Intro to Tracked Changes
If you’ve never worked with a professional editor before, you probably have a lot of questions: How does the editing process work? What kinds of changes will the editor make to my manuscript? How will I know what changes he or she made? Most importantly, how do I ensure this remains my manuscript with my vision and style?
To some extent, the answers will vary. But all the professional editors I know do one very important thing:
They use tracked changes.
What Are Tracked Changes?
The two most widely used programs are Microsoft Word and Google Docs, so all of my explanations and examples will refer to them.
When an editor tracks changes, that means their word processor will show everything they’ve done to the document. If the editor deletes text, it doesn’t disappear from the document; instead, it now appears in the editing color (red for Word, green for Google Docs) with a strikethrough. If the editor adds new text, it appears in the editing color.
Here’s what tracked changes look like in Word:
Here’s what they look like in Google Docs:
It may be difficult to read a document with tracked changes at first, but it becomes second nature with practice. Many editors will send you both a “redline” copy (with tracked changes showing) and a “clean” copy (with all changes accepted).
The great advantage of tracked changes is that you, the author, can review each proposed change and accept, reject, or modify it. You retain control of your document.
Notice in the above examples that the editor can also insert comments in the margins. This is where he or she will ask you questions, make suggestions, give advice, or explain a change.
Should We Use Word or Google Docs?
It depends on how you and your editor decide to work together. I use both methods in my editing business depending on the client’s preference and what kind of work needs to be done.
(Note that a Word document can be uploaded to Google Drive and opened/edited as a Google Doc. Any Google Doc can also be downloaded in Word format.)
Let’s compare features:
Word: No simultaneous editing
With Word, the author and editor cannot access the document simultaneously (see Note below). This way, the editor can complete all edits and comments before sending it back to the author. I find this a particular advantage in developmental editing, where I often leave comments to myself that I need to change or delete after finishing the book. If we were using Google Docs, those comments might confuse the client.
Google Docs: Simultaneous editing
The ability of author and editor to access a document at the same time is helpful in two ways: 1, the author can answer questions quickly, and 2, the author can review and accept/reject changes a little at a time (much less overwhelming than getting a fully edited novel back all at once). Also, a nervous author doesn’t have to wait till the editor is done to see how it’s going.
Google Docs: Automatic comments for every edit
In Google Docs, every tracked change you make in the manuscript shows up the way it does in Word, but it also automatically creates a comment in the margin to explain what change was made. (See the Google Docs image near the beginning of this article. Note the “Add,” “Replace,” and “Delete” comments.)
This can make it difficult to pick through the actual comments. It can also slow the document waaaaaaay down. About halfway through editing one novel, I noticed that the document was loading, scrolling, and accepting clicks and typing much more slowly than usual–to the point that I could hardly work on it at all. I wound up having to create new documents for the rest of the novel, each with only a few chapters. That added some time to the project and meant the author had to review multiple files instead of just the one. However, this doesn’t stop me from using Google Docs. I’ve just learned to split novels into smaller files before I begin editing.
There is a nice benefit to these automatic comments, however. Certain edits are hard to see and understand in Word. For example, if I add a hyphen, what does it look like on the screen? A red hyphen. But what happens if I delete a hyphen? It turns red and has a strikethrough . . . which looks exactly like an added hyphen. There are similar issues with adding and deleting spaces and punctuation.
To avoid confusion, most editors turn tracked changes off to make those edits. If you’re an author who wants to hone his craft, however, this cheats you of the chance to learn from your editor.
By contrast, Google Docs adds that helpful comment out to the side that says Add: “-“ or Delete space. There—learning facilitated!
Word: No automatic comments for edits
Since Word doesn’t generate a comment to explain every edit, it keeps the margins clean and the types of edits separate. Edits go in the text; queries go in the margins. Perfect for those of you who hate your peas touching your mashed potatoes. It also prevents bogging the file down with unnecessary data.
As I mentioned in the previous section, however, it does result in some confusing edits, if the editor doesn’t simply turn tracked changes off for those.
Word: Formatting and design
Word has more powerful formatting and design tools—I was easily able to prepare a manuscript for upload to CreateSpace. (InDesign is a better program for book design, but Word works fine for less involved projects.) In Word, I can control paper size, widow/orphan settings, hyphenation style, adding new fonts, etc. I can also set styles for headings, chapter titles, block quotations, footnotes, and so on to avoid having to change fonts, spacing, indents, and so on for every single instance.
Google Docs: Not design-friendly
Not only does Google Docs not have these formatting tools, but it’s also likely to mess up your formatting. When I uploaded the manuscript I’d formatted for CreateSpace, Google Docs changed the nonstandard fonts to something it recognized and lost my widow/orphan settings, which changed pagination radically. For example, I wound up with most of a blank page in the middle of Chapter 1. So if you want to use Google Docs, I recommend doing so before you do any special formatting.
NOTE: You can actually collaborate on Word docs via OneDrive, but the huge drawback is that tracked changes are not visible. Here’s a screenshot of the same Word document you saw above after I uploaded it to OneDrive:
I turned on tracked changes before uploading, and indeed you can see “TRACK CHANGES: ON” at the bottom of the screen. However, they will not show while you are using Word Online. You will have to download the file and open it in Word in order to see the tracked changes. In my opinion, that is unnecessarily complicated, so I stick with Google Docs for real-time collaboration.
This is just the beginning of our series on tracked changes. In subsequent articles, you’ll get step-by-step help for working with tracked changes your editor sends. You’ll also learn how to use tracked changes yourself for revision.
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