Tips for proofreading PDFs
These days, it's not uncommon to be asked to edit and proofread onscreen. If you're editing in Word, all well and good; you can amend the text directly. If you're tackling designed page proofs, you'll probably be working on a PDF.
The PDF editor's onboard markup tool is one option. Using custom stamps is another, and that's what I'll be exploring today.
Why use customized stamps?
Even in the standard versions of most PDF editors (as opposed to their freely available readers), the tools can be restrictive. For me, punctuation errors are a major problem – I feel that insertion and deletion tools for punctuation marks (and even single letters) are often ambiguous, with the highlight or strike-out line appearing to ‘spread’ further on the page than would be the case on a paper mark-up.
About the stamps …
I created a set of customized stamps that can be imported into my PDF editing software (I have both PDF-XChange and Acrobat).
The stamps are based on the current BSI proofreading symbols and once downloaded can be imprinted onto the page, giving the proof the appearance of its paper cousin.
No more clunky comments and digital sticky notes, and say goodbye to ambiguous highlighting. Now you can keep the comment boxes in reserve for queries to your author or in-house editor.
The following is a sample of just a few of my stamps.
Which software is compatible?
I’ve tested the stamps on Adobe Acrobat (standard version) and PDF-XChange and can confirm that they can be imported (other PDF editors that have stamping functions, such as Foxit and PDFill, may also be compatible, though I’ve yet to verify this – comments welcome!).
What if you only have a free reader/viewer?
No problem – you don't need to have the full paid-for versions of Acrobat or XChange in order to use the stamps.
You can use your free Acrobat Reader as long as you ask the person who has created the PDF to 'enable comments'.
With PDF XChange Viewer, you don't even need to worry about enabling comments – the stamps will work on your PDF as soon as you have uploaded them. An additional benefit of Viewer is that you can import all the stamps in one go.
Can you use the stamps with a Mac?
One of the first questions asked after I posted this article was whether the stamps files would work for Mac users.
I work on a PC but an SfEP colleague has informed me that since the stamps files are PDFs it shouldn't make any difference whether you're working on a PC or a Mac. Rather, the most important thing is that you have the Mac version of your PDF editor, e.g. Acrobat for Mac.
What does the marked-up proof look like?
I’ve been delighted with the results, as have many of my clients. The marked-up proofs using the stamps are much clearer to read, as the two examples show.
There are only four amendments in Example 1, the comment-box version. Imagine how much time it would have taken to select the text, choose the relevant option from the Text Edits menu and write the instruction to the typesetter if all the amendments in Example 2 had been made without using stamps.
And if the typesetter opened up all these comments boxes, what a mess it would have been.
Creating the stamps is the fiddly part and the most time-consuming.
Getting the correct size, so that you don’t have to resize each stamp when you’re working on a set of proofs, takes a little time and, of course, creating each individual stamp can seem painstaking.
However, the job only has to be done once and I’ve been using mine for a couple of years now. It’s worth spending some time playing around with your designs early on in order to make life easier for yourself later.
I’ve created stamps in red, blue and black because my clients have different requirements.
I used Publisher to create the stamps, but you could use any software with a drawing tool. Set up each stamp on a separate page. Once you’ve drawn all your stamps convert the file into a PDF.
Want to use the stamps that I've already created?
I’m happy to share with colleagues who have the same commitment as I do to improving skills and supporting our industry’s professional standards.
To access your copies of my stamps, click here – there's no charge. If you're using PDF-XChange (I'd recommend you do so), make sure you select the stamps labelled "XChange".
Note: Please note that my stamps are based on proofreading symbols as defined by BS 5261-2 (2005). If you are working outside the UK, not all of the symbols may conform to those you are used to working with.
For a set of stamps that use US proofreading marks, take a look at KOK Edit's excellent Copyeditors' Knowledge Base – scroll down to 'PDF'.
Importing customized stamps
For installation instructions, and some useful tips, see my article Installation Instructions for Proofreading Stamps.
Periodically, I create new or modified stamps to deal with an amendment that's cropping up frequently in a job I'm working on. I'll place these additions in the Stamps archive located on the blog sidebar. Drop by now and then to see if there's anything new that's of use to you. I'll name the post with a description of the stamp and I'll include a picture and downloadable file in case you want to add it.
Which PDF editor do you use?
Do you use customized stamps in PDF editors/readers other than Acrobat and PDF-XChange? Please let us know in the Comments section so that others can see which software is compatible.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with independent authors of commercial fiction, particularly crime, thriller and mystery writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
'Louise uses her expertise to hone a story until it's razor sharp, while still allowing the author’s voice to remain dominant.'
'I wholeheartedly recommend her services ... Just don’t hire her when I need her.'
J B Turner
'Sincere thanks for a beautiful and elegant piece of work. First class.'
'What makes her stand out and shine is her ability to immerse herself in your story.'
'A million thanks – your mark-up is perfect, as always.'
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