Editing Your Book with Track Changes

When you work with an editor on your book, you will probably use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. This can be a little daunting if you’ve never used it before, especially when you get a file back with more red on it than Sweeney Todd’s apron.

First, don’t panic. Remember your editor is there to help you, and those red marks are meant to be instructive, not destructive.

Schedule a time when you can go through your manuscript slowly. If there‘s a change you don’t understand, feel free to ask. For example, one client asked why I had replaced e-mail with e‑mail, since she had in fact hyphenated it. I explained that I had replaced the regular hyphen with a nonbreaking hyphen so that if the word fell at the end of a line, the e‑ wouldn’t be stranded by itself.

Reject or change the edits you don’t like, and leave the ones you approve of. You should have many more approvals than rejections—like, 20 to 1. If you are rejecting more than 5 percent of your editor’s suggestions, there’s a bigger problem to address than how to use Track Changes. More on that next time.

Using Word Track Changes

Save time by accepting all changes at once.

If you’re sending your manuscript back to the editor for a second pass, leave the Tracked Changes and comments in place. That lets them see everything you’ve done in context with their original edit. Often if we’ve worked on other manuscripts since the last time we saw yours, we may not remember what the original text said, what changes we made, or what we asked you to fix. So leaving all those changes and notes gives us the background we need to assess your latest revision.

Once you and your editor agree that the editing is finished and you’re ready to submit the manuscript to agents and editors (or to send to a typesetter or Kindle converter), you can use the Accept All Changes command to clear all the approved edits at once. You’ll find this command in Ribbon’s Review tab, under the pull-down menu of the Accept button.

You’ll also need to delete all the comments from the manuscript. This command is also in the Review tab, under Comments. There’s a New button to create a new comment, and a Delete button for deleting comments once you’ve addressed whatever issue they brought up. The Delete button also has a drop-down menu, where you’ll find the Delete all Comments command.

Note that my screen shot is from Word for Mac 2011. Microsoft seems to delight in moving commands around from one version to the next and from one platform to the other, so that no two versions of any Office app are entirely the same. So use a bit of Google-fu to get what you need. Start your search terms with your operating system, then your version of Word, then the thing you’re trying to find. I might, for example, search for Mac Word 2011 nonbreaking hyphen. Hypothetically.

Microsoft Word is often accused of feature bloat, and it does contain myriad functions some of us will never use. But its powerful change tracking and commenting features are the main reason it is still the standard software for writing and editing books. If you plan a career as a writer, you’ll do well to take advantage of these features.


Let me know if further teaching on this would interest you. I’m thinking a screencast may be called for. What do you think?

Unusual Uses of Excel for Writers

Regular readers know I’m a little spreadsheet crazy. I’ve offered you a spreadsheet for time and motion studies and another for tracking your productivity. And I’m not the only one, because you’ll notice that Michael Hyatt’s ideal week is plotted on a spreadsheet.

When I wrote about tools, I mentioned some of the things Excel spreadsheets can do, and noted that there might be a whole other post in that.

To-do Lists

If you format your Excel spreadsheet using one of the table options under the Tables tab of the Ribbon, you’ll see arrows appear in each column heading. This lets you sort the list by any column. Continue reading