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Q&A: Tracked Changes are hard to look at. Can’t we use something else?

QI find it hard to look at tracked changes; can editors use another method?

AIt’s an interesting question, and one that gives me feels, it seems. TL;DR — No! Don’t make other professionals put up with awkward kludges to assuage some initial discomfort. You get used to it, and let me share some better ways to ease the pain.

Why Publishing Pros Use Track Changes

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For more on hidden characters, see this post and Section 9 of the book.

Using Track Changes (TC) is the standard and best practice in document preparation; you get used to reading it and/or you find ways to make the markup done by TC more soothing (read on). Many editors are even adept at seeing through all the hidden characters like space and tab marks, though my sight goes haywire seeing those characters beyond the periodic look “under the hood” to diagnose some problem.

TC is a slick tool, and not using it detracts from the rest of one’s professionalism as well as making impossible the efficient workflows that ensure fewer errors make it into print in a cost-effective and expedient manner. (For the first few years of my career, I didn’t even know that TC exist, so you’re probably already ahead of me there.) Not only does TC help make sure that changes get vetted (accepted/rejected) but using the Comments helps insure that queries don’t make it into the final version. See “crappy Gabor paper” for a terrible example of what can happen if we don’t use the tools we’re given, or see this one.

The Problem with Workarounds

I’ve seen editors try to fake tracking by changing font colours and highlighting content, and it is absolutely infuriating how much harder it is to find those changes and how prone to error any tool for this is, as well as what an utter pain in the neck it is to accept or reject the “suggestions.”

But the absolute bane of efficiency is when I get edits suggested in full sentences within comments. I’ve refused to accept work done that way because of how much longer it takes to implement the edits and how much room it opens for errors. This method is appropriate only to teachers and academic coaches who are forbidden from making changes for ethical reasons. I also refuse to accept PDF markup that writes a narrative on what to change. (Best practices for PDF markup here.)

Minimize How the Tracking Looks

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For more tips on customizing TC, see Section 3 of the book.

Learning to use the various “views” of tracked changes can help a lot. On top of that, customizing the colour and formatting of markup might make you a lot more comfortable with it (Preferences, shown below). I like changes on my screen to look teal for minimally noticeable inserts and 25% grey for deletions so they blend into the background. Note that this is a user setting and no matter whose file I open, this is how I see the changes. Other users will continue to see their preferences no matter what my settings are. (See the troubleshooting note below.)

Set the appearance of tracked changes on your screen within the preferences on the View ribbon. Look in Section 3 of the book for a video demo and in this post for a sneak peek.

Further Easing the Discomfort

Another way to reduce the “redlining” without abandoning TC is to NOT track some changes, if the person paying you will allow that. Just toggle TC on and off as you work. In addition to the built-in keyboard shortcut for this, clicking anywhere the TC status is shown will toggle it.

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For more tips on making the most of Find & Replace, see Section 10 of the book. For setting the user name tagged to TC, see Section 3.5, for macros, see Part 4 (Sections 28–34), and for plug-ins and add-ons, see Section 32.

If the person paying you insists that even deleted spaces have to get tracked, you might try my new strategy of changing the user name to do all of the non-negotiable changes like hyphenation so that all of those are tracked but also the user can hide that tracking (make the change look final) AND they can accept all of those changes in a single click when they’re ready.

After making those routine changes (under a username like “House Style” that are mostly made using macros, PerfectIt, and sequences of find & replace) I change the user name back to my own before making the more negotiable suggestions.

Learn More About Track Changes in Word

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For more tips on TC, see Sections 3, 4 & 5 of the book.

There are many more free posts and demo videos on using TC here on the blog, and about 23 pages and many specific video demos for it in the book.

Test out some of those options and rest assured that the more one uses TC, the more the markup fades into the background. For authors, I have more specific suggestions for making TC less overwhelming.


As mentioned above, how TC look is a user setting. Each user will see TC per their settings, regardless of how you see them.

The second thing to note is that you can’t set a different colour for each user/reviewer. Selecting the colour for changes temporarily affects all changes. Simply select “by author” to again see each reviewer’s changes differentiated by colour.

It’s not possible to specify which colours are used for the “by author” setting. No, MS gave us MoDern cOmMenTs instead of something we actually wanted. If you don’t like the colours it chooses, restart Word and see what it comes up with next. (Note that this also means that though Reviewer A’s changes were red last time you worked on the file, red changes might be by another reviewer next time you open the file.)

See the book for more troubleshooting tips. There’s A Lot.

Got a gnarly Word problem? Submit your problem and we’ll try to answer it in the Q&A thread.

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© This blog and all materials in it are copyright Adrienne Montgomerie on the date of publication. All rights reserved. No portion may be stored or distributed without express written permission. Asking is easy!

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