How to Track Changes in Google Docs

- Written by Puneet

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Knowing how to track changes in Google Docs can be a lifesaver for most professionals. Think of sending a contract to your distributor.

You will most often have to revise it a few times before they sign the final draft. To avoid this back-and-forth, share an editable contract with them where you track the changes and suggestions they make.

Only when both parties are okay with and accept the suggestions and modifications can you send over the final copy of the contract for their signature? This will save you a lot of time and headaches.

It is also super helpful for content marketing teams. If the scriptwriter suggests a change to the script, the DOP, the videographer, and the content creator can all keep up with the changes, note the suggestions, and implement the changes in their respective workflows. Yes, collaborative work teams can benefit hugely from this feature.

Using Suggesting Mode in Google Docs to Track Changes

If you have previously worked on Microsoft Word, you must be familiar with using the Track Changes feature, especially if you have experience on collaborative projects with multiple team members. The suggesting mode in Google Docs is very similar.

Whatever edits you make will be presented as suggestions on your document that others can review to accept or reject.

Here is how you can track changes in Google Docs using the suggestion mode:

  1. First, head over to the Google Docs document you want to edit.
  2. Once your document is open, go to the top right corner and locate the editing button. It looks like a pencil icon with a small upward arrow right by it.
    changes-in-google-docs
  3. When you locate this icon, click on it, and you will be presented with three options. Out of the three options, click on ‘Suggesting.’
    on-suggesting

When you do that, the icon will change from a pencil to a speech bubble with lines inside the box. When you see this change in the icon, you know the ‘Suggesting’ mode has been activated. This step will enable the suggesting mode.

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Then, you can freely start editing the document you are working on. If you add any text, it will turn green in color, and any text you delete will have a strikethrough mark.

edit-the-document

The best part about this is that there will be an accompanying comment box every time you add a suggestion. You can add your thoughts and references to back up your suggestion.

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Any team member who has editing access to the document, including you, can accept or reject the suggestion. It’s quite simple to do this.

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On the comment box on the screen where the suggestion is inserted, you will see two icons- a tick and a cross. Click on the tick to accept the change and on the cross to reject it.

Making Use of the Review Version History Option to Track Changes in Google Docs

The previous method is helpful when you want to see the changes your teammates suggest and whether your team lead accepts or rejects them.

The Version History option on Google Docs helps you see edits and provides more advanced features. Before we go to that, let me show you how you can access the version history of a document:

  1. Start with opening the Google Docs document that you would like to review.
  2. Once opened, go to the ‘File’ option on the top menu bar and click on it. A drop-down menu will appear when you do that. Scroll down towards the end of this menu and hover over the ‘Version history’ option.
  3. When you hover over this Option, another drop-down menu appears. On this menu, click on the ‘See version history’ Option.
    rsion-history-option
  4. As you click on this Option, a panel will open on the right side of your screen.

This panel contains information about the changes made to the document. You can view your edit history and track the changes to the exact date and time.

Towards the panel’s upper right corner, you will see a small box with a downward arrow on the right side. Click on it to see two options: ‘All versions’ and ‘Named versions.’ Select the one that best suits your needs.

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Naming Versions in Google Docs

‘Named versions’ make tracking changes in earlier versions even easier. Naming the versions can be super helpful to make the editing process more systematic. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Go to the ‘Files’ tab on the top menu bar again and scroll down to the ‘Version history option.’ Hover over the Option, and a drop-down menu will appear. This time, click on ‘Name current version.’
    -versions
  2. A dialog box will then appear. Type in the name you want for your version and click ‘Save.’
    name-you-want-for-version

Next time you see your version history, the version name will be displayed on the right panel.

Restoring a Previous Version on Google Docs

This is a very useful feature when you are working on long collaborative projects that are often subject to modification.

You might have scarped off earlier drafts and crafted new ones, only to be informed that your client wants to proceed with the first plan you shared.

This great tool can help you go back to a draft you created months ago in under a minute. Here’s how:

  1. Open the ‘Version history’ panel on the right side of the screen, following the steps I have already discussed.
  2. Once the panel is open, select the version you want to restore. Then, at the top left of the document, you will see a blue box with the word ‘Restore this version’ written. Click on it, and your document will return to that version.
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Note that version history will show you the changes made in your document over a particular period. All the edits that were made will be highlighted. And the best part is that you can see the names of the collaborators who made the changes.

