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Practical Revision Tracking in OpenOffice.org Writer

It's the easiest way to get everybody's input. By Dee-Ann LeBlanc
You need to run a procedure manual past two of your managers before it can be sent to the entire department. Both managers mark up the document and return it to you with their changes. Now you have three different copies of the document: the original, the first manager's changes, and the second manager's changes.

How do you incorporate all of these without having to print everything out and handle it visually? Later, after you produce the changed document, how do you easily see who recommended which change?

Instead, if you used your word processor's change tracking features, each manager could make his changes. After the managers sent back the altered documents, you could merge the changed documents, and easily see which changes were recommended, by whom, and when. All you have to do from there is go through and choose which changes you wanted to keep.

Which process requires fewer painkillers by the end of the day?

Now, let's add on top of this the difficulty of having to exchange documents between people using different office software. Maybe you're using the OpenOffice.org suite ? available for free for Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh OS X, Sun Solaris, and/or FreeBSD ? and the other people are using Microsoft Office. No problem. Change tracking in OpenOffice.org Writer converts cleanly into Microsoft Word change tracking, and vice versa. As long as you save your documents in Microsoft Word format, you can easily accommodate a team using both office suites.

Setting Your Contact Information
Before you begin revising anything in OpenOffice.org Writer, it is important to make sure your contact information is set in OpenOffice.org Writer. Doing so makes sure that everyone can see who made your particular revisions. To set this data, select Tools -> Options (Figure 1).

figure 1
Figure 1: The User Data dialog box, where you tell OpenOffice.org who you are.
Many of the boxes in Figure 1 are filled in with Xs. The critical fields here are the First/Last name/Initials trio. Fill in these blanks, at the very least, so everyone will be able to tell that your revisions belong to you. Once you are finished, click OK to save the information.

To set up OpenOffice.org Writer to save all documents by default in Microsoft Word format, go to Tools -> Options, select Load/Save -> General.

Then, in the Default File Format section, choose a Document Type of Text Document, and an Always Save As entry of the appropriate version of Microsoft word. Click OK to save the changes.

Activating and Customizing Revision Tracking
In order to have all changes in a document tracked by OpenOffice.org Writer, you need to tell the software to record everything that is done. To do so, select Edit -> Changes -> Record. While you are in the Edit -> Changes menu, look and see if Edit -> Changes -> Show is marked with a checkmark. If not, then while the changes will be annotated in the document, you won't be able to see them. Go back and select that option to add a checkmark if necessary.

If you work with people who aren't used to tracking their changes, it can be useful to activate tracking before you send out the document. All they have to do is make their edits. (If someone forgets to do this, don't panic. See later in this article in the section "Comparing Documents" for how you can incorporate their changes as well.) Also, you may find it useful to save an original copy of the document once you send it out. Then, if you have changes to make, make them in a duplicate copy. The pristine original may come in handy later.

Once change tracking is activated, you will notice certain things happening as you edit the document. On the far left, beyond the margin, a vertical line appears next to any line of text that has been changed. Your own changes show up in a color other than black.

You can customize the look and behavior of the tracked changes. To do so, select Tools -> Options, and then inside the dialog box select OpenOffice.org Writer -> Changes (Figure 2).

figure 2This dialog box has two major sections. The top area, Text Display, determines what tracked changes look like when you have the Show option selected. These changes are broken down into Insertions (text that you added), Deletions (text you removed), and Changed Attributes (such as bolding or styles). The two features you can customize in each option are Attributes (in this case, the formatting that is applied to the changes), and Color (whether a fixed color for all changes, or By Author, where author's changes are given a different color). Typically, you want the By Author item selected so you can see who did what.

In the Lines Changed section, you can specify where and how the mark will appear that tells you that something was changed in the line. The Mark dropdown list box lets you select where in the margins the mark should be made. Color lets you choose what color the mark should be so that it stands out.

Accepting and Rejecting Changes
In OpenOffice.org Writer, when you receive or create a marked-up document, you can continue to edit it until you are ready to finally clear out all the crazy change markings to create the finished version.

To use the change tracking management system, select Edit -> Changes -> Accept or Reject (Figure 3). Both options make a change permanent; it is no longer marked as a change. Accept keeps the change you made, and Reject reverts the text back to what it was before the change was made.

figure 3This dialog box is laid out in columns. The left column, Action, lists whether the text was inserted (Insertion), deleted (Deletion), had its format changed (Formats), or represents an altered table (Table Changes). Next, the Author column tells you who made the change, followed by the date the change was made, and whether a comment is attached.

You can add comments by selecting the text to associate the comment with, and then choosing Edit -> Changes -> Comment (Figure 4). Enter your comment in the Text box, and then click OK to save the addition. Comments added in this fashion only appear in the Accept or Reject Changes dialog box, so don't use it as general remarks about the scope of the document.
figure 4
Figure 4: The Comment dialog box, where you can add comments to revision marks.

If you know that you want to quickly accept or reject all of the changes in the document -- perhaps you've already discussed them with your manager -- then you can click the Accept All or Reject All buttons.

However, you may want to go through each one individually. To do so, select the first entry in the dialog box. That change is highlighted in the document and displayed on the screen. Clicking either Accept or Reject operates on only the change you currently have selected. You can then work your way down through the dialog box, accepting some changes, rejecting others, and ignoring some (to fuss with later).

For large documents, you may only want to look for particular types of changes. Clicking the Filter tab (Figure 5) allows you to display edits by date, author, action, or comment. For each feature you want to search on, click its checkbox to add a checkmark.
figure 5
Figure 5: The Accept or Reject Changes dialog box's Filter tab, where you can focus the list of changes displayed.

Date offers the most flexibility. You have the option of specifying changes made earlier than the specified date, since the specified date, on the specified date (equal to), not on the specified date (not equal to), between the specified dates, or since the last time the document was saved (since saving). There is also the option of using both the date and the time of day.

Once you have made your selections in the Filter tab, click the List tab to see what changes now appear in the listing. Flip back and forth between the tabs as necessary to make further changes to the filters and work with the list of revisions.

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Related Keywords:word processing, openoffice, productivity applications, linux, macintosh, windows, revision marking, editing, Sun Solaris, FreeBSD

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