Shh! What Do Editors Mean by ‘Silent’ Changes?


Shh! What Do Editors Mean by ‘Silent’ Changes?

With Word’s Track Changes turned on, every insertion or deletion an editor makes is visible to the author. Silent changes happen when the editor switches Track Changes off so that the author can’t see what’s been changed.

Sounds sneaky, doesn’t it?

Almost nefarious.

It’s easy to imagine authors bristling at the notion. But there’s a reason for a certain type of silent edits, and in these cases the editor is trying to help the author.

Why Make Silent Changes?

When an editor returns a manuscript, authors are often surprised by the number of edits. Tracked changes can splash red all over the page, and this can be alarming. As authors review their edited manuscript, they are faced with the task of contending with these edits.

To reduce the amount of electronic marks on the page, editors sometimes make silent changes for edits the author wouldn’t question. Not tracking these changes makes it easier for authors to see the changes they care about without getting lost in a sea of red.

Candidates for silent editing include the replacement of straight quotes with smart (curly) quotes, the movement of punctuation inside quotation marks, and the elimination of extra spaces. Editors might also make silent edits for 100 percent typos (“carts” for “cats”).

I generally only make silent edits for things like extra spaces, but I always clear this with authors beforehand so they know what kinds of changes will be done silently.

Because authors place a great deal of trust in editors, there should be no surprises. Editors need to be fully transparent with their actions, and there is no reason not to be.

Editors, after all, want to help authors, not trick them.

What About When Authors Make Silent Changes?

Depending on the arrangement, authors may want the editor to take another look at the manuscript after the authors have responded to comments and accepted or rejected changes.

Because editors feel responsible for the quality of the work, they want to be aware of any changes authors make at this point, so no typos slip through. For this reason, editors will often lock the file so that Track Changes cannot be turned off.

With all of the above in mind, I hope silent changes sound less less like a sneaky intrusion and more like a helpful part of the editing process.

About James Gallagher

James Gallagher is a copyeditor and the owner of Castle Walls Editing. For more information about how he can help with your writing projects, send email to

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