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Why are my revisions visible when I send out a Word document?

When I send out a Word document to others in my organization,
they can see all the changes I’ve made. Everything I’ve deleted is struck out,
but still readable. They complain that it makes the document really hard to
read, and I’m concerned that they’re seeing possibly sensitive information. How
to I stop it from happening?

I get this all the time from one of my clients. It’s easy to turn off when
you read the document, but the fact is all your changes – the text you
deleted, perhaps over several iterations – could all still be in the document
available for anyone to read.

Even if people know how to turn it off when reading (tough many don’t), I’ll
assume you really don’t want to share your dirty laundry like that.

Let’s turn it off.

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Old, supposedly deleted, data can remain in Microsoft Word documents for two
reasons: revision tracking, and allowing fast saves.

Revision tracking is a handy feature that allows you to see
what changes were made to a document over time. It’s very valuable as the
document is being revised, and the types of changes are shared among a small
number of participants. When you’re done with your revisions, though, you want to publish your final
version, without all the changes being included.

Revision tracking, or “Track Changes” as it’s called in recent versions of
Word, is controlled by the Reviewing toolbar:

Word's Reviewing Toolbar

This may also appear as a toolbar near the top of your Microsoft Word
window. Since you’re having this problem, you probably have Track
Changes
turned on, as indicated by the button that’s depressed on that toolbar.
You probably also have the display setting on this toolbar set to
Final, as it is in the image above, since that doesn’t show
you the changes even though it continues to track them.

When reading a document with revisions, make sure that the display setting
on the reviewing toolbar is set to Final to simply read the
final document, or Final with Revisions, to see the document
and all its changes. “Final with Revisions” happens to be the default, so
that’s what your readers are probably seeing.

To remove the change history from your document, press the drop-down arrow
next to the Accept Change button on the reviewing toolbar:

Accept All Changed Menu

And then click on Accept All Changes In Document. Now save
your document, and the history of changes will no longer be part of the
document, and you can safely share it with others.

Fast Save is a feature that was intended to make saving
large documents faster. The technique simply writes the changes to the end
of the “.doc” file, without taking the time to write out a completely new copy.
Within Word, you’d never see the difference, and wouldn’t know that this is
taking place.

There are two problems: the document’s “.doc” file on disk only gets larger
as more and more changes are made, and deleted text may still appear within
that file.

That later item has caused great embarrassment for some, since it’s possible
to see that text you thought was deleted, using tools other than Word
itself.

My advice – turn off fast save. In Tools,
Options, click on the Save tab:

Word Save Options Dialog

Uncheck the Allow fast saves, if it is
checked. Now, when Word saves your document, it will write a fresh copy of the
entire document to disk, without any hidden surprises like text you thought you
deleted.

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7 comments on “Why are my revisions visible when I send out a Word document?”

  1. I am reformatting a document that was sent to me by someone who had been using track changes. I told her to accept all changes and make sure she turned off the track changes feature before she saved the document. She assured me that she did that.

    When I opened the document the tracked changes were turned off. I also removed the option under Tools and Options — Editing tab “Keep track of formatting,” yet it is still tracking some of the changes. It is mainly tracking formatting each time I use the Draw Table feature to split cells in a table.

    What is wrong? Please help.

    Reply
  2. I also do not have the option to accept changes as the function is greyed out. Any help with this would be appreciated. Thanks

    Reply
  3. Regarding the question from several commentors about why the “accept changes” function is greyed out, the document may be protected. Go to Tools, Options and the Security tab to see if there is an option to “unprotect” the document. Click on it. If a password box pops up, the author has sent you a “protected” document. Changes you make in a “protected” document most likely will be revealed to the author when you return it to him/her, including the date and time you made each change. If you are concerned about protecting this sensitive information in your revised document, copy and paste the entire document sent to you into a new document. Be sure that tracked changes is turned off in the new document before pasting what you copied into it. If you then want to turn on track changes in your new document, you can turn it on and the functions that were greyed out in the original document should now be available. If you do turn tracked changes on in your new document, consider whether you want the person to whom you are sending the revised document to see the date and time of your changes. If not, go to Tools, Options and the View tab and be sure that “Screen Tips” is unchecked so that the date and time information bubbles are not automatically displayed as your mouse rolls over changed text. (This still may not protect all sensitive information.) Heed Leo’s caution about turning off the auto fast save option in the Tools-Options-Save tab. Before you send the document back, consider whether you want to protect it, or scrub it depending on whether you have a scrubber tool and the scrubber’s options and capabilities.

    Reply
  4. Leo directed me here after I asked a very similar question, and I found his description very useful 🙂
    I’d managed to accidentally turn on the tracker, not noticed, and was then stuck with the red ‘modifications’ every time I opened the document.
    I just needed to accept all the changes, and everything went back to normal again. As a bonus, it halved the size of what was a considerably large document to begin with.

    Reply

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