Working with PDFs

In the same way that copy-editing is now almost exclusively done on-screen, it is now increasingly common to be asked to proofread a document on-screen, as a PDF document, instead of proofreading hard-copy. If you have never been asked to tackle a PDF document before you may have a few questions, such as,

  • What software/hardware do I need?
  • What are the differences between Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader (from a proofreader’s perspective)?
  • How do I use the tools the software provides?

PDF editing software

I have been marking up PDFs since 1999. For many years the only software that could be used to mark-up a PDF file was Adobe Acrobat; now a proofreader has a choice of software: Adobe Acrobat (Standard or Pro), Adobe Reader (, PDF-Xchange Viewer (, Foxit Reader (, Nitro Pro (, and others.

I am currently using Adobe Acrobat Pro 9, and, following a request to give a demonstration to colleagues, have begun to explore the tools that are available in Adobe Reader X/10. I have no experience of using any other PDF editors: colleagues have told me that they are happy using different PDF editors. If you are just starting to proofread PDFs, I suggest you have a look at the various programs available and pick the one that suits you and the range of tasks you expect/plan to do with it.

PDF editing hardware

‘Do I need to buy a graphics pad and pen?’ This is a question often asked when someone is contemplating proofreading a PDF for the first time.

The answer is ‘No, you can use a keyboard and mouse.’ That said, I prefer to use a graphics pad and pen–I like to use the Drawing mark-up tools and am neater if I use a pen instead of a mouse. The choice of whether to use a mouse or a pen is dependent on which you find easiest.

Differences between Adobe Acrobat Pro and Adobe Reader

As a proofreader or copy-editor planning to work on PDF files, you need to know that the mark-up tools in the full version (Acrobat) are available in Reader, but that they need to be enabled by someone with Acrobat before you can access them in Reader.

If you are working in Reader and the file has not been enabled you have access to a limited set of mark-up tools (Highlight Text and Sticky Notes).

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