Do you do most of your writing in Google Docs?
From collaboration to easily checking word count in Google docs to its Suggest Edits feature, many writers rave about this free word processing software. (Here at The Write Life, we’re big fans of Google docs!)
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 improved. 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 haven’t taken the 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
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
The mode you’re currently in will appear next to the pencil icon.
To suggest an edit, simply select Suggesting mode and make changes in the text of the doc — add words, change fonts, add subheadings, 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 long gone. 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 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.
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.
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’ track changes
While there are many pros to using Google doc’ track changes feature, there are a few minor cons to consider.
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:
- 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.
- 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 the product keeps improving, and 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