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

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

Since its emergence in 2014, Google Docs’ Suggest Edits feature has had editors everywhere rejoicing because of its almost-seamless ability to make content collaboration a whole lot easier. 

That wasn’t the case at first, though. Initially, Google Docs dropped a track changes add-on that came with a few quirks and kinks that needed to be ironed out, making the editing process more clunky than desired. 

Within the last few years, however, the process of tracking changes in Google Docs has immensely approved. It’s since been a great way for multiple people to access and revise the same document in real-time without the frustration of wondering if you’ve got the “latest” version or if someone’s working off a different draft than you — I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word. 

If you still feel burned from Google Docs track changes and haven’t taken the fairly new (and ever-evolving) Suggest Edits feature for a ride to see how it’s been updated, we’ve taken several trips for you, and here’s what we found.

How to 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 created one from scratch.

It’s simple and easy to use. When you’re in a doc, you’ll see a pencil icon button on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. (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.

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 all the changes are highlighted individually and you can see them all 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.

“Accept all” option. This long-awaited feature is finally here, and it’s as useful as it was anticipated to be. If you’re working on a Doc with numerous changes and you want to accept or reject everything a previous user suggested, hit the “Tools” button on your toolbar, then select “Review Suggested Edits” from the drop-down menu. From there, you can either accept or reject all, or even make your selections individually from the neat pop-up box without having to scroll through the page.

Ability to preview your suggested changes. Remember when Google Docs Track Changes required you to accept/reject each individual change if you wanted to see the final product? Those days are finally long gone. (Thanks, Google!) While you’re in “Tools” > “Review Suggested Edits,” you have three options you’ll see in a drop-down menu: “Show Suggested Edits,” “Preview ‘Accept All’,” or “Preview ‘Reject All’.” Preview the accepted version and edit a clean page that doesn’t contain highlighted or crossed out text everywhere. Your eyes will thank you.

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.

Manage your suggestions. Sometimes you need to share a document with multiple clients or other users, but only some of them have editing privileges. You can update document users and permission levels as often as you’d like and 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; and the “can view” permission prohibits users from making any changes to the document.

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 in 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.

Mobile access. It used to be that you needed an actual computer to take advantage of prevalent Doc functions, but not anymore. Gotta edit and track changes on-the-go? No problem! Whether you’re #TeamAndroid or #TeamiPhone, all you need is the Google Docs app to suggest edits, accept/reject edits, add comments, share the document with others and more. At the top right-hand corner of your screen, you’ll see three black dots. When you click that option, a drop-down menu will reveal all of the editing options you can access.

Cons of Google Docs’ Suggested Edits tool

You need to plan ahead for offline use. A big difference between Microsoft Word and Google Docs is accessibility. If it’s installed on your computer, you can access and edit a Word document just about anywhere. Google, on the other hand, requires a bit more finagling. Working on a Google Doc without setting up offline access means your work won’t save automatically and you’ll lose all of it. To avoid this sticky situation, set up your offline access beforehand, or only set it up for certain Drive files. 

You lose access to edits once you accept them. Before you reject or accept all suggested edits, make sure you’re absolutely sure, because there’s no going back (…ish). Once you implement changes into your document, they’ll disappear from your revision history and you won’t be able to access them under “Review Suggested Edits.” Though, all hope is not lost. Here are two silver linings that weren’t available with Google Docs Track Changes:

  1. Alternatively, you can click the comment box icon (next to “Share”) to see all the suggested edits and comments in one place. It’s not the greatest view, but it’s better than losing access to all the suggested edits entirely.
  2. Say you’re doing a final edit of a document whose owner has already edited the copy under the “Suggesting” mode, and you go through accepting/rejecting each one. While the edits disappear from your revision history, it doesn’t from theirs! Since you’re not the document owner, your final decision isn’t so… well, final. 

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 two cons that come with solutions. 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’ Suggest Edits feature? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Craft

43 comments

  • David U says:

    There’s one feature I really want, that others have not commented on, which is the ability to make changes to the document without seeing the changes at all while you work on the document. Sure, google docs let’s you switch views, so you can see a version of the document without edits. But, I like to work on my writing without the distraction of seeing all the edits. If someone thinks this is possible in google docs, please let me know.

  • A Craig says:

    When I copy an edited document, all the “suggest edit” marks disappear. Any suggestion?

  • N. Gray says:

    I miss Word’s ability to see what the final version of the doc will look like with edits. That allows you to proof your work while you’re making edits. It’s impossible to proof with all the suggestions markups.

  • 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.

  • Kathryn says:

    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.

  • Ratko says:

    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…

  • 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.

    • BC says:

      Actually yes, you can do this. While in Suggesting Mode, go to “Tools”, “Review Suggested Edits”, and select “Preview Accept All” from the drop down.

  • Teo says:

    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

  • Pimion says:

    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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Suzan says:

    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?

  • Anastasia says:

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

  • Maji says:

    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!

  • Sylvia says:

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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