4 things you wish tracked changes could do

Like millions of other writers and editors, I rely on MS Word. My employer uses Office 2003; at home, I have Office 2010. The alterations in tracked changes and comments between these two editions amount to cosmetics and presentation; the big change seems to be placing the reviewing pane on the left by default now, instead of at the bottom.

If they’d really like to make changes and comments more powerful, I have a few modest suggestions.

Addressable Comments – “Address” in the sense of recipient, not in the sense of resolutions. (Although sometimes I wonder if the author will ever address the comments I give!) I often have comments for a co-editor, the primary author, and the reviewer all in one editing pass. How cool would it be for each of them to see only the comments addressed to them? Word always knows who on the network has a file open, so the data is already there. It would be similar to Google+ circles, with each comment tagged for one or more others, or for everyone. You could even leave comments just to yourself. Right click > reviewers > check boxes.

Tagged insertions and deletions – Insertions and deletions can be simple spelling, punctuation, and grammar corrections; cross-reference field insertions; rewording of a Yoda-esque sentence; or a wholesale rewrite of a paragraph in fluent Engineering-ese. Wouldn’t it be great if these changes looked different on-screen? Someone completing a technical reading wouldn’t have to step through pages of comma insertions, style updates, and rearrange your words, we did. Right click > Tags > (list) would make this a snap to implement.

Assignable reviewer colors – Some high-profile or high page-count documents I’ve worked on had as many as eighteen different authors, commenters, and editors. Word runs out of colors and starts repeating them, and some of them are really hard to read in the first place (silver?). I’d love to have all the comments from Engineering in blue, all the comments from Industrial Safety in green, everything from the primar author in red, and Publications staff changes in purple. Word lets me either choose one color for everybody, or relinquish control to what is in all likelihood the same chunk of code that makes my Excel charts those godawful colors.

Fine-grained control over “balloons” – You can tell when a new feature in Word bombs with users: it’s introduced with much fanfare in Version a, still available – albeit in a toolbar that isn’t Standard or Formatting – in version b, and is accessible only through Customize > Commands tab > All Commands in version c. (Anyone else remember the Spike?) Using balloons for tracked changes was supposed to make reviewing simpler, showing you the deleted text, formatting, and comments in the margin and giving you the final version in the main text. Except it shrank the page, fouled up margins, tables, and images, and ran out of room fast if there were a lot of changes. Plus, it was ugly. So by 2003, balloons could be turned off completely, or used only for comments and formatting. I’d rather have a box where I can check yes or no on balloons at a much more detailed level. No for underline, italics, or bold, but yes for styles. No for bullets, yes for outline numbering.

What nonexistent feature would you like to have in Word?


One thought on “4 things you wish tracked changes could do

  1. You mentioned the ability to view only certain types of changes. I’d like an easy way to globally accept certain changes… say those from a certain reviewer, editor, or department… or a specific type of change like punctuation, spelling, and capitalization corrections.

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