Microsoft Word How-to: Watch Out For Track Changes

word track changesMicrosoft Word has a little feature called 'Track changes', which allows for collaborating with colleagues on documents. When enabled it will keep a running history of changes made to a document, kind of like a built-in version control. Add to that the ability to accept/reject changes, highlight text and add comments and you've got quite a nice little document collaboration package.

An important fact that you need to remember, however, is that this history lives with the document. This is an obvious necessity when you start passing it around to various colleagues as part of your work/review process. However, it is surprisingly easy to forget that this change history and comments still live in the document when you've got the feature turned off. And if you're not careful you may be setting yourself up for some embarrassing moments (or worse) if you send this marked-up document out to a customer or client.

I guess I should probably cover how to use this feature first, but sometimes it's soooo boring to be such a linear thinker. Besides, it's a really good idea to know how to get rid of these annotations before you start throwing them into your next contract proposal.

To more easily see this I've made some changes to the default filler text you can add to Word documents. I marked up the document with 'Track changes' enabled, then during the process of modifying the document I changed the display mode to 'Final'. This effectively hides all of the annotations, but does not turn off the Track changes functionality. Word is happily continuing to keep track of any and all modifications that I'm making, along with any comments made previously by myself or anyone else that was working on the document. Let's pretend that this is something I need to send to a client, and that I've had a busy day working on a variety of other projects. I suddenly remember I have to get this to the client. I look at the screen and see:


word track changes 01


Looks OK to me, so without thinking any more about it I close the document, attach it to an e-mail then send it off to the client. Only problem is, when they open it up they see this:


word track changes 02


Now, granted there is nothing here that would land you in court, but it's hard to believe you would enhance your credibility with your client after they see this. Let's face it, creating a well-written document is a lot like making sausage - the final consumer doesn't really want to know what goes into it.

Everyone knows that you have to go through an editing process, but no one wants to watch you go through it (unless they're part of your sausage-making team). Even if you're not typing in less-than-flattering comments (and let's hope you're not), in the vast majority of cases no good can come from letting your customers or clients see the creation lifecycle of any of your internal documents.

OK, so we've established that sending out annotations with your final document is a bad thing. In my opinion, the best way to make sure this doesn't happen is to never send out Word documents. I'm a big believer in converting any Word documents into the Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format before you e-mail them out, for a whole slew of reasons. However, that's a whole topic in itself, and I'll have to cover that in another article.

In the meantime, let's look at how you can make sure that all annotations are removed from a document before you send it out. If you don't have the Reviewing toolbar visible, right-click anywhere over the toolbar and select 'Reviewing' from the popup menu (or select View from the main menu, then select Toolbars -> Reviewing). Once there click on 'Show', then make sure that you have a check mark next to all of the reviewing options, and that you've got all of the reviewers selected:


word track changes 03


Now click on the down arrow next to the 'Accept Change' icon, and select 'Accept All Changes in Document' from the drop down:


word track changes 04


That will take care of the change history, but your comments will still be there. To get rid of those select the down arrow next to the 'Reject Change/Delete Comment' icon, and select 'Delete All Comments in Document':


word track changes 05


This will take care of all of the annotations in the document, so that you can send it out without fear of embarrassing yourself. And just in case you think this is far-fetched, I'll tell you that we regularly receive Word documents from a Fortune 100 company with all of the annotations intact. Fortunately these particular documents come from a very disciplined, professional team within the organization, so they don't hurt themselves by doing this.

I'm not sure I would be willing to gamble on this... :)

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