How to stay sane when using track changes in Word

race track

If you work in a law office, then it’s a near certainty that you’re familiar with collaborating on documents using Word’s track changes features.

Today, now that almost all legal writing involves some sort of collaboration, it’s a hugely valuable and useful tool. However, as the tangle of multi-colored markup and overlapping comments grows, It can also be an incredibly frustrating one.

Given Word’s dominance (while Google Docs is growing in popularity, Microsoft is still used by more than 80 percent of offices) it pays to learn how to use track changes properly.

By the way, all the instructions and screenshots are taken in Word 2016.

Understand the basics

How to turn track changes on

The track changes feature can be found on the Review tab of the ribbon at the top of the screen. To enable track changes, simply click on the Track Changes icon. It will become grayed out when enabled.


If you don’t see the status of track changes in your status bar at the bottom of Word, then you probably want to turn that feature on. Right click anywhere on the status bar and where it says Track changes make sure there is a checkmark beside it. Trust me, if track changes are on, you want to know.


Who made the revisions?

It’s important, of course, to be able to identify each person making changes and adding comments to a document. Usefully, there’s an option in Word in which you can personalize how you’d like your username to appear beside any changes you make.

By default, this will appear as the same name to which the computer is registered. What if you’re a legal secretary editing a document based on hand-written markup an attorney has handed you, though? Using this feature, you can make the changes appear as though they were added by the attorney.

Open the File menu and select Options. The Word Options dialog box will open. In the General on the right, you can amend the name associated with your instance of Word. 


The different track change views

When you use track changes, you’ve got four options for how the edits are displayed. If track changes are on and there are edits in your document you want to make sure that either All markup (where all edits are visible) or least Simple markup (where lines appear on the left-hand side to indicate where edits exist) are turned on


Selecting either No markup (a clean looking version that assumes all edits are accepted) or Original (the document as it existed before any track changes) can be useful, but you want to be very aware of the fact that these options are on. Accidentally sharing a document that still contains changes and comments you don’t want others to see is not ideal!

Adding / reviewing comments

When reviewing documents, adding comments can be one of the most useful features of Word. To add a comment, simply select the text you wish to comment on and click New comment in the Review tab. Type your comment in the bubble that appears and it’s just that easy.

Be warned, though. Comments are one of the potentially troublesome parts of metadata. If you’re sharing a final version of a document be sure to follow the steps outlined in our article on metadata before considering your drafting finished.

Turn off balloons and other irritating features

I’ve never met anyone who prefers to see countless overlapping balloons down the right-hand side of a document over clear, in-line changes (where the deleted appears struck out, and the added text appears in a new color). By default, the latest versions of Word will utilize balloons.

You can quickly revert to in-line markup, however. Just navigate to the Review tab and then select Show Markup > Balloons. You’ll then see the option to deselect the balloon markup option in favor of in-line markup.


While you’re at it, you may wish to disable track changing of formatting changes. Most of the time these changes (e.g. adding a line space or adjusting the indentation of a quotation, etc.) are inconsequential anyway, making the track change markup more of an irritant than anything else. Turn it off by unchecking Formatting in the Markup options menu.

Compare drafts to ensure nothing’s amiss

If you’re exchanging long documents with opposing counsel, you might want to double check that all changes have been correctly tracked. The legal black line feature, which compares two documents and displays only what has changed between them in a third document, does just that.

To use this feature open the two documents that you want to compare. On the Review tab, in the Compare group, click Compare. Now browse for both the original and the revised documents that you want to compare. Click OK. A third document, showing the differences between the two, will open.



Know how to “lock down” a finished document

You can, if you wish, restrict the ability to make made edits to a document with a password. Just click the Restrict Editing icon on the Review tab. Choose the level of protection you’d like and then click on Yes, start enforcing protection. You’ll be prompted to choose a password which will need to be entered in order to amend the document further.




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