This is particularly helpful when working as a Team Lead, and you need to know exactly who suggested what and made what edits. You can see earlier drafts to reference the new changes, compare them, and see which one you like better.

Putting the Google Docs Comments Feature to Best Use

The comments feature is another way to track and suggest changes in your work (mainly when working on collaborative projects).

You can always use the track changes and the comments feature to make the editing process more seamless. The comments feature lets you directly suggest changes without altering the main text.

Let’s see how you can put it to best use:

  1. Start with opening the doc on which you want to add comments as feedback or for clarification.
  2. Then, highlight the specific portion of text on the document that you want to comment on. You can do this by clicking and dragging the cursor over the text.
  3. Once you do that, you will notice a few icons appearing on the right side of the highlighted text. Click on the ‘Add comment’ option, which looks like a speech box with a plus sign.
    omments-option
  4. If you don’t see it, there’s another way to do it. After you highlight the text, go to the ‘Insert’ tab on the top menu bar and click on it. A drop-down menu will then appear. Scroll down, and you will see the Comment option. Click on it.
    nt-option
  5.  Now, you will see a comment box appearing right next to your highlighted text. Type in your writing and click ‘Comment’ to post it.
    nt-box-apprearing-right-next-to-highlighted-text

Alternatively, you can use keyboard shortcuts to add comments in Google Docs. If you are operating on a Windows device, press ‘Ctrl+Alt+M.’ If you are working on a Mac, you need to press Command + Option + M.

It is essential to remember that not all team members can add comments. Those with viewing access cannot comment on a document; only those with comment and edit permission can.

Once your comments are resolved, they will no longer appear in the document. But if you wish to track the resolved comments and understand why certain changes were made to the document, you can click on the Comment icon at the top right corner of the page to see the comment history of a document.

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Set Up Notifications and Alerts to Track Changes in Google Docs

When you are working on an urgent project with a deadline coming close, you can use the notifications and alerts feature in Google Docs to stay up-to-date on what changes are made to your document. This helps ensure you can address an edit or a comment as soon as possible. Here’s how you can switch on the alert:

  1. Start by opening the document on which you want to set the alert.
  2. Next, go to the ‘Tools’ tab on the top menu bar and click on it. A drop-down menu will appear. Select the ‘Notifications settings’ on this drop-down menu.
    ication-and-alerts-to-track-changes
  3. After doing that, a dialog box with multiple options will appear on the screen. Tick the options that best suit your requirements. Then click on ‘OK’ to apply the changes.
    -ok-to-apply-changes

The best thing about using this feature is that you will be notified by email about the changes you make, so you won’t have to open your document constantly to see what changes have been made.

Best Practices to Follow When Tracking Changes in Google Docs

There’s no denying that tracking changes is a super helpful feature that collaborative work teams can make the most of in Google Docs. But when using it, there are a few things that you should keep in mind to make the most of it.

1. Share Access the Right Way

When you work as a team, you might not want to give everyone on the team the same access. If you want to give someone commenting access, share and add their email addresses as commentators, not give them editing access.

Giving editing access to all team members might lead to chaotic situations. It should only remain with people who are the decision-makers in the team. Everyone else can add in their bits as commentators. It all depends on what your requirements are.

2. Start with Establishing a Guideline

Once you have shared access permission with the collaborators, you must also set a working guideline. From the get-go, set clear roles and responsibilities for each collaborator so there’s no expectation mismatch.

This would include outlining major things like:

  • When suggestions should be made
  • By what time should they be reviewed
  • Who makes the final call

Also, it is best to avoid consistent formatting when adding comments and suggestions. This is especially true if you are cross-working with a team from a different company. Maintaining a consistent voice and tone will help you reflect the company values.

Conclusion

Tracking changes is essential, but it is also important to understand how to bypass the one major problem it can bring.

Suppose you are working as a team on a collaborative document with multiple suggestions added by your team members and quite a few comments added by your team lead, which directly reflects the inner workings of your company.

Now, if you are planning to send such a document file to a client, then STOP! Do not send the File immediately or add your client as a collaborator; they can view all the changes.

Instead, make a new copy and send that as the final doc. Go to File > Make a copy > Add file name > Click on Make a Copy. This way, you will have a new file without any edit history to share with your client.