Track Changes basics in Word 2003

The Track Changes or Reviewing feature has been in Microsoft Word for many years though it has changed name and undergone many changes and improvements in each version.

In a recent article we mentioned a submission to a US Senate committee and the use of the track changes feature in Word.

This prompted a pile of questions from readers. It seems that not everyone (including people at some corporate help desks) aren’t familiar with the basics of Track Changes – so this issue is devoted to that.


The Track Changes or Reviewing feature has been in Microsoft Word for many years though it has changed name and undergone many changes and improvements in each version.

The idea is to keep a record of what additions, deletions and changes are made to a document as it is being created. You can view the document as it now stands or see the editing history. You can see what has been removed or added and when it was changed.

In recent years this has been expanded to let a document be shared and edited by other people, with each person’s changes and comments being tracked. Not only see changes and when those changes were made, but who made them.

The tracking isn’t usually automatic. You switch it on by choosing (in Word 2003) Tools | Track Changes. There are similar options in earlier versions of Word.

You can tell if changes are being tracked from the status bar at the bottom of the Word window – look for the TRK letters in black.


When you turn tracking on, anything you now type will show up in a different color and underlined – this can be very distracting. Thankfully there is a way to show only the current state of the document while still monitoring changes unseen in the background.

You can do this from the Reviewing toolbar that should appear when you turn on tracking. If not, right-click on the Word toolbar and choose Reviewing from the list provided.

On the Reviewing toolbar there’s a pull-down list of the major document view options.


is the default. This shows the original document in normal (usually black) text and all the changes and comments.


shows the current state of the document with all the changes included but none of the reviewing indicators displayed ie the ‘final’ document with no editing showing. Note that any changes you make in this view are still being tracked and will show up if you switch to one of the ‘showing markup’ views.


This view takes the original document and shows all the changes overlaid on it.


This view shows the document before track changes started.


Over the years Microsoft has recognized that there’s more to collaborative document making that just editing the document. Some people just want to make comments on the text rather than spend the time doing the re-write themselves. Other changes are just decorative formatting changes rather than substantive changes to the text itself.

To accommodate that there have been a growing range of additional reviewing options.


To comment on a block of text, place the insertion point in the relevant part of the document or highlight the text you want to remark on. Then choose “Insert | Comment”.

Your comment will be linked to the text you’ve indicated.

Comments are great for making notes without a full re-write such as:

  • “This doesn’t make sense”
  • “You need to expand on this idea”
  • “Would be clearer in point form”


If one of the reviewers has a Tablet PC they can scribble all over your document. These scrawls show up separately in Word.


Recent versions of Word can distinguish between changes to the text and just formatting changes.

In Word 2003 you can filter out some or all of these options in the Show pull-down menu. Check or un-check the options to see the types of changes you wish.


The Track Changes feature also records the name of the person who made the changes or comments.

Note: strictly speaking it records the name of the person given under Tools | Options | User Information which can easily be changed.

Normally you’ll see all the changes from all reviewers of the document but it is possible to filter the view to see only the reviewers you want. Go to the Show pull-down list on the Reviewing toolbar again, choose the Reviewers fly-out menu and select /de-select the reviewers.


In earlier version of Word, comments especially appeared in a separate pane at the bottom of the document window. These days they can appear as ‘balloons’ on the side of the document.

This seems to suit most people but you do have a choice. Go back to the Show pull-down menu on the Reviewing toolbar. There is a Balloons menu with options to use them Always, Never or only for Comments and Formatting.


It can be interesting and revealing to see the changes and comments made on a document you get, here’s how.

There’s no magic to viewing any changes or reviewing in documents you receive. For some reason people (including those on company help desks) have got the idea that some special software is needed to ‘snoop’ on changes made to a document you receive.

The ‘special’ software needed is, er, Microsoft Word. Just open the document as normal, start the Reviewing toolbar (right-click on the Word toolbar and choose ‘Reviewing’). Choose the Final showing Markup option if necessary and any changes or comments should appear on the screen.

There’s lot’s more about Track Changes, but that’s the basics. While the system is complicated, that is mostly because it has developed around the idea of a ‘team’ with many people editing and commenting on a document at once. There are options to jump between changes or accept and reject changes from toolbar buttons.


That’s all fine but in the first place most people will have a ‘team’ of two people – you and another person (the ‘reviewer’). In this situation it’s fairly simple to use reviewing features:

  1. Turn Track Changes on (to make sure the reviewers changes are tracked)
  2. Send the Word document to the reviewer. Usually that’s by email these days but it can be a floppy, network share or other means.
  3. The reviewer opens the document in Word, makes changes and comments.
  4. Reviewer sends document back to you.
  5. You open the document with Final showing Markup to see all the suggested changes.
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