We are here to help, but editors are also on a deadline to get a manuscript as yummy as possible in the time allotted. The Microsoft Word program known as Track Changes is a dream come true for getting the work done in a timely manner on both sides of the writer/editor coin. Your publisher has probably helped introduce you to this built-in program and your editor should be helping you learn the ins and outs of using this feature to keep the progress of editing (by the editor) and revising (by the writer) running smoothly. It really is an ingenious tool for this business and using it is the best way to learn it. Here are a couple of tips for working with someone else on the same document which is all Track Changes amounts to. You may want to check with your publisher and ask if they have any particular guidelines you should follow when working with your editor and the Track Changes feature.
Begin with your own personal Track Changes playground. Create a new file in Word and type a paragraph into it. This is your testing area for learning the many advantages of the program. This shouldn’t be anything you intend to send to someone, it’s just the place you play around with settings, making changes, and generally trying out all the features of the program. Knowing what’s going on with Track Changes makes the work of revisions make more sense. Playing around with Track Changes in your manuscript is not advised. Things get lost forever that way.
1. Settings: The first basic step is to click on the Review tab at the top of the screen. About the center of the new tool bar at the top will be boxes Track Changes and Balloons with arrows pointing down that indicate drop-down menus available. Clicking Track Changes will bring up a drop-down menu of Track Changes, Change Tracking Options, and Change User Name. Play around with these options on your document. You may want to leave the default (automatic settings) or you may need to discuss option choices between you. Note, if you use a pen name for your fiction, you may want to address this and change the user name to your pen name instead of your real name which the program automatically sets.
2. Balloons: It’s clever that Microsoft called this option a balloon. It is where a new comment is created and stored so the other user can see what you thought. They start out small and skinny like a balloon without air in it and grow as words are added to the comment. There are three options in the Balloons drop-down menu and the default setting is usually “Show only comments and formatting in balloons”. Click on an option to activate it and then work in your test document to see what the balloons look like. To get a balloon, you have to first click New Comment and one will appear on the right hand side of the screen. Start typing your comments and they will appear in the balloon. Change your mind? Leave the cursor in the balloon and click Delete in the tool bar.
3. Brevity: This post is not specifically about the particulars of using Track Changes, but it had to start out that way to get us to the talking point about what should and should not go into a balloon. Both editor and author have the ability to click New Comment and write a new balloon. This is a fine place to leave small notes, ask brief questions, make a reminder, or give brief explanations. Balloons are not the place for lengthy dissertations on the difference between the use of commas in lists in MLA and Chicago style guides. Keep comments in balloons brief.
Play around with the feature, agree to settings with your document partner, and be brief when it comes to filling comment balloons. Long discussions can and should take place in the email that accompanies the document or in another style guide document.
Do you have any personal experiences you can share about comment balloons that would help us make better and better use of them?