Producing Cleaner Markup

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 18, 2020)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365


As a copy editor who does a lot of close editing, Jill often marks up a manuscript to near-death. She wonders if there is a way to produce a "cleaner" version of Track Changes. As just one example, if she corrects a one-letter misspelling in a ten-letter word, Word always shows the markup as a deletion/insertion of an entire word instead of as a single character change. This (and many other examples) results in a cluttered markup of the document that is much less helpful than it could be for Jill's purposes.

Jill mentions "many other examples" which, obviously, cannot be addressed if one doesn't know what the examples are. I can, however, address the one that is provided, as it is one that has frustrated me from time to time.

When you are editing a document with Track Changes turned on, if you select a portion of a word and then start typing, Word treats your action, for markup purposes, as changing a whole word. In other words, let's say you want to change the misspelled word "busaness" to "business." If you select the letter "a" and type the letter "i", then Word replaces the whole original word with the corrected word.

If you would rather have the markup show just the "a" that is being replaced with the "i," then you need to NOT select the "a" first. Instead, position the insertion point just before the "a," press the Delete key, and then type "i." (If you prefer to position the insertion point after "a" and use the Backspace key, you can do that, as well.)

Why Word behaves this way is unclear; Microsoft has never indicated their reasoning. Interestingly, when you start your edit by selecting text, Word only behaves this way if your text selection doesn't span a word boundary. In other words, let's say that you have the phrase "small brown dog" and you want to change it to "smattering fog." Start by selecting the text "all brown d" and then typing "attering f." When you do, Word doesn't show in the markup that three full words were edited. Instead, it shows only what you selected and what you typed. This behavior is obviously different than if the selected text had been within a single word.

Remember, as well, that you can clean up your markup by simply turning Track Changes off when you make small changes that don't need to be marked up. I do this routinely when, for instance, I need to change a semicolon to a colon, or I need to delete an extraneous space or two. (I especially do this when I apply styles to the text.) With the Review tab of the ribbon displayed, it is quick and easy to click Track Changes on and off for minor edits such as this.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (6714) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 4 - 1?

2020-07-22 09:56:24


As a lawyer editing and commenting on agreements, I find it useful to edit a copy of the document and then using the Review->Compare command create a fresh comparison to the original document. I almost never compare whitespace or formatting, but I always compare for case changes. Also, I often "clean up" the tracked changes to, for example, change a word-replacement to a letter replacement in cases like those pesky capitalization changes which often show up as a whole word change even though I always choose to do a "Character level" comparison.

2020-07-21 03:48:10

Ken Endacott

An editor uses Track Changes to indicate to the author what changes have been made and let the author accept or reject the changes. This means that every change no matter how small must be shown, for example a comma changed to a colon or a comma added or deleted may change the meaning of the text. Apart from anything else, track change markups show that the editor has been thorough and have earned their fee.

The menu items in the Change Case button on the Home ribbon do not result in track change markups yet it can be important that the author know the case changes that have been made. The solution is to manually change the case by deleting and adding.

A change in formatting results in a balloon message and the page can become very cluttered with such messages. There is the option in the Show Markup menu to turn off the display of balloons but then there is no indication of format changes. Neither result is satisfactory. A workaround is to delete and add, then apply the correct format to the added text. For example to bold a word, first delete the word then re-enter the word and apply bolding.

I use macros to overcome the markup limitations in case changes and formatting.

2020-07-20 15:08:39

Steven J. Van Steenhuyse

To make accessing Track Changes even easier, you can add the Track Changes switch to the Status Bar at the bottom of the window. No need to keep switching back to the Review tab. Simply right-click on the Status Bar and select Track Changes. Click on it to turn Track Changes on and off. You can even see at a glance if Track Changes is currently on or off.

2020-07-20 06:55:33

Guy Ivie

I agree wholeheartedly with turning off Track Changes to make small changes... and sometimes even certain large ones.

While working on a project with the Marine Corps, a couple of documents became corrupted, and the tracked changes seemed to be part of the problem. The documents had more than 1,200 tracked changes, from removing double spaces to changing "happy" to "glad" and back again to moving figures and/or tables multiple times. I told the Marine authors/reviewers to accept the small changes (e.g., spaces and punctuation, "a" to "an") as they went, and to turn off Track Changes when moving figures or tables to different parts of the document. (I had them put comments in the losing area to indicate a table/figure had been moved.) We didn't have any more corruption problems.

At my current job, I tell people to turn off Track Changes before generating/updating the TOC, as well.

2020-07-18 17:34:29

Nadine Ireland

Thanks for the tip to produce cleaner markup, Allen. I’ll put that to good use.

Regarding turning Track Changes off and on again, I turn it off while copyediting for clients mainly for two reasons:

* when selecting all text and changing the language [e.g., to English (AUS) or English (UK)]; leaving tracking turned on for this often results in huge numbers of changes being recorded, as if a language change is recorded for every change of style

* when changing non-breaking spaces introduced by authors copying and pasting text from websites to standard spaces; clients don’t need to see these changes—most probably wouldn’t understand their significance.

I’ve learnt to be REALLY careful to turn Track Changes back on again!

Every so often I get this extremely annoying glitch (in Word for Mac 2011) where Track Changes turns itself off. For that reason I keep the Review tab of the Ribbon displayed as much of the time as possible so I can keep an eye out for the work of the gremlins.

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