It is often difficult to keep track of changes to a document even if you are the only one changing it. Imagine if you are responsible for a Word document that many people edit. For example, maybe you have a design document or a proposal where multiple people need to add their update. And after all that it will be sent to a Technical Writer. By the time you get the final version it looks nothing like the original and if someone made a mistake or misunderstood his/her portion it might be a nightmare to catch.

I personally ran into this problem when managing the updates and delivery of over 100 design documents. Every document would be updated by multiple developers and it wouldn’t even be whole sections or even sentences, sometimes a few words are changed or a few rows are added to a table. I needed to make sure all the people who needed to update did it correctly as well as to be able to review only the changed portions with the client (document might be 200 pages long). This is where Tracked Changes in Word became my saving grace.

Tracked Changes Controls

You can find the controls for tracked changes in the Review ribbon:


There is three sections to the tracking controls: Tracking, Changes, and Compare. Tacking section allows you to turn tracking on and off, see the final version and the tracked version as well as pull up a window to see all the details for changes in a separate pane. The Changes part will allow you to approve or reject changes and quickly flip through the changes done. While the compare sections allows you to compare or Combine to or more documents together.



The Track Changes button turns tracking on and off. When turned on the button gets a shaded yellow background:


Once turned on any changes to the document are saved and tagged to your user name. Changes as bubbles on the side like so:


Or inline like this:


The black text is the original text in the document. The crossed out text in red is what I deleted and the underlined text in red is what I added. Note that the text is not red. This is one of the most common mistakes people make when the see this. Tracked changes does not actually change the color of your text, that’s the highlight, and Word assigned red to my user name.

Besides turning on and off, the Track Changes button allows you to give more advanced tracking options as well as quickly change the user name (also can be access via File Menu – Options). Note that changing your user name will affect all Office applications. However before starting make sure your user name is assigned. Often in companies the user name is left at the default username (and Word will treat all editors with this user name as one).


The other buttons in the Track section allow you to control which changes you see and how you see them.


This drop down allows you to quickly change between the original version and the final version as well as being able to see the changes or not. Maybe you want to read the original and then the final version without all the colored text in the way.


The show mark up gives you even greater control over which updates you want to see. This can help you quickly weed out the important changes from the mistakes (e.g. someone not understanding tracked changes and changing the colour to red. Balloons option lets you control which changes are inline and which are in balloons. While the reviewers option allows you to choose whose changes are highlighted. For example you want to see updates only from one specific person.

Review Pane

The next option on the Track section of buttons is the Reviewing Pane


The reviewing pane allows you to review all the changes (and just the changes) in a detailed list format like this:


At the top it tells you a summary of all the changes (how many total and of each type). Then it contains a list with the type, user name and the value of the changes, with the header coloured in the colour assigned to that user name. You can set it to be on the side (vertical) or at the bottom (horizontal). I personally prefer the horizontal as in addition to the type change and user name it will also show the time it was updated.


The next section of the tracked changes controls is Changes:


The first two controls allow you to accept or reject the change. Accepting will save the update as final – and you will no longer see the changes highlighted. Rejecting will undo the changes and revert back to the original. This is handy when in the final approval/review stages to ensure clean delivery.


The extra options available allow you to do mass actions on the changes. You can either accept or reject and move to next; just reject/accept; accept all changes in the screen or just approve/reject the entire document. Accept all is great if you know everything is good and you want to finalize a copy. Or maybe already reviewed the document and the only items left are the ones you don’t like so you can hit reject all quickly, instead of rejecting one by one.

If you Right Click your mouse button over any inline change, bubble or navigation pane you can also approve from the pop up menu as well as turn tracked changes on and off:


The other two buttons in the Changes section allow you to navigate quickly back and forth through the changes.


The last section in this document is the Compare section:


Comparing Documents

Using this option you will be prompted to select the original and the revised document:


When you select to document, any tracked changes will be accepted (not permanently, just during the operation for the purpose of comparison), in both versions. And then the differences between the original and the revised will be highlighted in a new document. You can change the username label of the document if you wish. For example. I had developers send me back their revisions after switching tracked changes off, so in a 200 page document I had trouble finding exactly what they changed (especially if the changes are very small). I would take the copy I sent the developer as the original, then the copy I got back as the revised, then change the username label to the developers name. And bingo I have a document with all tracked changes.


This option is similar in the sense that you need to select two documents. Instead of accepting any tracked changes in the documents and then highlighting the differences, this will try to combine all the changes. If the documents are both missing tracked changes you will still get the unmarked changes between original and revised highlighted but you won’t know who did what change. However if you have properly tracked changes from multiple sources it will merge the two together, keeping the usernames of the editors. This is great if you sent a document to multiple people and each one sent you their changes. With a few operations and a quick review you have a combined version.

Other tips on Document Management

Version Control

Version control is very important to ensure consistency between updates as well as easy recovery in case something irreversible happens to the document. How you define your version control is up to you. Here is an example I got used to: every document has a major and a minor version represented as vx.y. Where x is the major version and y is the minor version. Every update I make or another editor makes are a minor version. When all the changes have been made and combined together I review all the changes and approve/reject all and save as a new major version. This is now a clean version for delivery. An alternative is to deliver the version with tracked changes on, and only update a major version when the copy has been accepted. If some changes are not correct just send back for revision and update minor version. In these methods minor version 0 is always a clean copy with no tracked changes. This provides a good starting point to compare to for the next project.

Naming Convention

The first thing you should do if you have many documents is adopt a standard naming convention. It will be easier to find the document you need as well as make ensure there is not confusion over which document is which. The naming convention could should be based on what you do. For example maybe you have documents on clients. And say the documents can be roughly split into 3 categories: Orders, Invoices, Shipping (I’m making this up so hopefully it’s close to something you have). So we can have a naming convention like this <doc type>_<Customer Name>_<other sub category>_<v0.0>. So an example would be OR_Apple_25112013_v1.1, this is an Order for Apple created on 25th of November 2013, and the version is 1.1.

Again just figure out what is right for you. It can be much simpler such as file name and date, or some prefix and date. At first it may take some time to get everyone used to it, but after a while it will be second nature.

Other Tools

When managing documentation it is sometimes worth looking at other tools available. For example for version control, consider looking at repository sites like MS Sharepoint and many other options (I am mostly familiar with Sharepoint, so if anyone has good suggestions please post below and I will add here accordingly).

Alternatively if you have a set of reference document that are under constant revision and use (i.e. not project driven, for example manuals, or hints and tips), consider Wiki software. It allows for great collaborative use and version control. It is not so great for delivering a finalized document to the customer.

Search on Google (or your other favorite search engine) for what you are looking for, chances are someone had the same problem and made an app for that. And if you find something you think will be useful for readers here post back and I will feature your suggestion.



Leave a Reply

Post Navigation