Annotating Word Documents: The Quick Guide

A few posts ago, we showed you some simple ways to annotate a PDF proof so that your designer can see and respond to each of your comments. But before that brochure or white paper was laid out and a PDF delivered to your inbox, you might have been using Word to proof the content.

Microsoft Word isn’t the only word processing program out there, but it’s certainly the most popular, and the one your computer is likely to come with. Other programs like OpenOffice use very similar markup systems, so, for now, we’re just going to focus on annotating your documents in Word. (We’ll get to Google Docs later.)

The Ins and Outs of Microsoft Word

Note: At the moment, we use Microsoft Office 365, which comes with Word 2013. The annotation features have existed in the last few software generations, although they have moved a bit – so even if you have an old version of Word, you should be able to access the same functions.


Whether you’re reviewing text or actually editing it, the comment tool is your new best friend. You’ll find it (along with several other tools) up in the Review tab.


To make a comment, highlight the portion of the text you want to comment on, and click the “New Comment” button. A comment box will appear on the right-hand side of the screen with your name and whatever text you choose to input. Other users can reply to this comment by clicking the “reply” button, which looks like a piece of paper with a small arrow on it.


Once you’re done with a comment, you’ll want to delete it, especially if it was used solely for internal review. To do this, just click on the comment, then click the “Delete Comment” button, and voila! The entire chain will disappear. You can also click the drop-down arrow on this button, and select “Delete All Comments in Document” to make cleanup a little faster.


Finally, you can toggle comments on and off with the “Show Comments” button. When comments are toggled off, a little speech-bubble will appear on the side of the document wherever a comment has been placed.

Tracking Changes

This feature is amazing, especially if you’re proofreading someone else’s document or collaborating on a piece with several features. To turn on tracking just click on the “Track Changes” drop-down in the Review tab, and make sure that the tracking option is checked.


Now, whenever you make a change to the document, that change will be logged. You can choose which changes to track by expanding the Track Changes window and selecting items to track individually.


Each change is marked by a red line on the left side of the document. When you click this line, your changes will appear in red within the text. When you click the line again, the changes collapse, allowing you to type freely in the current version of the text.


To hide the changes altogether, click the small dropdown menu in the “Track Changes” section and select “No Markup.” Changes tracked will still be there, but won’t be visible unless you change this setting.


Highlighters: How and When to Use Them

Word also has a highlighter function, found under the Home tab. To use it, simply select the text you want to highlight, then click the highlighter icon and choose a color. You can also remove colors by selecting the text and choosing “Stop Highlighting.”


It’s easy to go overboard with the highlighter tool and forget to use the other markup features. In general, you should use the tool to:

  • Point out areas that need to be edited in this version of the document (especially if you’re working from a template).
  • Highlight an area that you changed, but forgot to use Track Changes for.
  • Bring a certain part of the text to an editor’s attention.

But you shouldn’t use the highlighter tool:

  • In place of comments. The biggest offender here is highlighting text, then typing your notes in the document itself instead of just using a comment to achieve the same function.
  • All over the document. If everything is highlighted, then the color loses its purpose.

Bonus Tool: Compare and Combine Versions

Have you and your co-worker accidentally been working on a different version of the same document? With this handy-dandy tool, you can quickly find out where the differences are and combine them.


To do this, click the “Compare” button and choose “Compare Versions” from the drop-down menu. You will then be prompted to select the two different versions of the document.


Once you’ve done so, a new document will appear with all the differences noted.


If you want to combine two versions, just choose the “Combine Versions” option instead. You’ll get the same prompt to select two documents. However, this time the different changes will be consolidated in an easier to edit fashion.

Stay tuned for our next installment: reviewing and editing Google Docs!

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