Technical Editing Tip: Reviewing and Marking Up PDFs

March 24, 2023 Breanne MacDonald

In my last blog post, I talked about using the Track Changes function in Microsoft Word to show your edits when reviewing documents. Did you know you can also mark up PDFs in a similar manner? 

Reviewing a document as a PDF is a bit different than reviewing a document in a program like Microsoft Word, though similar tools exist depending on your program. I use Adobe Acrobat, so that is what I’ll be speaking to today.  

Adding Comments 

The main difference between tracking edits in Adobe vs in Word is that, unlike in Word, the author/publisher won’t be accepting or rejecting the changes directly in the PDF. Instead, you make comments in the PDF using the tools found in the Comment section, and they will have to transfer the changes to whatever word processing/publishing program they are using. Keeping this in mind, you will want to make your changes as clear, understandable, and identifiable as possible. 

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Though the edits are made as comments rather than changes, the Annotations tools function similarly to the track edits in Word. You can use the Insert text at cursor and Strikethrough tools to indicate where you want text to be inserted or deleted. Deleted text will appear with a red strikethrough (same as Word), but inserted text will only be indicated by a blue caret. Adobe also has an Add Note to Replace Text tool, which marks the text to be replaced with a blue strikethrough and indicates the insertion with a blue caret. To see what text is being inserted, reviewers need to hover over the markup or find the change in the Comments List. 


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An Alternative Option 

Another option in Adobe is to use the Add sticky note and Highlight text tools instead. While these tools can be less precise (the sticky note in particular can shift as it's not tied directly to the text), they can be easier to spot within a document. The Highlight text tool can be used to highlight the relevant section of text, then the change can be explained in the corresponding pop-up note (access this either by selecting the highlight in the Comments List, double-clicking on the highlight, or right-clicking on the highlight and selecting Open Pop-Up Note). Using this tool does require that you explain the change, rather than just striking it out or typing the replacement text, as you have to indicate both what you want done and what the new text (if applicable) is. 

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There are also Drawing Markups tools available, which let you add text boxes and shapes or draw free form annotations using the pencil. These can be useful if you are requesting layout changes in addition to edits in the text. 

Just Be Clear 

Both ways of marking up text have pros and cons, so choose the one that makes the most sense for you. If you’re working with a team or have a specific person who inputs the changes, be sure to check with them which method they prefer – at the end of the day, they are the ones who need to interpret your changes correctly to update the source documents. Remember, no matter which tools you use, the most important thing is to be as clear as possible so that other people understand what changes are being requested. 

I hope this blog inspires you to explore the Comment tools available to you when reviewing PDFs in Adobe Acrobat! 

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is an avid volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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