#142 MS Word for Archaeologists Part 1: Track Changes

Just about every archaeologist needs to know how to use Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, no one is teaching us how to use it. I’ve seen way too many people fumble through trying to use this program and just end up wasting time. Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether you should even use MS Word, as opposed to some other word processing program. For example, I use Apple’s Pages whenever I can. The fact is, most companies use MS Word. They may not be using the most current version of Word, but, they are using it.

142 Word Logo.jpeg

So, I decided to start a new series called Word for Archaeologists and I’m going to start with a discussion about track changes. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Now, I hope no one decides to unsubscribe because of this series. The use of MS Word is an important skill for every archaeologist. I’ve seen it on the many CVs and it’s even on mine. When you demonstrate to your new employer that you can finish a word processing task much quicker, more efficiently, and cleaner than anyone else you will be considered a valuable asset to any company. Of course, you might end up being the person people go to for questions about the program and therefore not get any work done. It’s a burden that you can bare with pride.

For the purposes of this series I’m using Word for Mac 2011. It’s set up a little different than the latest versions of Word for Windows but the options are all the same. I’m sure you can figure out where your particular options are located.

Track Changes

OK. Why track changes? Most documents in an office environment—whether you are in a traditional “old school” office or a modern “cloud” office, similar to those run by the fantastic new company, DIGTECH!—are worked on by more than one person. The old way to track changes was to just save the file with a different name. I worked for a company just a few years ago that was still doing this. The typical file name was miles long and contained five people’s initials! That’s no way to organize a file system. In fact, many companies have well organized file cabinets with projects, field notes, and whatever else they have all organized for easy access. Take a look at their server and it looks like the ghost in the machine had a party and forgot to clean up. Treat your server folders like you would your file cabinets and you’ll be happier and more organized in the end.

Turning on Track Changes and Choosing Options

On my version of Word (Word for Mac 2011) the Track Changes are under the Review tab on the Ribbon. You can probably get to it from the file menu on some versions. The Mac version has a simple on/off switch. Check your track changes when you open a document for the first time to ensure it’s switched on.

142 Ribbon.png

The reason some people don’t like track changes is because they can really clutter up a screen. You can fix that by choosing the tracking options. Regardless of the version you are using there are usually four options:

  • Final Showing Markup
  • Final
  • Original Showing Markup
  • Original

If you’re working on a collaborative document then you’ll likely be working with “Final” selected. You won’t see any markup notes but you’ll see the most recent version of the document. Selecting “Original” will show you the freshly typed words of the original document. If you are creating a new document then you’ll see the same thing as selecting “Final” would show. Selecting “Original Showing Markup” shows all the changes that have been made to the original document with the markups. Original text that was changed will have a line through it.

Understanding Track Changes

Once you’ve created a document and made changes–or someone else made changes–you should be able to see those changes reflected in the Reviewing Pane. Turning on “Final” or “Original Showing Markup” will highlight the changes and display who made the change and what change they made off in the right margin. You’ll also see comments that were made by other users. To leave a comment, highlight the text and click on the comment button (often skeumorphically designed to look like a post-it note). This is useful for suggesting that someone rephrase a sentence or paragraph. You can highlight a single character or the entire document. If multiple people are working on the document their names or initials will be in uniquely colored comment boxes.

Track Changes in action.
Track Changes in action.

What to do when you've received comments and changes

You’ll notice that the changes and comments have check boxes on them. Those are used to acknowledge the change. The reviewer will know that you’ve addressed the problem and fixed it. You can also reject a change which will revert the text back to the original. In the Ribbon you can choose to “Accept All Changes” or “Reject All Changes”. You won’t be able to see the changes or comments again so use those buttons wisely.

More Options

Depending on your version of Word there will also be an area or button where you can choose what you see. In my version I can select one or more of the following:

  • Comments
  • Insertions and Deletions
  • Formatting
  • Markup Area Highlight
  • Or anything from a single reviewer

These options are handy when a large document has been reviewed or altered by many people. The changes and comments from even one reviewer can get cluttered and overwhelming in a hurry.


Well, that should get you started. There are more options and ways to customize reviewing and track changes. One more thing: on some systems the comments and reviewing pane font can be extremely small. I don’t know why this happens but it’s frustrating. To fix this, open the Styles menu and look for any styles with Comments in the label. You should be able to change the point size of the font by modifying that style.

What's a style you say? Well, check the next installment of Word for Archaeologists and find out.

UPDATE: Here's the post on Styles

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the comments pane!