Tips and tricks: showing off your mark-up in PDFs (May 2018)

by Margie Beilharz

One of the funny things about working as an editor is that often you are not sure how familiar your author or client is with some of the software and techniques we tend to take for granted. Even editors vary in how familiar with are with features in Word, like styles, macros and templates. And I’m constantly amazed at the imaginative ways editors and others mark up PDFs. 

Last week, for example, an author couldn’t see my comments in a Word document with Track Changes until I pasted them right into the text and highlighted them – clearly not something you’d want to do for a document of any length. As this was just a quick, one-off piece I didn’t delve further into what they knew (or didn’t know) about Track Changes in Word. But perhaps they weren’t using Word, or perhaps they were using a device that presents documents quite differently from what I am used to.

I don’t have a quick solution to that problem in Word beyond communicating with the client, and perhaps educating them in how to use Track Changes. But I do have a PDF mark-up tip.

I use the Comment > Annotations tools (these are in Acrobat and Adobe Reader), which can be quite subtle compared to mark-up done as text in great big balloons or using thick red arrows. Occasionally, a designer on a project will miss a surprising number of my edits – I think this is because they are just scanning the page for the mark-up to leap out at them. In a big two-page spread, a little deletion or insertion is easily missed.

The first thing is to know is that you can see a list of the comments on the right-hand side (under the useful heading: Comment). Each mark-up has an associated comment in the list, which also shows any associated text. Here’s a mock-up showing a few different types of edits:

 pdf comments

Once you see that comment list, you are much less likely to miss any mark-up. As you go through, you can even tick off comments you’ve dealt with. But if you send off a marked up document that you have edited, you can’t be sure that the recipient will open up that comment list. (As I say, I’ve worked with designers who haven’t known about it.)

In Adobe Acrobat, you can make sure they see the comment list by creating a comment summary (see options for Adobe Reader below). This is available under the options menu item on the right:

 pdf commentoptions2

You can choose the layout of your comment summary, which is produced in a new PDF:

comment summary layouts

Here’s an example of the first option (document and comments with connector lines on separate pages), which is probably the layout that makes mark-up the most obvious:


With a content summary like this, you give your client the mark-up in a format that makes each little correction obvious, regardless of their settings.

If you want to make sure all your mark-up is seen, I think that will do the job.

You can find out more about comment summaries online:   

And you can investigate printing comments, which is a way of achieving a similar outcome that also works in Adobe Reader:  

Margie Beilharz is Editors Victoria's communication officer and newsletter editor. She's a freelance editor, writer and science communicator at The Open Desk.