and undo it, which will show in the edit history, for instance), right click on the balloon to the right and hit “delete comment.” Boom, bye bye comment.

Step 3: Leave Comments

Sometimes, I don’t want to rewrite what someone’s working on. Maybe I want to ask them a question, like “what did you mean here?” Other times, I may leave them a note,  such as “still waiting for content from you here.” In that case, you want to leave a comment in a balloon to the side. To do that, put your cursor where you want to leave the comment. You can also highlight text so your writer knows exactly which lines you’re referring to. Then, go to your ribbon (that’s the tool bar) at the top and hit “add comment.” Voila! A handy box will let you type your comment. Now, I like to keep my hands on the keys at all times; mice are for suckers. So instead, I use the keyboard shortcut. In Microsoft Office 2007, just have your cursor in the right place and hit Control+Alt+M. Like magic!

Add Comments to Microsoft Word Documents

Step 4: Accept or Reject Changes

Once you send the document to whoever else needs to edit it, the ball is in their court. They can choose to accept (or reject) all changes at once, or they can go through one by one and accept some and reject others. Either way, once changes are accepted or rejected, the editing markings will disappear. You can also make them go away by changing the dropdown where it says “Final Showing Markup” to simply “Final.” You’re done! You have a document with all the changes you need, perfectly and precisely edited.

Accepting All Changes in Microsoft Office

I promise, if you spend any time editing documents between multiple people, this process will make your life–and theirs–infinitely better. Give it a shot today.