Track Changes in Microsoft Word

 

The days of circulating a paper copy for review are pretty much over. Even senior partners are starting to prefer to review drafts in electronic form. So it pays to learn how to work Microsoft Track Changes to its full potential. Here are several ways to work Track Changes like an expert.

Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows. We are in the process of updating this guide to provide instructions for Microsoft Office 2016 for Windows.

Know When Track Changes is On

It actually is possible for Track Changes to be on (and recording every change you make) without you being aware of it.

Your first line of defense is your Status Bar.  Right-click on it and turn the Track Changes monitor on. (As a bonus, this will also allow you to turn Track Changes on or off with one mouse click.) Microsoft Word can also alert you to the presence of tracked changes whenever you print or save the document. You’ll want to be sure this has not been disabled in your Word installation:

  1. Open Word | click on File tab | click on Options on the left-hand side.
  2. Click on Trust Center | Trust Center Settings | Privacy Options.
  3. Check the box “Warn before printing, saving or sending a file that contains tracked changes or comments.”
  4. Check the box “Make hidden markup visible when opening or saving.”

Word-2010-privacy-options-warn-before-saving-tracked-changes

Check your Initials

Click on the File tab. You’ll see a section called “Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office” in which your full name and initials should appear. If not, fill those in. If you’re going to be distributing this document to others for review, ask them to check this item as well so Word can mark who has made what changes.

Set up your Status Bar

You always want to (a) know whether Track Changes is active and (b) be able to turn it on or off at will, without having to wander through the Ribbon to find it. Go to your Status Bar (at the very bottom), right-click on it, and make sure that there’s a check mark next to Track Changes. From now on, you’ll see an indicator at the bottom showing you whether Track Changes is turned on or off. One click will toggle it to the other setting.

Turn off Those Balloons

On the Review tab, click Track Changes, then click Change Tracking Options:

Word-track-changes-options

You should do three things:

  1. Make sure both the Insertions and Deletions section have By author in the Color field
  2. Uncheck the box next to track formatting in the Formatting section;
  3. Set Use Balloons in the Balloons section to Never

Compare Drafts to Ensure Everything’s Marked

If you’re in a situation in which you’re exchanging drafts and want to make sure you know every change that other editors have made, you can compare whatever you’ve received via email with the last draft you sent out. Open both documents in Word (close anything else you’re editing) and click the Compare button. You’ll get this dialog box. 

Word-compare-documents

Select the original document from the Original Document drop-down list. Select the edited document from the Revised Document drop-down list.

You can also choose to combine changes into a single document and get a more comprehensive report of what’s changed.

Word-combine-documents-800

Restrict Others’ Edits

If you practice the kind of law that often requires sending around draft documents for others’ review, you’ve probably gotten more feedback that you actually asked for. When you only want your reviewers to submit changes to selected sections of your document, here’s how you can restrict others’ edits in Microsoft Word documents.1

In Microsoft Word, you can designate certain portions of your documents as editable while locking down other sections to prevent text changes.

To start, go to the File tab and click Protect Document, then choose Restrict Editing:

Microsoft Word 2016 File Tab Restrict Editing

You can also go to the Review tab and click Restrict Editing.

Microsoft Word Review TAb - Restrict Editing

Either method will pop up the Restrict Editing pane on the right side of your document:

Word-2016-restrict-editing-pane

The parts of this pane we’ll be using are 2. Editing restrictions and 3. Start enforcement.

To ensure reviewers can only edit certain sections, we’ll first block editing on the entire document:

Microsoft Word 2016 - Restrict Editing

Then we’ll select the text to be excepted from the editing restriction:

When you click Yes, Start Enforcing Protection, you’ll be prompted for a password:

Microsoft Word 2016 - Restrict Editing Password

Whatever you do, don’t lose or forget this password! Even Microsoft can’t help you retrieve it. Either write it down or make it something you’ll remember but others cannot guess.

Once the document’s locked, your reviewers will see this when they open it:

Microsoft Word 2016 - Restrict Editing Pane

Save your document and send it on, knowing it’s secure from any unwanted input.

Restrict Others’ Formatting

Sometimes when you send out a draft, someone might send it back with unwanted formatting changes that he has to undo, a time-consuming task in long documents with intricate formatting. Fortunately, you can give reviewers free rein with Microsoft Word text but restrict others’ formatting.2

On the Review tab, click the Restrict Editing button. The Restrict Editing pane will pop up on the right-hand side of your document. The sections we’re going to work with are 1. Formatting instructions and 3. Start enforcement.

Restrict others' formatting in the Editing Pane

Check the box next to Limit formatting to a selection of styles and click the Settings link beneath it. You’ll get this dialog box to select which styles your reviewers may change.

Restrict others' formatting in the Formatting Restrictions dialog box

If you want to stop others from adjusting headings, etc., you should choose the multiple Body Text and Normal styles. Also, it’s probably a good idea to check the boxes next to Block Theme or Scheme switching and Block Quick Style Set switching. Leave the check box next to Allow AutoFormat to override formatting restrictions unchecked.

Once you click OK, you’ll get this prompt:

Restrict others' formatting in some styles but don't remove other styles

Click No here, because clicking Yes will remove every restricted style from the document. That’s helpful when you’re limiting the styles contained in a document, but that’s not what we’re doing here.

Once you click No, your reviewers can only change formatting in text formatted with the styles you selected. To double-check your work, click on the small launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the Styles area on the Home tab, then click the Manage Styles button at the bottom of the Styles pane that pops up. Restricted styles have a lock icon next to them:

The Manage Styles dialog shows how you restrict others' formatting

Once you’re ready to lock your styles down, click the Yes, Start Enforcing Protection button at the bottom of the Restrict Editing pane. You’ll be prompted for a password:

Restrict others' formatting with a password

Be sure this is a password you’ll remember. If the password’s lost, you’ll have no way to unlock these restrictions.

Your reviewers will see this:

Restrict others' formatting

Accept/Reject All Changes (#Accept)

If everybody’s edits are okay with you, the quickest way to remove the revision marks is to click on Accept and choose Accept All Changes in Document. If you need to review the changes one by one, use the Previous and Next buttons to navigate through the changes and click Accept or Reject as required.

Printing With or Without Markup

Part of the reason you might not know Track Changes is on is that Word will allow you to display and print the document in one of four ways by changing a setting on the Review tab:

  • Final Showing Markup. Usually the default, this shows the edited document with all changes marked.
  • Final. This shows the edited document (with all changes), but the changes are not marked. In other words, the document is displaying as though all changes have been accepted. Do be aware, however, that the markup is still saved; it’s just temporarily hidden.
  • Original Showing Markup. This is a sort of mirror image of Final Showing Markup. The difference is that, in Final Showing Markup, the additions are underlined and deletions in balloons, while in Original Showing Markup, deletions are struck through and additions are in balloons. If you have “balloons” disabled by clicking on Balloons and choosing Show All Revisions Inline, then both views are the same (additions underlined and deletions struck through).
  • Original. The original, unedited document is displayed.

Obviously, these views can come in handy if you want to see the document “before and after,” but if the Final view is chosen, you do not see any revision marks, so you may not have any clue they’re being tracked. To be safe, set it on Final Showing Markup and leave it there unless you need a different view for a specific purpose.


  1. These instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Word 2016 for Windows. 

  2. These instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Word 2016 for Windows.