Basic PDF Mark-Up for Copy Editors and Proofreaders

[Update Jan 10, 2013: added demo video using Acrobat Reader XI — short URL to this post: ] 

I never see paper anymore. Manuscripts are developed in Word, much to my chagrin. When the book goes to layout, I get page proofs in PDF form. The markup I do is in Adobe Acrobat (or Reader), which I love. I have a stylus, which I love. And my computer has a big-ass screen, search, and undo. Actual-size paper just cannot compete with that.


ITPM has beautiful layout and inspiring travel stories. You'll get lost in there. Best hide your air miles card whilst you read.

The next post shows how to mark up a PDF using stylus and stamps in Adobe Acrobat Pro9.


First, learn the traditional proofreader’s marks, especially if you work in publishing. That industry is not ready to leave those behind. Even the Annotations tools in Acrobat Reader XI largely mimic these marks.

Next, make the Comment pane visible. Click the wordComment  in the upper right corner of the screen, or select “Comment > Annotations” from the View menu.

This 2 minute video demonstrates marking up a PDF using tools in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader XI. Three helpful tools are mentioned below. More detail is found in the next post.


As you work more with markup in the full Acrobat programs, keep customizing your toolbars with the features you use most often. (Right-click a grey area of the toolbar, and select “more tools” to open a list of all the options. Checkmark tools you want shown.) Toolbar customization is not available in the free Reader version.

Three Tools

One of the difficulties in marking up PDFs is making traditional proofreader’s (or copy editor’s) marks with a regular old mouse. It can be done; even done well. Or, you can try a stylus, stamps, or the text edit/ annotation tools:

  • A stylus will let you e-write naturally. These run between $70 and $400. I have one made for artists — the $400 end of the spectrum. I love it even though it is seriously underused. A stylus can also be a sound ergonomic choice. — Read my update and reviews.



  • Stamps can be used to place ready-made proofreader’s marks on your document. These include the insert and delete marks as well as a slew of standard marginal annotations. You can make your own marks for stamps, or download sets from sources such as the international copyediting-L (a.k.a. the celery). Go to the “Resources” tab, then look under the Miscellaneous heading for Diana Stirling’s zip of editing marks in red and black. Louise Harnby has also made a set of the UK-standard marks.

Skip to the new video demo of making

The Best Essay Writing Service -

and importing custom proofreader stamps in free Adobe (Acrobat) Reader XI.

You can also use the dynamic stamps that are built into Acrobat to mark pages as approved, revised, and such. These are nice big stamps that won’t be mistaken for page elements. They are especially useful in the final stages, to show that you checked a page and did or did not make any easy-to-miss niggly little changes.

As I searched for existing tutorials to illustrate these tips, I realized that what we line editors do is not the most common application of Acrobat. The program is capable of so much more! So, because the tips got rather long, and I find there is more to explain, I’ve turned this post into a series. In the next instalment, we will explore key markup techniques.

See all posts in this category.

The next post in this series about PDF markup has step-by-step instruction on marking up PDFs. I think it’s the most useful post in the series, save for the stamps in this post.

The post after that examines Acrobat’s own text markup tools similar to Word’s Track Changes, which Adobe calledAnnotationsfrom version XI onward.

Then I look at how to use two clicks to make Acrobat create a checklist of changes that can both help clients find the markup and serve as a quality control checklist.

And remember that video demo mentioned earlier: making and importing custom proofreader stamps.

You’ll also be interested in a much newer post reviewing six low-cost alternatives to Acrobat that will, nonetheless, let you do all of this markup.

And if you’re having trouble finding the markup tools, this may be why.

Keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet for Acrobat DC on Mac and PC.



The sample markup nonsense has been done on a spread from Indie Travel Podcast Magazine, made possible through a CC license. Beautiful looking magazine, interesting reads, and inspiring places.



Let it be known, Acrobat is capable of actually changing the text in a PDF, so it would be possible to just fix the typos and do other tweaks — even to make major-ish changes. However, most clients provide line editors with a PDF to protect their original production file and/or because the editor doesn’t have access to Quark, InDesign, SMART Notebook, or whatever program the designers used. What the client expects of a line editor is that she will mark up the alts so that the production department can make the changes to the original file. The tips in this series will not actually edit a PDF, but will mark changes onto a PDF.

If PDF is the final file format, you can do entirely more amazing things. Check the Adobe learning centre for tutorials.

Category: Copywriting

Similar articles: