Friday 5 October 2007

MS Word tutorial 1: Adding ‘comments’

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of tutorials on exploiting the teaching / learning potential of some of the more common desktop applications like MS Word. Like many people I’m a regular user of this application and it’s probably the one I use most, with the exception of my web browser.

Despite the amount of time I have spent using it, I’m often surprised to discover another useful toolbar or technique that I can use to make life easier or my teaching more effective.

This first tutorial shows how to use the ‘comments’ feature that can be found on the ‘Reviewing’ toolbar.

The ‘comments’ feature allows you to add comments to the text of a document. These comments don’t appear in the text itself, but can be seen on screen whenever you hover the cursor over the part of the text that the comment refers to.

To find out how it works, Watch a tutorial (450k Flash movie)

What I like about it
  • This tool enables me to start a dialogue with my students about their work on the actual work itself, without interfering with the flow of the text. I’ve tried using tracking before and found that it can soon become a real mess, so nowadays I much prefer to use this ‘comments’ feature.
  • It doesn’t add greatly to the file size so you can email documents back and forth as you review and re –review them with your students.
  • It’s an ideal tool for encouraging a ‘Process writing’ approach, as students don’t have to re-write their compositions every time they need to change it.

A few ideas for using it with students
  • You can use it to add explanations of difficult words
  • Students can add translations or explanations to words within the text
  • You can comment on students’ work and suggest improvements, or better still they can use it to comment on each other’s work.
  • You can add questions to a text at very precise points. These could be comprehension questions that you would like to ask, or could be questions about a text they have produced which encourage them to write more or add further detail or description
  • You could simply use it for error correction or to point out weaknesses in the text.
  • You could build up dialogue with students about the text, by adding questions to it or asking students to add questions and then reply etc.

None of the ideas above are exactly revolutionary and they could all be done with pen and paper. The advantage though, that I have found, of using this method on a computer is that students seem much more willing to go back and revise work if it doesn’t involve rewriting text. After all the real process of writing that we want to develop and aid is the act of creation, not the physical process of forming letters.

If anyone else uses this feature in other ways, I’d love to hear about your ideas.




Carl Dowse said...

Hi Nik,

Just wanted to say that your blog is really a great source of ideas.

I wondering if you could explain how to set up your blog posts, as you do, so that you can direct people to specific posts - i.e. when I provide my URL at the moment, I can only direct people to the blog as a whole not to specific posts.

Anyway, keep up the terrific work and maybe we'll bump into each other in SL one day!


Nik Peachey said...

Hi Carl

Glad you like the blog and find it useful. To answer your Q about getting specific URLs for each posting. To do this you need to go into the blogger settings and within archiving, you need to enable archiving (I have mine set to monthly and after 'Enable Post Pages' set it to yes. That way each posting will have its own individual page.

Hope that makes sense.


Auntie Web said...

Hi Nik,
Thanks for your really useful posts! What do you think about Google Docs and Spreadsheets (the former Writely)? Do you have tips for using that for teaching?

Nik Peachey said...

I've only recently started looking at Google Spreadsheets and haven't looked much at Google docs. Maybe something for a post next month!!??

Will see what I can do.



Anonymous said...

Hi Nik
Great demo.
Did you know that you can do something similar in Excel too. If you right click a cell you can insert comment. It then puts a little red triangle at the top right of the cell.
When the student hovers over the cell they can read your comment.
This is also really useful for students to be able to annotate their own work to explain what it shows.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for the feedback. Yes I did know you could add comments on Excel, but that's about as much as I do know. I'm not too great at Excel. I only really use it to keep track of my accounts ( a loathsome task). I have seen some amazing stuff done with it though. I once saw some really nice multiple choice quizzes that gave feedback on wrong answers and even a text reconstruction activity. I've just never had the time or necessity to get round it properly. One day may be.

Thanks again



Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Nik. I'd just like to say that your demo uses Word 97, which is different from later versions, in which you have to open the Reviewing toolbar, choose Show and then Ballons and then select Never. This will make sure the comment only comes up when you hover over it.

I investigated the use of MS Word for reviewing and marking quite extensively in my computer project for my MSc in Multimedia a few years ago. You can download the report from my website at:

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Marc,

Yes this feature has turned out to be riddled with complications! I used Word 97, because that's what I've got (haven't updated for quite a while) so thanks for the comments. It was really a hard decision about whether to use Word at all, whether to go for a newer copy. In the end you always have to upset someone. So, rather selfishly, I used what was easier for me. May nip out and by a newer copy though as it is about time I guess.



Anonymous said...

With which program did you make the presentation?

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