Tracking Changes in Google Docs

Yesterday, Google announced the release of Add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets. One of the chief complaints a lot of people have about Google’s office programs is their limited usability; namely, the limited number of functions Docs, Sheets, and Presentations can perform.

Docs Add-ons

These Add-ons are special extensions that “plug in” to Docs and Sheets and allow you to perform functions and expand the usability of Google’s office suite programs. There isn’t anything remarkable about the Add-ons, since if you’ve played with some of the Chrome or Google Apps extensions you’ve probably seen and installed some of these already. However, the Add-ons make working with the programs much easier, since they’re organized by their compatibility with each Google program.

Installing Add-ons

To install any of the new Add-ons, you’ll need to open a Google Doc or Sheet, then click on the Add-ons and Get Add-ons button from the toolbar.

Get Add-onsGoogle Docs or Sheets will open a new window with the Add-ons library. Simply hover over your desired Add-on, then click the Free button.

Add-ons Free Button

Tracking changes comes to Google Docs

Track Changes by Letter Feed

One of the add-ons I was most excited about testing is the Track Changes utility, since I think a lot of lawyers love and use Microsoft Word’s track revisions function.

Update: Track Changes no longer appears in the add-ons list. Google replaced Track Changes with “Suggested Edits.”

Using Track Changes by Letter Feed

The Track Changes extension is fairly straightforward to use, especially if you’ve worked with Microsoft Word’s revisions tool.

First, each user must install and enable the Track Changes Add-on: Add-ons > Track Changes > Show Track Changes.

Show Track Changes

Note that Track Changes will work in a one-sided sense (only installed for one person) if you wanted only one person to run the revision. Of course, then why wouldn’t you just use Docs’ native See revision history (Ctrl + Alt + Shift + G) feature?

With Track Changes enabled, you should see a revision box appear on the right hand side of your screen.

Track Changes Revision History Box

This box will fill with summary of the change over the course of your editing.

Track Changes Summary

 

Each event or edit is associated with a notification color, but I really wish the edits also contained the user’s color (similar to Word).

You can choose not to show the changes in the summary, which means you’ll see all of the edits, but have no context for those changes.

Show Changes Closed

When you’re ready to accept (or reject) a change, simply click the green check mark (or red X). If you’re fine with all of the revisions, click the Accept All button.

Contextualize the collaborative process

I’m really falling in love with multi-user document creation in Google Docs. I recently worked with another attorney on a response to a motion for summary judgment. We created the document in Google Docs (with my new favorite font, Droid Sans). Docs’ collaborate function meant that we could see each other’s work in real-time, make changes — for me that entailed deleting a lot of “two spaces” spaces — and add comments, or thoughts to particular sections.

We weren’t locked out of the document while the other edited, and I didn’t have to run into his office, open an email attachment, or try to find the latest revision of our uselessly named document. He simply sent me a message like “check out paragraph 1 on page 2, what do you think about the argument?”, and I could respond and react in real-time. I think Track Changes would only improve our collaborative abilities. I think the real-time collaboration improved the quality of our response immensely.

I think it’s time to give Google Docs and Track Changes a real workout.

5 Responses to Tracking Changes in Google Docs

  1. Thanks for that info! I really love what Google is up to. Do you think Google Apps for Business could ever be used instead of law practice management software? I’m a new solo looking into what services I need and am debating whether a law practice management system is worth the cost.

  2. Thanks for writing this article and mentioning our add-on Jeffrey. If you have any feedback about how we can make it better for you please let us know. We are listening.

    • Just for my understanding if I share a (but I am the owner) a google sheet or document but I am the only one who has the add-on, will I seen only my revisions? Or will I also see the other persons revisions?

      I work with a large organization where some individuals have enough tech skills to work on a shared document but not enough (sadly) to figure out how to do an add-on

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.