Don’t let the marked-up text distract you: Using tracked changes when working with an editor

Don’t let the marked-up text distract you: Using tracked changes when working with an editor

decorative image of a bunch of red pencils

When someone edits your work, it’s not nice to get the document back all marked up in red. Here are two ways you can try to minimize the distraction of tracked changes.

When you get your edited file back, you might be shocked to see it look like this:

Three paragraphs of gibberish with a lot of tracked changes in red.
Three (nonsense) paragraphs with a lot of tracked changes in red. (Ah, I also introduced a spelling error there…!)

You have, after all, created this work, and to have another person meddle with it can be daunting.

But don’t let the red discourage you. It doesn’t mean that your editor was making a mess of your work or that your paper was terrible.

[Updated 14 December 2022: TIP 3 was added.]

The redness is deceptive

How much red you see doesn’t reflect how “good” the paper is. There are a lot of corrections that are not about your writing skills.

For example, many edits are

  • mechanical fixes, like unifying the spelling into US or British English or replacing, for example, “eg.” with “e.g.”
  • fairly simple ones, like switching around the order of a few words in a sentence or moving part of a paragraph to after a figure instead of before.
Gibberish text showing only mechanical fixes only. The tracked changes make the text look highly corrected.
This is a paragraph (of nonsense) where -zed/-zation spellings were changed to -sed/-sation, a dashed word was changed to one word (e.g., “policy-maker” –> “policymaker”), and “United States” was replaced with “US.” It looks like a lot was fixed, but no real editing was done.

Of course, knowing this doesn’t make it much easier to see a work that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort to prepare come back covered in marks.

Three tricks to avoid getting distracted by the red

If all this mark-up irritates you or throws you off (or you just don’t know what to do with all the tracked changes), here are some things you could ask the editor to do to lessen the amount of red on the page.

TIP 1: Ask the editor to make the small changes “silently”

  • “Silently” means without tracked changes.
  • You decide what kind of changes the editor may make silently. For example:
Punctuation“only one space after periods”
“use double quotation marks and put the punctuation inside”
“use em dashes with no spaces around them”
“serial commas”
Spelling“UK spelling with -ize/-ization”
“unify to healthcare, not health care” (or better yet, “unify spellings listed in the style sheet”)
Formatting“Headings should be maximum capitals: Watch This Space”
“Table titles should be bolded, minimum capitals: Table 1 Population in this town, 1990”
Hint: All these points would be in your style sheet…so do make one!

These are mostly mechanical changes that will not change the meaning of your text.

Having a style sheet will help. In a style sheet, you can specify the standard spelling, punctuation, and formatting scheme that you and the editor will follow.

When returning the edited document to you, the editor should give you a list of the universal changes that were made silently.

TIP 2: Ask for a “clean” copy and review that

Along with the file with tracked changes, ask for another clean copy, with no tracked changes. Review the clean copy so you can get a sense of the more polished version without being distracted by all the red.

Let the editor leave in their comments/queries in the clean version. That way, they can bring your attention to issues that need your decisions and clarifications.

** CAUTION with multiple copies**

Having multiple copies of files makes it easy to work on the wrong version. Take care that you are using the latest one, especially if you’re going back and forth with your editor. (You could, for example, make sure you consistently add the date to the filename or put the older versions away in a separate folder.)

You will have your own preferences on what you need to see and what you want to be kept invisible. Make sure to tell your editor at the outset what you want, so that you can finalize your writing efficiently and hopefully without feeling too aggravated 🙂

TIP 3: Change the display color of tracked changes

Editors often wish we could change the color that you see the tracked changes. The default red markup is so aggressive…! Well, we can’t change it for you but you can. Try changing the colors in Word so it might look a little less intimidating.

Here’s how to change the colors of Word tracked changes (it’s quite easy).

Do you have any other tips? Please leave a comment!

If you would like to discuss whether we might be a good fit for your scholarly writing project, please send me details via the contact form or email me at

Cover image by Lucas Wendt via Pixabay

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Working with an editor: Creating a gentler view of tracked changes | The Clarity Editor

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