Keeping track: why editing a document requires track changes

09/10/2020
Written by Denny

For proofreaders and editors, track changes is a familiar Word document command. It allows us to visibly alter the text – from minor deletions and insertions to significant format changes and entire paragraph rewrites.

When a client first opens a track-changed document, it can be overwhelming. The neat black lines you submitted have been invaded by different coloured words and strikethroughs, while comment bubbles are suddenly occupying prime real estate in the right-hand margin.

Once, when I was editing a document in Microsoft Word Online, the client who could see the changes being tracked in real time, compared it to Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map: that magical piece of parchment that could track the movements of others in the castle’s grounds.

I think she was referring to the fact that her text was suddenly being moved about by an unseen, mysterious typist. But actually, the map analogy is quite helpful too. Track changes may look messy, but they represent the route to tidier copy that, in its final format, will be easier to read.

To use another example, when you spring-clean the house, it’s always a process. It has to get worse before it gets better. Unpacking, repacking, disposing and decluttering can all be chaotic activities, but the end result makes for a more comfortable and welcoming home.

One of the main advantages of track changes is that it puts you – the originator of the copy – in control. You have the power to accept/reject each individual change, or query any edits.

As for those space-grabbing comment boxes, they give the editor room to offer explanations and suggestions, or to direct any questions back to you. If you then choose to respond with your own comment boxes, the document will temporarily exhibit the collaborative nature of shaping a piece of writing.

Often, it’s this back and forth between writer and editor that produces the best outcome. Working together at draft stage is preferable to waiting until the text has been typeset, particularly if the writing requires significant edits. Big changes will cost you more time and money the further along you are in the publishing process.

So, embrace the ‘mess’. And if you want to find out more about navigating specific tools or techniques in track changes, we are always happy to help.

Finally, if you’ve been using track changes all this time without the David Bowie song going through your head, that’s about to change. (You’re welcome.)

Ch-ch-ch-ch (track) changes…