This one missing feature makes Office 365 useless for copywriters

November 24, 2015 •
Why Office 365 is useless for copywriters

I really wanted to like Office 365.

I’m a Word power user; I’ve used it as a professional writer and a tinkering geek for 20+ years, doing a lot more than just writing (e.g. fields, macros, templates, styles, etc. to automate proposals). Stuff like this…

I still think it’s the best word processor out there.

So when I decided I needed to be more mobile – to be able to work anywhere – my first thought was Office 365 + OneDrive. Unfortunately, despite being a long-time Word fan, I was in for a big disappointment.

There were quite a few things about the online version of Word that I didn’t like; I don’t remember all the specifics, it just felt way too stripped down. But there was one problem in particular that I simply couldn’t get around…

The online version of Word doesn’t have Track Changes!

It’s hard to illustrate the absence of a feature (and even harder when I no longer have access to the product!), but here’s a screenshot of an article that discusses it:

Why Word online is useless for copywriters

WHAT THE ACTUAL…?! How can any self-respecting word processor not have a track changes feature?

This omission/removal is completely bizarre. (I even find it bizarre that the article above calls it an “advanced feature”!)

In fact, I found it so bizarre that I thought I must have missed it the first time I trialled it. And the second. I ended up trialling Office 365 twice, and also Googling the problem, in case it was just me being a goose.

But it wasn’t. The feature isn’t there.

You can still track changes – but only in the installed version

To be fair, you and your clients can still track changes in a single version of a document, but not in the online editor. You can only do it through the installed version of Word. And for me that defeats the purpose of having an online version in the first place. I want to be able to work from anywhere, not just from anywhere with the latest version of Word installed.

Plus the track changes workflow is complex and unintuitive. According to this Microsoft video tutorial, you have to instruct your reviewers to turn on Track Changes* (so you’re relying on them to do it), and you can only see their highlighted changes at your end in the installed version of Word. And only after you next click Save (why not immediately?)!

As far as I could tell from my testing and the above tutorial, there’s no way to use Track Changes in the online editor.

Why track changes is critical to me as a copywriter

Outside of its basic word-processing functionality, Track Changes is probably Word’s single most important feature. When I write copy for my clients, I send it to them and ask for feedback. When using Word, I used to say:

“You can call or email me with your changes, or you can edit the document directly if you like. I have Word’s Track Changes feature turned on, so I can easily see your changes. (No need to use a different colour.)”

Without a (usable) Track Changes feature, it’s just not practical to do this, because there’s no way I can see their changes.

Hello Google Docs

So that was it for me. That was when I decided to give Google Drive / Google Docs a go. And I’m happy to say I haven’t looked back, especially after transitioning to a Chromebook as my main work computer. (More on that here: Using Google Drive and a Chromebook to run my freelance copywriting business.)

Docs is definitely not the word processor Word is, but I actually like most of its review features better than Word’s Track Changes. And given how stripped back the online version of Word is, Google Docs stacks up really well. The things it lacks, I was able to work around with add-ons and by changing the way I do things.

To be honest, the loss of Word hasn’t had any meaningful impact on my business at all. (And I still have Word on my desktop PC, so I can use that if a client insist on using Word.)

Indeed, the far biggest issue for me hasn’t been Google Docs at all, but Google Drive. And it’s something stupidly simple: it doesn’t have a ‘Save As’ feature, nor does it have a proper template capability. This makes file management really cumbersome. (More on that here too…)

But, serious as that is, it doesn’t even come close to Word’s lack of Track Changes.

Do you use Word or Track Changes with your clients?

Most of the copywriters I know use Word, and I’ve always assumed they use Track Changes too. But I’ve never really asked. So now I am. Do you use it with your copywriting clients?

* I haven’t tested the workflow in the Microsoft video tutorial, and I would have thought you could simply turn on Track Changes before sending the file to your reviewers, as you can in earlier versions of Word.

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Camilla Jones wrote on November 24th, 2015

I use Open Office because Office 365 did my nut. I still use it for email because Gmail, err, well, just decided to NOT deliver incoming mail for HOURS - for MONTHS, no less - for no apparent reason, other than "that happens sometimes". They're impossible to get any support from. All that's floating round in cyberspace are desperate forums posts from hoards of people who don't know whether people have stopped talking to them or their mail exchange is properly knackered. Wow. I didn't realise how bitter I was about that. Hehee!

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comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on November 24th, 2015

Does Open Office have any sort of cloud storage / online collaboration functionality? I've been using gmail for years now, and never had any issues with it. Sounds like you got very unlucky! :-(

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comment avatar
James wrote on December 9th, 2015

I save my Open Office files in a Dropbox folder and that gives me cloud storage and online collaboration functionality

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comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on December 9th, 2015

Hey James. I tried using Dropbox (actually their Business offering) and I didn't like it. Partly because it forced me to change my existing file structure to put everything inside the Dropbox folder (which I didn't want to do at the time, but have obviously since done with Drive), and partly because DB deleted some of our files without warning, authority or any involvement from us. Open Office also doesn't help me on the Chromebook because I can't install programs on it. Plus when I used it, there were compatibility issues with Word, and most of my clients use Word. They weren't usually huge - clients were still able to open and edit files, and vice-versa. It was more things like fonts, spacing, image alignment, etc.

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