How to Track Changes in Google Docs: Using the Suggest Edits Feature

How to track changes in Google Docs
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Editors rejoice! If you use Google Docs for content collaboration, your life just got a whole lot easier.

Google Docs has long been a great way for multiple people to access and revise the same document in real time — no more trading Word docs back and forth via email, always wondering if you’ve got the “latest” version or if someone’s working off a different draft than you.

But Google Docs has had one major flaw that’s kept it from being a truly awesome collaborative tool: no easy way to track changes made during the editing process.

Last spring, Google introduced a Track Changes add-on to address this need, which we reviewed and found to be overall helpful, with a few minor drawbacks. However, that add-on was short-lived, and on September 22, 2014, Google introduced a similar feature called Suggest Edits.

We’ve taken this new feature a test drive to see what it offers, and here’s what we found.

Track changes in Google Docs: Using the “Suggest Edits” feature

While Google’s new editing collaboration tool is called Suggest Edits, many writers still refer to it as Track Changes, and not just because that was the name of Google Doc’s previous editing tool. “Track Changes” is the name of Microsoft Word’s editing tracker, which many writers used long before transitioning to the more collaborative Docs.

Unlike Google Doc’s old Track Changes, which was somewhat clunky in that it required the installation of an add-on, Suggest Edits is now a built-in feature in Google Docs. That means you can use it immediately, whether you’re working on a new doc or you’ve create one from scratch.

It’s simply and easy to use. When you’re in a doc, you’ll see a button on the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says “Editing” and has a pencil icon next to it. (It’s underneath the “Comments” and “Share” buttons.)

Click this button and you’ll see a drop-down menu that allows you to switch between several modes:

  • Editing, or straight-up working on the doc, where your changes are not tracked
  • Suggesting, whereby revisions are visible via tracked changes and
  • Viewing, which allows you to see what the doc will look like in its final state

To suggest an edit, simply select Suggesting mode and make changes in the text of the doc — add words, change fonts, delete paragraphs, etc. Your changes will be highlighted and a revision box (that looks just like a comment box) will pop up next to them showing the date and time you made these changes and what specific changes were made.

If you want to add an explanation or further notes to your changes, you can “reply” to the revision box just like you’d reply to a regular Google Docs comment.

For more information on this feature, check out Google’s help page for this feature.

Pros of Google Docs’ Suggest Edits tool

Overall, I’m a huge fan of using this new tool to track changes in Google Docs. Here’s why:

Huge improvement over revision history. Before Track Changes and Suggest Edits came along, the only way you could tell which changes had been made to a Google Doc was via the less-than-stellar “revision history” setting. This allowed you to see everything that was different between your current doc and its previous versions, but you had to play compare-and-contrast to guess which specific changes had been made between versions, a tedious and imperfect process. Now you can see all changes at a glance.

Eas(ier) to use. Like most Google tools, Suggest Edits is super simple to use. Once you know where to find Suggesting mode on the navigation bar, you’re good to go. And Suggest Edits’ in-text revision boxes are much easier to scan and work with than the old Track Changes add-on, which displayed all revisions that had been made to a doc in one long sidebar you were forced to scroll through.

Easy to share and collaborate. With Word’s track changes, you still have to trade documents back and forth, updating them as you go and hoping everyone is working off the same draft. This new Google Docs feature allows you to work in the same document as your peers and view changes as they happen, keeping everyone on the same page and storing that page conveniently in the cloud where anyone can access it at any time.

You can update document users and permission levels at any time as you see fit — users you’ve given “can comment” permission can suggest edits but not approve or reject them; those with “can edit” permission can do both.

Ability to differentiate editors. Track Changes didn’t demarcate which revisions had been made by which users, which could prove troublesome if you were working with a team of people and needed to know who’d done what to your doc. Thankfully the comment-like format of Suggested Edits addressed that issue and it’s now clear to see who’s made which changes.

Added dialogue potential. Sometimes you need to explain why you’ve made a certain change, or you want to add extra comments or questions for your team to see when they’re considering your revisions. With Suggest Edits, you can make these notes right underneath your revision box, making dialogue and discussion much easier than in the old static sidebar.

Synchronization with Word docs. Still got that one guy on your team who hasn’t gotten on board with Google Docs and insists on sending you his revisions via Word attachment? Now when you convert a Word file to a Google Doc, any track changes on the Word doc will automatically be converted to suggested edits on the Google Doc.

