How to Track Changes in Google Docs

When using a word processing app like Google Docs, you may want to be able to share the document with others, allowing them to make editing changes to improve the document.

If you aren’t worried about someone making an edit change that results in a significant error, or if you don’t care who receives credit for adding the best ideas, you don’t need to track who makes which editing changes.

For most business collaborations, however, this rarely is the case. When you want to be able to see who made certain changes, you can activate the track changes Google Docs feature. We will provide the information you need to make the most of this handy feature.

How to Turn on the Track Changes Google Docs Feature

First of all, we need to clear up some confusion about the track changes Google Docs feature, as Google actually calls it Suggesting.

Microsoft calls this feature in its Word app Track Changes, so Google chose not to use this same name for its Docs app, opting for Suggesting (which, admittedly, isn’t quite as descriptive as Track Changes).

In other words, if you’re looking for the Track Changes command in Google Docs, you’re going to be looking for a long time, because it doesn’t exist.

Activate Suggesting on Desktop Version

In your Google Docs web browser window, click on the pen icon in the upper right corner of the window. You’ll see a popup menu where Suggesting will be the second choice. Click on it.

When you click on Suggesting, the pen icon will change to a comments bubble icon, showing you that you’re in Suggesting (or tracking changes) mode.

If you want to stop using Suggesting, click on the comment bubble icon to open the popup menu again. Click on Editing, which will be the first choice, and the comments bubble icon will turn back into a pen icon to indicate you’re back in normal editing mode.

What Suggesting Mode Looks Like

As someone makes edits to the document in Suggesting mode, Google Docs will mark the changes in a couple of ways.

First, you’ll see the text in the document change colors. Text that you add in Suggesting mode will have a colored outline above and below it. If you delete some text, it will have a colored strike-through line over it.

Additionally, you’ll see a comment bubble on the right side of the page that lists every change you have made with the time and date. When the originator of the document is going through your editing changes in Suggesting mode, he or she can accept or reject your changes using these bubbles. The originator will click on the checkmark in the bubble to accept your changes and click on the X to reject your changes.

Accepting Multiple Changes at Once

As you may have already figured out, going through these suggested changes one by one can be extremely time consuming. After all, every time someone editing the document changes a comma, Google Docs generates a comment bubble that the document originator will have to accept or reject later.

Fortunately, you can make changes to multiple bubbles at the same time, as long as you’re accepting or rejecting all of the bubbles.

Click the Tools menu, followed by Review Suggested Edits. In the popup window, you can click Accept to allow all of the suggested edits to stand, or you can click Reject to delete all of the suggested edits and return the document to its original status.

If you’re not sure what to do, click the Show Suggested Edits menu, and you can select to preview the document as if you had accepted all of the edits or as if you had rejected all of the edits.

Perhaps the best way to use this feature occurs when you only want to reject one or two of the edits. Manually scroll through the list of comment bubbles and reject those one or two edits by clicking on the X in the bubble. Once you’ve eliminated those bubbles, you then can choose to accept all of the remaining edits through the Review Suggested Edits popup window, saving time versus clicking the checkmark in each individual bubble.

Does Google Docs Automatically Track Changes?

Although you have to manually turn on the Suggesting feature within the Google Docs app, Google does automatically track editing changes as you make them — at least in a limited manner — through the Version History feature.

Freezing the Current Version

Before you send your current document out for editing changes by others (or before you undertake a major editing process on your own), you may want to save a copy of the current version as it is. If you later decide that you’d like to reject the changes being made, you can return to the older version.

Click on the File menu in Google Docs, followed by Version History. You’ll see two options in the submenu that appears.

  • Name Current Version: With this command, you can save a copy of the file as it currently stands. Just give the file a new name in the popup box that appears and click Save. Then, should you want to return to it later after a series of editing changes, you can just open the file again and start working from this original version.
  • See Version History: If you want to return to an older version of the file, you can click on the See Version History command in the submenu. Google Docs will place a list of the past versions of the file that it has available in a pane on the right side of the window. Click on one of these versions to return to it as the active version.

Finding a Previous Version

With the See Version History command, you’ll see any versions of the file that you saved using the Name Current Version command. You’ll also see some random versions that Google Docs has saved from time to time as you’re working. In the list, you’ll see the date and time Google Docs created this archived version of the file.

The downside to selecting one of these random archived versions is that you will not know exactly what editing changes you’re rejecting. You can make an educated guess based on the time and date of the archived file as to what changes you’ll be rejecting, but you won’t know for certain until you closely examine the file.

Using Suggesting Mode to Go Back

As discussed earlier, when someone makes editing changes in Suggesting mode, you have the ability to go back and accept or reject those suggested edits. Technically, this means you could reject all of the suggested edits, which would return you to the version of the document you had before the other person made the editing changes.

How to Print or Download Tracked Changes

Because the changes each person makes when Suggesting mode is active will appear in the comments section of the Google Docs file, being able to print these comments will give you an archived copy of the changes made to the file. This may be helpful in certain settings, such as when it’s important to have an exact record of the revisions made to the file.

If you’d like to print a copy of your Google Docs file with the changes and comments as part of the file, unfortunately, Google does not allow this to happen natively in the Google Docs app. The comments and markups of the editing changes are not part of the actual Google Docs file. Think of them as a layer over the top that is separate from the actual file.

However, you can try a couple of tricks to make the changes appear in the printout or downloaded file.

Export to Word

Although it may seem silly to export your Google Docs file into Microsoft Word, this is one way to make a printout with the comments attached.

Click the File menu in Google Docs, followed by Download. In the submenu, click Microsoft Word. In the Chrome web browser, the copy of the downloaded file will appear as a box at the bottom of the browser. Click on it to open it in Word.

You’ll be able to see the comments and changes marked in the file in Word. To print the file with comments and changes visible, click the File menu in Word, followed by Print. If you don’t see the comments appear in the Print Preview window, click on Print All Pages under the Settings area. Make sure Print Markup has a checkmark next to it.

It won’t look exactly like it does in the Google Docs window, but you will be able to see the edits made.

Take a Screenshot

If you want to see the comments and editing changes in your Google Docs file represented in a printout or in a downloaded file exactly the way they appear on the screen, another workaround is to take a screenshot of the page. Save it as a JPEG file. Continue scrolling down and shooting screen shots until you have the entire document finished.

Then you can use a third-party app that can convert each JPEG to a PDF file to make the screen shot into a PDF. Apps are available that can merge multiple PDFs into a single PDF file, and you’ll then have an archived copy in a PDF.

Another option involves inserting the JPEG images into a blank Google Docs file, one after the other. Then click the File menu, followed by Download. Choose PDF Document from the submenu, and Google Docs will create a PDF file of your screen shots.

How to Receive Notifications When Changes Occur

If desired, you can receive an email or a message inside the browser when others make changes to the document in Suggesting mode. As the originator of the document, you then can choose to accept or reject the suggestions, as we discussed earlier.

Understand that receiving these notifications can become overwhelming, as you could receive dozens or hundreds of messages as someone works through the document, making multiple editing suggestions over a couple of hours.

To turn this notification feature on or off, go back to your Google Drive page. Click on the gear icon near the top right, followed by Settings.

Click Notifications on the right side. You’ll see check boxes for Browser and Email appear on the right side. Add a checkmark to either or both boxes to receive notifications when someone makes an editing change to your Google Docs file. To stop receiving notifications, remove checkmarks from both boxes.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira