Tracking Changes – Nuts and Bolts

Facebook postSomeone sent me a Word document yesterday without changes tracked. Word’s “Compare documents” feature would have been useful if the original doc we were working on had been in Word, but in this case, the text had been copy-pasted from a web page, changes had been made, and then the text had been sent back to me.

If the person requesting revisions had turned on “Track Changes,” I would have been able to quickly spot the three or four changes they had requested and then edit the HTML document (which had tons of time-consuming formatting added to the text). Without the changes tracked, I was left with two unpalatable alternatives:

  • Read the text of both documents closely and change the HTML document to match the text that had been supplied. (This method risks that I’d miss something and that the person requesting revisions wouldn’t be proofreading the document closely, because he assumed that he had given me everything “digitally.”)
  • Take the new Word document and reapply the formatting to the text. (This method risks errors in formatting).

Either choice, of course, caused me to take extra time on what should have been a simple job. This led to me posting a short plea on this blog yesterday … worth reading because of the contrast between the title and the content. This blog is fairly new and doesn’t have many folks commenting on it yet (I’m working on changing this by attracting a bigger audience!) but it was enlightening to see what people said on my Facebook page — it turns out that the nuts and bolts of tracking changes are not well understood. Here are four quick tips for tweaking your collaborative workflow and making your life less frustrating.

  1. When you send out a document for revision, send it in Microsoft Word (or one of the free alternatives like Open Office) and remind your team members to turn on “track changes.” If you’re dealing with people who you suspect don’t know how to track changes, tell them how to do so.
  2. If you’re using Google Docs, don’t despair – in 2010 the Google team added a “track changes” feature — further reducing the need to ever use Word.
  3. If you’ve already taken your document to the next step, and the text has become part of a web site, an InDesign document, a Flash movie, or anything else where your team members might not have access to the software, try to force them to edit the original text and leave track changes on. This way,  at least you can quickly see the changes you must make to the new document.
  4. If you are accepting changes as part of Step 3, make sure you share the costs of making these changes with the team! This means that if you are a freelancer, you would have a contract in place that specifies additional charges for making revisions outside of a well-defined content cycle. If you’re part of an in-house workgroup, you should make sure that the team understands that the extra revisions have cost you extra time which must come out of somewhere. Don’t complain; just calmly state the impact on your schedule, including other projects that may get delayed, and let the team, or the supervisor, know how they can avoid this next time through.

If you follow these four suggestions and educate people you work with to collaborate with you in a thoughtful way, you’ll be more productive.

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4 thoughts on “Tracking Changes – Nuts and Bolts

  1. This is REALLY great advice. Track changes is one of the best features of Word! I always use it for works, friends, etc. It saves so much time, and both parties really appreciate it :). Plus, you can leave comments or questions instead of just changing things on the document!

  2. I haven’t used Word in about 2 years. My office is almost entirely Google Docs. One of the reasons why is that there’s no need to track changes when your doc is entirely collaborative. It’s true Word would be great in a more formal publishing setting, but Docs is great for enabling the whole group to work on the SAME version simultaneously… especially awesome for a spreadsheet to track projects from a team of dozens!

  3. I too am a huge fan of Google Docs, Chris. The limits in formatting it has are easily made up for by the lack of “Clippy”!

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