Since 2014, Google Docs has allowed people to track changes while editing or collaborating on their work with others. The ability to track changes gives you more editing power in two ways. First, you can edit your own work without committing your changes, in case you or someone else wants to review them. Second, you can create a document and share it with others, and they can suggest changes to the file, which you or someone else can see and accept, reject, or further change. It makes the process of collaborating more transparent and easier to manage.
While many people refer to this functionality as Track Changes—that’s what it’s called in Microsoft Word, and it’s been around for longer there—Google calls it Suggesting. It works similarly to the feature in Microsoft Office. In fact, if you import a Google Doc into Microsoft Word or vice versa, all the tracked changes or suggestions are preserved and visible. Here’s how to use Suggesting in Google Docs.
How to Enable Suggesting Mode
If you’re writing and editing solo, or you’re suggesting changes to someone else’s work, start by enabling Suggesting mode. On desktop, look in the upper right corner of the screen for a pen icon and the word Editing. Click it, and choose Suggesting. On mobile devices, look in the settings menu, where it’s called Suggest changes. Toggle it on.
Once you’ve enabled Suggesting, your new edits appear on the page as edits rather than committed text. For example, each deletion appears as text with a strikethrough. New words you type appear in a new color (in this case green).
For every change you suggest, Google Docs creates a little summary box in the right margin that shows who suggested the change and what is it. Those summary boxes also give you and other editors the power to accept or reject the changes, which I cover in more detail later.
How Share Your Document
If you want to receive suggested changes from other people, you must first share your document and enable editing. In the upper right corner on desktop, click the blue Share button. On mobile, the option is in the settings under Share & Export. You can share the document with only people you choose or by generating a link that makes the document visible to anyone with that link.
Here’s the most important part: You must give your collaborators editing permission. Select Can Edit from the applicable option.
When your collaborators receive the document, they should check that they’re Suggesting rather than Editing so that everyone can see the changes. When teams work this way frequently, everyone will be used to seeing their edits on screen and will know immediately if Suggesting is not enabled. If people are new to tracking changes, you may need to remind them.
How to Use Comments
A common rule of editing (which everyone breaks all the time) is to never write into the document something that you wouldn’t want published. For example, never put a joke as placeholder text, and never write a comment inline. Questions and longer thoughts for discussion belong as comments. To add a comment, look for the icon in the toolbar that looks like a speech box with a plus sign in the center. Alternatively, you can highlight some text and a commenting button appears in the right margin. Click it, and you can add your comment.
Comments appear in the right margin alongside all other tracked changes. Collaborators can reply to comments, which lets you have a discussion right in the document about the changes you might make.
How to Accept, Reject, and Resolve Comments
Once all suggestions are in, whoever has the final word on the work can read through the document and accept or reject the changes.
For comments, you have an option to “resolve” each one. Resolving a comment deletes the conversation history permanently and for everyone, so be sure the matter is truly resolved before hitting that button.
What Do Other People See?
Something to keep in mind as you suggest changes and make comments on a document is what other people see if they have access to the same file. For example, unless they’ve opted out, the originating author or authors receive an email notification regarding every single suggestion you make and comment you add in near real-time. This means, if someone suggests an edit and then changes their mind, the author still sees the original suggestion via email. It’s an abomination.
I highly recommend disabling these notifications, especially if you find the editing process difficult. Rather than torment yourself with the knowledge of every little thought that crosses your editors’ minds, go to Google Drive, click the gear icon, and choose settings. Under Notifications, make sure both boxes are unchecked.
How to Use Version History
Another tool that isn’t strictly part of Suggesting but is nonetheless helpful for collaborative writing and editing is Version History.
Look under File > Version history. Two options appear: Name Current Version and See Version History.
You can use Name Current Version to save a copy of your file before you open it up to other people for editing. That way, if something goes wrong, like a collaborator forgets to turn on Suggesting, you can quickly and easily revert back to your previous draft.
The other option, See Version History, shows you previously saved versions of the file labeled by date and time. You can change the names to something more descriptive if it helps. As you look at past versions of your file, you see changes highlighted in a different color. It’s a useful tool for turning back the clock when perhaps you accepted or rejected changes and now wish you hadn’t.
How to Compare Documents
The last tool worth mentioning is a new one called Compare Documents. It’s under the Tools menu (Tools > Compare documents). With this tool, you can compare two documents to see what’s different between them. It’s handy for finding changes that were added (intentionally or otherwise) to your document, whether by you or someone else. This view can also pull up comments on the files as well.
If you collaborate with a group of people who aren’t accustomed to group editing, you can always save a draft of your work and compare it to the edited version to make sure no changes accidentally slipped by you.