Word and the anonymous commentator

Christopher Breen
14 October, 2008
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Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature is invaluable when working on a document with many people, but an option to keep your personal information from being shared is a great way to wreak havoc with the process. Turn it on, and all tracked changes and comments will be attributed to “Author” instead of the people who made the changes.

The security setting in question is designed to strip the document of personal information. It is available by opening Word’s preferences, clicking the Security preference, and enabling the Remove Personal Information From This File On Save option.

When you enable that option and save the document, the option is as good as its Word and does exactly what it suggests—it strips out all the names associated with changes and comments and replaces them with a generic “Author.” In the process it also removes the date and time stamp from those changes and makes each change and comment the same color.

Secure though it may be, enabling this option can wreak all kinds of havoc as the loss of the author names and the date and time stamps makes it impossible to trace changes and comments back to their source. Invoke the option and the electronic “paper trail” is gone.

It’s for this reason that it takes some work to do this. The option’s not on by default and when it’s switched on, it applies only to the active document. Switch to a different document and open that Security preference and you’ll discover that the option is disabled.

If the loss of this information has proven to be more than a little inconvenient for you, contact the person who last had the document and ask if they have an earlier version that they can update without switching on this option. During that conversation you might also stress that enabling an option like this is a decision best left to the last person tasked with touching a document.

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