Are you still proofreading on paper? More and more clients are looking to do away with the printing and couriering costs associated with paper proofs and are asking proofreaders to mark up changes in PDF. Editor, trainer, and volunteer extraordinaire Adrienne Montgomerie showed us how to do this with the tools in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Her handout from her session is here, and she’s also compiled a Storify of her session here. Both of these resources are probably more useful than this write-up, but I still wanted to share some of my main takeaways from the talk.
Acrobat (the Standard and Pro versions, which you have to pay for) does have an “edit” function, but that lets you make changes directly to the document. What we’re talking about here is mark-up: using the program’s drawing or annotation tools to mark up changes that have to be made to the native file. Because PDFs are a fixed format that look the same to everyone, they’re ideal for marking up not only proofs of print materials but also websites, presentations, YouTube videos, and anything else you can capture in a screen shot.
Montgomerie uses a stylus and a Wacom tablet, which some people may find more intuitive than a traditional mouse for marking up a proof. “I prefer PDFs to paper,” she said, “because I can blow up the proof to any size. I can move my marks and resize them. I can right-click on my marks and change their properties, including weight and colour.”
“I use in blue in my mark-up,” she continued, “because I think it’s less threatening.”
Two main ways of adding mark-up to a PDF are to use either the drawing tools, where you essentially use an e-pencil to directly emulate the proofreading mark-up you’d make on paper, or Acrobat’s own annotation tools (Comment & Markup), which track your insertions, deletions, replacements, and highlights. Drawing tools are especially handy for marking up graphic novels and screen shots, where the text may not be recognizable. Be aware that for layered text, text selection for the annotation tools isn’t perfect; sometimes Acrobat chooses the wrong layer.
You can add clarifications or instructions to the designer using the Callout tool. Before sending the proof back, you can run a spell check on all of your text boxes; designers can then copy and paste that text into the source file rather than risk introducing errors by rekeying.
Different designers have different preferences, so ask your clients what they’d prefer. Whichever method you choose, all of your changes will be logged in Acrobat’s Comments List. The Comments List is excellent for quality control (especially because some of the annotation mark-up can be hard to see):
Through the Comment & Markup tools, you can also “Attach a File as a Comment,” which is useful for long inserts. Sometimes clients won’t notice these files, though, so Montgomerie will often send them as email attachments as well.
If you’re using the drawing tools, you can make your life easier by creating or downloading a set of stamps that have your most common proofreading marks. Each stamp comes up as one comment, so if you have a caret (^) plus a hyphen (=), say, the designer doesn’t have to wade through both marks as separate comments. (Mind you, if you manage to draw both in quick succession, Acrobat may recognize them as a single mark as well.)
Under the Select & Zoom tools is the Snapshot tool, which lets you isolate a portion of your page. You can also use it to print (File » Print » Print Selection/Selected Graphic) just those isolated sections—handy if you have a tabloid document but a letter-sized printer, for example.
I wondered if anyone had ever used Annotations for Adobe InDesign, which is a plugin that lets a designer accept or reject annotation changes that a proofreader has marked up in a PDF. Nobody in the room seemed to have used it, and I’m still curious about it. (Maybe InCopy has obviated this tool, but not everyone wants to buy or subscribe to InCopy.)
This interview also appears on The Editors’ Weekly, the Editors’ Association of Canada’s official blog.
A friend of mine was venting to me about his old boss, who used to look over his reports. Whenever his boss found an error, he’d not only circle it but also emphasize his discovery with an exclamation point—a practice that drove my buddy nuts. Encoded within this tiny mark of punctuation was his micromanaging boss’s chiding disapproval: “HEY! THERE’S A MISTAKE RIGHT HERE! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
I was relating this story to my good friend Naomi MacDougall, an award-winning designer, and she told me she once had to work with a proofreader whose markup she found “overly aggressive.” We both had a good laugh about that, but the conversation got me thinking: Whereas most of us have switched to editing on screen, a lot of us still proof on hard copy, and our markup is often the only communication we have with a designer, whom we may not know and may never meet. It’s a bit of a weird working relationship—more distant than others in the publication production chain. How can we be sure that our markup isn’t inadvertently pissing off the designer? I asked Naomi to sit down for an interview to talk about some of these issues.
IC: When you mentioned that a proofreader you’d worked with had “overly aggressive markup,” what did you mean by that? What did the proofreader do that rubbed you the wrong way?
