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The modern-day version of the red pen, Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function makes it possible to mark up all your changes so that they are visible to your reader. Although at times frustrating, Track Changes is a wonderful tool if two or more people need to review or make changes on the same document. To switch on Track Changes go to the Review tab. In the Tracking group, choose Track Changes.

The good news and the not-so-good news

Tracked changes are particularly helpful, and save a great deal of time for the document reviewer, when you need to make relatively minor changes to a document. Rather than re-reading the entire document word for word, the reviewer can skim down the page to check only the changes you have made.

A large number of tracked changes, however, can become distracting to both the writer and the reader. The changes become even more difficult to follow if you need to make major changes to a document, such as moving paragraphs to a different place in the document or completely re-writing whole slabs of text.

Getting the most out of Track Changes

To reduce distraction, I always work on client documents with Track Changes switched on, but with the changes hidden as I work. To hide the tracking as you type, go to the Review tab and choose either Simple Markup or No Markup. Alternatively, under Show Markup, remove the ticks from the items you wish to hide (such as Formatting or Insertions and Deletions).

When making a major change, such as copying and pasting several paragraphs to another section, I often switch off Track Changes and complete the cut and paste first. Once I have completed the paste, I switch Track Changes back on so that the document author can clearly see any changes I have made to the text.

To alert the reviewer that I have made a substantial cut and paste, I may also add an electronic comment explaining why I have moved the text, noting the previous page or section number of the original draft. If you don’t switch off Track Changes when you cut and paste a slab of text, the whole pasted text will be tracked. Although this tracking will be in a different colour to indicate the text has been cut from another section, additional changes to this text will be more difficult for the reviewer to see.

To track or not to track

As a courtesy, I do recommend that you always use Track Changes when amending another person’s work. But rather than adding layer after layer of changes as you move through the drafts, save your latest draft as a tracked draft and create a new clean file with all the previous changes accepted. To accept all changes go to Review, Track Changes then click on Accept All Changes. Begin a new set of tracked changes on the clean file so that the reviewer can clearly see the new changes. The reviewer can always refer back to the previous tracked version if they need to.

For expert editorial help on your next report, contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638 or go to www.concisewriting.com.au