Techniques for Editing Online: Reviewing PDFs

You can't edit a portable document file (PDF) the way you can a word-processing document. PDFs are like screen captures of documents—to use an overly simplistic analogy. As an editor, the best you can do is put your comments in notes and highlight the relevant text. To do so, you need the full version of Adobe Acrobat—not the Reader, which is a free download. Here's an example of a PDF with review comments and highlighting:

PDF review—be aware that this is not a copyedit. Because it's a review of student work, not all errors or instances of errors are marked, and corrections are generally not provided.

Note: Unfortunately, Adobe pulled most of these functions out of Acrobat Reader; they are now available only in the full version of Acrobat. This tutorial is based on Acrobat Reader version 4.

Adding notes to a PDF is simple:

  1. Open the review document in a separate browser window.
  2. Find the first typo, click the Notes icon, and then click in the text near the typo.
  3. Type your comment in the box, and then click the top left corner to close the note box.
  4. Notice that your mouse pointer looks like the note icon—watch out! Anywhere you click, you'll get a new note box. To get out of note-insert mode, click the hand tool.
  5. Drag the icon for the note box you just created so that it is just above and to the right of the typos.

In many cases, you'll want to highlight the text that your editing comment refers to. That's pretty easy too, although Acrobat wants to highlight whole words, not parts of words:

  1. Find the fragment sentence in the text following the typo.
  2. Click the highlighter icon (or press U).
  3. Find the exact point at which you want to start the highlight (the beginning of the fragment), click and drag to the end of the text you want to highlight, and release.
  4. Click the hand icon (or press the H key) to get Acrobat out of highlighting mode; otherwise you'll highlight all over the place!

In some cases, you'll work over the same PDF with other reviewers—for example, a technical reviewer. When you do, you'll need to make your notes and highlighting distinct from those of other reviewers.

Here's how to change the settings for your note boxes:

  1. In the same PDF, move to the comma-splice sentence.
  2. Start a note as you would normally by clicking the Note tool.
  3. Right-click on the Note icon, not the textbox of the note. In the dialog box, select Annotation Preferences.
  4. In the preferences dialog box, type a different name and press OK.
  5. Right-click on the note icon again, but this time select Properties.
  6. In the properties dialog, change the color to dark green.
  7. Delete this note box, and start a new one. This new note box will have the new name at the top and the new color.

To change the color of your highlighting:

  1. Click the highlighter tool and highlight some text.
  2. Right-click on the highlighted area, and type your name and select a different color.

Until you change these settings, each note you create will have that new name at the top and that different color; similarly, each highlight will use that different color.

If you edit a PDF, choose a different color for your notes and highlights, and put your name at the top of those note boxes. But when you send that edited PDF back to the writer, reset things so that the writer's note boxes and highlighting will bear her name and a different color for her.

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