And when that same guy takes your Google Doc and converts it back into Word? Any suggested edits are automatically converted back to tracked changes.

Cons of Google Docs’ Suggested Edits tool

No “accept all” option. It’s a minor detail in light of all of the pros, but Google still hasn’t addressed the need for an “accept all” or “reject all” option. If you’re working on a long Doc with numerous changes and you want to accept (or reject) everything a previous user suggested, you’ll still need to click through and make the accept/reject selection for each individual change.

The verdict on tracking changes in Google Docs

Google Docs’ first attempt at offering an editing feature with its Track Changes add-on had a decent amount of pros and just a few cons. But this latest feature has even more pros and only one significant con. In other words, it’s a serious step up, and a feature many editors now can’t imagine living without.

Whether you’re working with an editor on your ebook, collaborating with another writer on a series of case studies, or working with a blog management team to get content ready for publication, Suggest Edits is definitely worth checking out.

Have you used Google Docs’ new Suggest Edits feature? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This post originally ran in July 2014. We updated it so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers!

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Kelly Gurnett runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits and is growing her own freelance writing, editing and blogging empire day by day. You can follow her on Twitter and .

Cordelia Calls It Quits | @CordeliaCallsIt

Kelly Gurnett
Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing: Review

Featured resource

Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing

While it’s easy to start a freelance writing business, it’s much harder to actually run one. This guide will help your business thrive — not just survive.

Comments

  1. Tracking changes is a useful tool, no doubt, especially for collaboration. Little by little Google docs is growing up. But it still has a way to go before it matches the power of Word. Formatting and page layout manipulation for purposes of preparing downloadable PDFs could use some attention.

  2. This add-on spells a huge difference for collaborative work. I will definitely use it to facilitate work with my writing partners. In case you are in the mood to window shop for other Online Editors you can check Draft (here’s the link https://draftin.com). It could be an alternative to Google Docs.

    Thanks for introducing this to the community Kelly. It’s highly appreciated!

    Looking forward to more of your posts.

  3. Sweet, thank you so much for sharing this. I just started a new collaboration project and this new Google doc add-on will certainly make it much easier! I’ll be sure to pass on the good news.

  4. I learned something new. Thank you for this tip. I just started using Google Docs last week. My first article submission to Brazencareerist was accepted and they wanted the article written in Docs. Yikes! Luckily it was easy to learn.

  5. Hello Kelly,

    Track changes add-on app helped a lot with my work where I have to collaborate files with my team. I used hackpad before but my collaborators prefer google docs. I was doubtful at first but this add-on makes editing simpler. Thank you very much!

  6. What is the add on called I cannot find it at all!

  7. Google Docs version of Track Changes:
    Before I knew that Google didn’t track changes so you could see ALL edits and compare them AT ONE VIEWING to the original document, I made edits. Now I hear about Google having “Suggesting” mode (using the pencil icon), but I can’t get it to work on documents I worked on before I knew about his feature. Anyone know how I can compare already made edits to original docs…all done before I new about the Suggestion Mode?

  8. Marcelo Lopez says:

    I don’t know about everyone…but this “Suggests Mode” stinks. As once you “accept” change it goes into the doc, but you have NO history of ALL changes that went into a revision.

    The previous add-on worked better.

  9. AWESOME! I was hoping Track Changes would be an option. However, it appears that perhaps some of this is dated. Have they added the functionality into Google Docs itself instead of making it an add-on? I can’t find a track changes add-on in the store. Is the “Suggesting” under mode like track changes or does it just do it inherently. I do see a Revision History under File.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ryan — yes, there have been some changes since we wrote the post. Stay tuned for an update!

      (In the meantime, yes, “Suggesting” is like Track Changes, and it’s fantastic.)

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  10. Josh Berkus says:

    Given the lack of “Accept All”, and the fact that changes not accepted are unavailable in any copy of the document (either within Google Docs or by download) this feature is worse than useless. And it hasn’t been appreciably improved in the last 1.5 years.

    • I supposed it depends how you use it. I find it quite useful for many projects, like showing small tweaks I’ve made to a blog post, but if “Accept All” and downloading all changes are crucial features, then I agree it’s not the best choice.

      Do you use another tool that has those options? I’m always excited to try new programs and features.

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  11. Thanks for the article.
    I’ve never used Google docs before. But after all these updates I’m definitely want to try to work with this program.

  12. Hi,

    I’m using google sheets and I don’t see this feature. I wish you had added a screenshot from the menu where this feature is located.

    • Hi Teo, the Suggest Edits feature is in Google Docs (the word processor), not Google Sheets (the spreadsheet). If you’re looking at an open Google Doc, look in the top right-hand corner. Under the blue “Share” button, you’ll see a pencil icon and the word “Editing.” If you click it, you’ll see the options Kelly describes. Enjoy!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  13. Katie Chambers says:

    While I appreciate that google docs has this suggestions feature, I still wish as a freelance editor more people preferred I work in word track changes.

    1) You can not view the final document with all suggestions in place, but not yet accepted. This helps me when I go through and do a second read-through to not get lost in all the previous changes, but focus on potentially spotting and making new changes before submitting it to the writer to accept or reject changes. Also, it helps me spot spacing issues between periods or sentences where changes were made.

    2) Sometimes it can be hard to see which comments align with what without the nice arrows that word provides.

    Overall, it is a nice feature, but I still have to copy and paste into word, so I can view the document with all the changes in place.

    • Katie Chambers says:

      Not copy and paste into word, I meant download into word. 😀

      • I’m an editor too, and I agree (trying to find a way to hide all the suggestions is how I landed on this article). Thankfully most of my clients are OK with Word, or even OpenOffice.

        Anyway, thanks for the article. 🙂

    • Natasha says:

      Thank you Katie! That is my frustration with it too. I’m an editor and hide my markups and read through the document before I send them back to the writers so that I know what I’ve changed makes sense. Without this option, I find Google docs very frustrating.

  14. Article – love it:) especially the pros, cons and verdict.

    For google’s feature, love that they added it, really improves on the collaboration aspect. I work with copywriters and we tend to jump documents back and forth, and google docs really help here. We mostly comment on things that need changes, but tracking changes helps with seeing what it was before, so it makes a whole story.

    But have to be honest – not having “accept all” feature is a major flaw. Really don’t like clicking on 10 changes on one page…

  15. What if I don’t have the “Suggest Edits w/pencil” in the right hand corner of any of my documents. Does this mean that the Super User/Owner has not given permission to use therefore, I am unable to see it.

  16. Charlie Curcija says:

    May, 2016 and two years after this article was published, Suggested Edits still don’t have “accept all” feature. Major drawback, pointed out repeatedly, which would actually require little work from Google (i.e., all ingredients to Accept All are already there, they just need to do internal bookkeeping and go through each change automatically and accept it). Still Google has no intention of addressing it. I find it infuriating how these global behemoths become arrogant and unresponsive. “Who are the users to tell them what they want?” I guess, the only justice is that down the road it does become their ultimate downfall. I am working for an organization that has 5,000 employees but refuses to make stink out of these things, so I am powerless to “vote with my dollars”, but I sure hope that others will.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Want a guide to using this new editing feature? One of our writers has covered it for our site The Write Life: Google Docs Adds Track Changes for Editing: Here’s How to Use It. […]

  2. […] Google Docs solves this problem and more. It is free and web-based so anyone can use it. It is also highly compatible with Pages and Microsoft Word, which everyone DOES seem to use. It even integrates well with track changes. […]

  3. […] Google Docs Adds Track Changes for Editing: Here’s How to Use It – Content collaborators rejoice! Google Docs has gone the way of Microsoft Word with a collaborative editing tool that will make group editing a breeze for your team. The Write Life has the inside scoop. […]

  4. […] is my obsession but I think this might change soon until I can one day afford Scrivener. http://thewritelife.com/google-docs-adds-track-changes-editing-heres-use/ 4) This is precious. A students wrote to their favourite authors and only Kurt Vonnegut replied. […]

  5. […] purpose due to its Track Changes feature, but Google Docs recently added a similar featured called “Suggested Edits,” so now editors can take advantage of the convenience of Google Docs with the efficiency of Track […]

  6. Quora says:

    Is there a way to accept or reject all suggested edits on Google Docs?

    .Is there a way to accept or reject all suggested edits on Google Docs? No. ​ ​ > … Unfortunately, that capability currently isn’t supported in Docs. However, you could try this workaround. > 1. Download the document with all your suggested edits as…

Speak Your Mind

*