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!