NM: Mostly it was the use of all caps and lots of exclamation points at the end of every note. It made me feel as though I was being yelled at. The tone of the markup put me on the defensive.
IC: Are there other things proofreaders have done that you wish they wouldn’t do?
NM: There have been times when the markup hasn’t been clear, and obviously that’s tricky. It’s frustrating to have to sit there and puzzle over what a letter is. Also, occasionally, I feel like the markup has left too much for interpretation. Because we’re often going through these changes quickly, I don’t want to have to be deciphering code.
On the flip side, if something is very obvious in the markup—like if a letter is dropped or a word inserted into a sentence—then you don’t have to spell it out again by rewriting the sentence in the margin. But when there are lots of moving words and punctuation marks in a sentence, it’s really helpful if the proofreader rewrites the sentence in the margin.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d like as much clarity as possible in markup. I’m intelligent, but I’m not a mind reader.
IC: When there’s a problem like a bad break or a widow, would you prefer that the proofreader just point out the problem so that you can find a solution, or would you rather the proofreader suggest a fix?
NM: That’s a good question. In most cases I would say just point out the problem, unless it’s obvious it’s going to be very tricky to fix—then it’s hugely appreciated when the proofreader suggests a fix, especially if it involves cutting or inserting words.
IC: What’s your preference when there are more extensive passages of text that need to be inserted? How long would an insert have to be before it’s better to send you new text in an email rather than writing it in the margin for you to rekey?
NM: I would say I’d want new text for anything longer than one sentence or two short sentences. There’s just more room for error when I have to type a bunch of text. And if you’re moving more than, say, four words around in a sentence, just rewrite the sentence and have me retype it. It takes less time than moving all those words around and making sure they’re all in the right place.
IC: I think you were telling me earlier that different proofreaders approach word substitutions differently. Some mark a word as deleted and then add a caret to show that a word in the margin should be inserted, whereas others just cross out the word in the proof and write its replacement in the margin, without the caret.
NM: Yes, I like the caret. I find it clearer.
IC: It’s a visual cue for the designer to look in the margin.
NM: Exactly. It takes out that second of guesswork.
IC: Which can really add up!
IC: Is there anything else proofreaders do that you really appreciate?
NM: I always appreciate a neat printer, and I always appreciate it when a proofreader uses a bright ink, like red or purple or anything that stands out against the type. Often I’m scanning a page quickly, and if the markup is in pencil or black or blue pen, I tend to miss more of the changes. They don’t jump off the page as easily, so I have to take more time to look at each page closely.
Also, I really appreciate it when the proofreader suggests a global change at the beginning of document if a word is misspelled throughout. It’s so much quicker for me to search and replace these in one go. But I also like it when these words are highlighted in the text so that I can double-check that the change was made and check for reflow, since, during a global change, there’s always the potential for a line to break differently.
IC: Do you ever return communication on the proofs? What kinds of things to you say to the proofreader?
NM: Not often, but if I do it’s almost always a note that a change can’t be made because of reflow issues—mostly to do with hyphenation. And occasionally I’ll make note of a design style that overrules a type change.
IC: We’ve focused on hard-copy markup so far. Any thoughts about proofreaders working on PDF?
NM: I know in some instances I’ve missed smaller fixes in PDFs, like a change to one letter or a punctuation change, because they’ll just show up as tiny, tiny marks, and they’re easy to miss even in the full list of changes. If you click on the markup and add a short comment to it, though, it pops up as a little box, so it jumps out.
PDFs are great for shorter publications; I can copy and paste the text right out of the markup boxes, so that makes my life easy! But for a big book, hard copy is preferable. Having to go back and forth between windows on the computer is the issue.
IC: How much does it annoy designers when we make a change on first proofs and reverse it on second?
NM: It’s not usually a big deal—unless it’s a complete change from Canadian to U.S. spelling throughout, say. If that ping-pongs, then it can get annoying—though I’m sure it is for everyone involved! In that case a note about global changes is hugely appreciated.
IC: What can a proofreader do to ensure that the relationship with the designer is as collegial and productive as it can be, given that it’s such a bizarre, arms-length interaction?
NM: If markup is done professionally, then the relationship will be smooth. Just be clear, be thorough, and print neatly… and no all-caps yelling!
IC: Yes! I think those are all of my questions. Do you have anything to add?
NM: Just that I appreciate how much work goes into a thorough proofread, and I don’t know how you all do it! Sometimes your hawk eyes blow my mind!