Sometimes having a record of what changed in a document is useful—perhaps you want to easily rescind your edits. More commonly these days, multiple people will work in a single shared file, and so knowing who offered suggestions makes discussing them easier.
The visual result looks similar to how changes used to get marked on physical paper, once upon a time. For example, delete a section, and it gets formatted as strikethrough text in a different color.
To enable this visible history, most text editors offer the ability to track changes. The Google Docs version is called Suggesting mode. It’s simple and quick to jump into, with a streamlined set of options that are easy to master.
How to start tracking changes in Google Docs
Unlike other text editors, Google Docs doesn’t tuck Suggesting mode in the Edit or Tools menu. Instead, look in the upper-right hand of your screen. Under the area with the blue Share button and your account avatar, there should be a light-blue drop-down menu showing a pencil icon and the word Editing. (You may see just the blue pencil icon if your window is small.)
By default, all documents start in Editing mode, where any change immediately becomes a permanent part of the file. Click on that drop-down menu to switch over to Suggesting mode.
Now every change (formatting, deletions, insertions, etc.) will be marked in a distinct color, with an accompanying comment box along the right-hand side of the document. Google Docs takes a more collaborative approach to tracked changes, so you can have full running discussions about a particular edit in each of those comments.
How to invite others to make suggestions in a Google Doc
Your document must be shared with someone before they can edit it. Begin by going to File > Share or clicking on the blue Share button in the upper right. Then fill out their email address and add it to the sharing list.
A drop-down menu for permissions should now appear next to their name. The default is Editing mode, so to switch over Suggesting mode, choose Commenting from the menu. If you already shared the document in Editing mode, just re-open the sharing menu. Click on that permissions drop-down, change to Suggesting mode, and then hit Save.
How to update suggested text
As mentioned above, changes to a document show in a different color. You can later edit them as usual, and as much as you like. However, be aware that any alterations you make to your own suggested text aren’t tracked—only when you’re working on someone else’s.
How to accept or reject suggested text
Switching between Editing and Suggesting mode does not automatically accept or reject changes. You must review them manually for the final document to reflect the updates.
To accept or reject individual changes, click on its comment box. Then click on the checkmark icon to accept the change, or on the X icon to reject it.
If you’ve reached a point where you know you want to accept or reject all changes, you can do so quickly by heading to Tools > Review suggested edits. A white pop-up box will appear in the upper-right of the window. Click on either the Accept All or Reject All button. Before accepting all changes, you can use the pop-up box’s up and down arrows to review each individual edit and verify each is one that you want to integrate.
If you’ve accidentally hit the wrong button, you can undo any mistaken clicks by pressing CTRL + Z on your keyboard or going to Edit > Undo.
How to view the original document
Sometimes you want to see what the initial text looked like, before all the suggestions were made. You can do this quickly by going to that drop-down menu under the Share button and choosing Viewing mode. Google Docs describes this mode as one where you can read the final document—that’s because suggested text is not considered to be part of the file until the change accepted.
An alternative method is navigating to Tools > Review suggested edits. In the white pop-up box that now shows in the upper-right of the screen, choose Preview “Reject All” from the drop-down menu.
How to preview the document with all suggested edits accepted
Sometimes you may want to see what the document looks like with all suggestions accepted as part of the final file, especially when edits get wild and it’s hard to make out the final result.
Head to Tools > Review suggested edits to make a white pop-up box appear in the upper-right, then choose Preview “Accept All” from the drop-down menu within the white pop-up box now in the upper-right.
Tracked changes in Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word
Suggesting mode in Google Docs is similar to the web version of Microsoft Word, but several key differences exist.
Google Docs’ Suggested mode applies to anyone working in the document. In the web version of Microsoft Word, you can choose to track changes for everyone or only just you.
Viewing mode for Google Docs shows you the document without any of the suggested changes implemented. That same mode in the online version of Microsoft Word shows a preview of the document with all changes accepted.
Google Docs allows you to view the original text, without any suggestions incorporated. No such view seems to exist in Microsoft Word online.
The web version of Microsoft Word does not allow you to accept all or reject all changes in one go.
As for how Google Docs compares to the desktop version of Microsoft Word, the latter offers more features when tracking changes:
The ability to edit the document with track changes on, but with none of the markup showing. (The view is essentially set to a preview of all changes accepted)
A simplified markup view
A reviewing pane that shows all changes in a streamlined format
The ability to view only specific kinds of changes (various formatting, text changes, etc.)—the others can be temporarily hidden
If you need something closer to desktop Microsoft Word’s level of granularity, consider downloading LibreOffice as a free alternative.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.