Most editors use track changes in a Word document to edit your manuscript. If you’ve never used track changes before, the edited document can look daunting. You don’t know where to start, and a lot of editors won’t give you much input into how to use it.
Never fear – let me set out why an editor uses it (and why you want them to), how it works, and how you should use it as you deal with the edits. Here is a short video where you can follow me on screen as I navigate track changes. Often seeing how this works can make all the difference for my clients who aren’t sure what to do with track changes, and I like to show them this video before we discuss any problems they’re having with the process.
1.Why we use track changes
The most important thing to remember when you hire an editor (and when you receive your edits back) is that this is still your manuscript. It is vital that any changes an editor makes or proposes are visible to you as author, so you can decide if you wish to accept them and change the document in that manner, or not.
Editing is a much more subjective profession than many people think. An author’s voice will often be at odds with the technically correct way of writing something. It is important for an editor to know the technical rules (and sometimes useful for the editor to explain them to the author) but sometimes a decision will be made by the editorial team (who I would argue is both the editor AND the writer) to intentionally break the rules. This is seen least often in scientific research papers, and most often in persuasive copywriting used in marketing. I would argue that fiction sits somewhere on the continuum between those two types of writing. As a copywriter and copyeditor, I often write and consider persuasive copy, and so I am well aware of the need to break and bend the rules if it achieves the goal in a more impactful way.
I use notes a lot more than most editors, and the reason for this comes back to that main point, this is the author’s work. Where I can see an alternative wording that might help readability, I don’t consider it my place to make that change (even using track changes which always allows the author the opportunity to reject the change). Some of my clients don’t like that my work is focused in the notes and not in-line editing, as it makes it harder for them to go through the edits and just ‘accept all’ my edits without really thinking about it. This is the reason I do it! If I think an alternative wording would be useful, I would much rather explain why and have an author come up with the alternative in their own voice, than impose my wording. You might think it barely matters, and that is true one time, or maybe two, but if there are multiple suggestions per page, over the course of the manuscript this can really have an effect on the author’s voice.
2. How it works
The easiest way to learn about this is to watch the video. There is one section of the ribbon along the top of the word document called Review. If you open that up, you will find all the track change options you require. Most importantly, a Track Changes button allows you to toggle track changes on or off. When it is on, every change you make to the document will be marked, either by a strike-through for deletions, or in color for any additions. You can also choose to add notes, which normally appear to the right hand side of the document. An editor will often use these when a change is optional, or where they want to explain a change to you in more detail.
3. How you should handle your edited manuscript.
First things first. MAKE A NEW COPY. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough! As you accept or reject changes, and add some new wording of your own or delete sections, you will be changing the document without recording those changes. I save mine as [name of manuscript] POST FIRST EDIT. Even if I suspect this will be the only edit, I still name it that way automatically, as it has saved me from problems if I have unexpectedly needed a second edit.
Then, turn track changes off. That involves hitting Review on the ribbon, and finding the Track Changes button, and being sure you have toggled it to the off position. Now, any changes to the document you make won’t be tracked. At that point I accept or reject each change as I go. If I reach a comment, I deal with it, then hit delete in the comments section of the Review panel on the ribbon. Watch the video if you’re unsure where that is.
If you get in a tangle, remember that you can always go back to the track changed version you have saved as a DIFFERENT VERSION. If worst comes to worst, you can always ask your editor to re-send it to you. Most editors won’t want to spend time with you fixing track change issues, but if you reach the end of working through the edits and a couple of issues are still left unresolved, a good editor will spend five minutes with you fixing it.
Good luck! Once you get used to track changes, I hope you will find the process easier, and dare I say it, even begin to enjoy it. I love track changes for my ability to keep tabs on where I am with the editing process. As I accept/reject/resolve and delete comments as I go, I can open a document and know exactly where I am in the editing process by finding the first track change in the document. And if I edit out of order (as is often the case) I can do a last skim of the document to be sure I haven’t missed any of the edits my editor picked up (because yes, although I’m an editor, I use one on my own work. If that isn’t a bold vote of confidence for my profession, I don’t know what is).