EDITING: Track changes are your friend

In both my undergrad and postgrad, I learned all about proofreading symbols. There were exams, in-class group activities, and assignments to assess my knowledge and correct use of the marks. They’re really handy and if I have to edit a hardcopy of something, I will likely still use them.

But if I’m editing on my computer, as is becoming more common these days, I use the track changes tool in Microsoft Word. If you haven’t heard of this function, it’s basically a way to edit a document and have your edits remain clearly visible while you’re working.

Here’s an example of what a track change document can look like (I have Microsoft Word 2010):

1 test

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

You can add and delete things, change formatting, move content, and make comments without losing any of the original text. All of these notations are detailed in little bubbles that hang out in the document’s right-hand margin for easy viewing. If you decide you like something better, you can just right click on any edit (either in text or through the little bubble) and reject it.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

A document with tracked changes can look like a dog’s breakfast while you’re editing. But if you go up to the toolbar, you can click on Final and it will show you exactly what the document will look like with all your changes implemented.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

If you don’t like something and want to go back and change it, that’s fine. Just pop back into that dropdown menu where you found Final and click on Original: Show Markup. Or, if you want to go way back to before any edits were made, just click Original.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Clicking on any of these options doesn’t mean that you’ve lost all the work you just did. You can switch between them with a click of your mouse and see each stage of revision history.

If you’ve submitted something for editing and you get back a document with tracked changes, chances are you want to see exactly what this person has changed. But it can be a bit confusing, reading through the track changes and trying to figure out what’s been altered.

When I send back a document with tracked changes, I usually attach a couple of versions. One version will be [document name] with [my name] tracked changes. This is the document that I’ve worked on and has track changes clearly visible. The second document I attach will be [document name] tracked changes accepted.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

It’s the exact same document, just saved with a different revision history visible so that the client doesn’t have to switch back and forth manually. The two documents can even be viewed side by side.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window/tab).

I recommend reading through the tracked changes accepted document first to get a sense of how the completed work flows. It can then be compared with the original document or with the other tracked changes document that I attached to the email.

The reason I do this is simple: personally, if I looked through the tracked changes first and saw all the things that had been altered or removed, I would probably get huffy and start saying things like, ‘That was a good sentence. I can’t believe they took that out!’

If I looked at the tracked changes accepted document with a clear mind to see how my editor envisioned the final product, I would be less likely to take offence to certain things. They’re not on the page in front of me so I might even forget about them.

It’s like rereading a book you haven’t touched in ages. Some things are familiar but other things take you by surprise. You realise that you like things you didn’t notice before or that certain things just don’t work for you. This is the closest I’ve ever come to being able to look at my work with fresh eyes because I just assume that a lot of things have been changed.

Instead of skimming over words, knowing or assuming what I’ve written, I can read it as a new piece of work. I say ‘assuming what I’ve written’ because if you’ve read something enough, you can often ignore a typo without meaning to. Seeing it anew, you can really take note of the sentence structure, and the way the work flows.

And remember, if you don’t like something, you can always make a note of it. That way, when you go back to look through the document with all track changes visible, you can reject the change. You don’t have to rewrite it or frantically leaf through piles of paper trying to find the version where you had that beautifully crafted sentence. It’s all still in the document, waiting for you with the click of a button.

If you want to know more about the finer details of the track changes tool, you can visit Microsoft’s track changes information page.

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