How to edit a PDF: An easy approach to a core professional services tool

The writers, editors, and designers at Leff Communications—and at all professional service firms—deal heavily in Microsoft Word documents and Adobe PDFs. Most of our articles, white papers, and reports start in Word and end in PDF as part of the editorial and design process. Word makes the editing process mercifully easy with track changes, document compare, and other tools. But we’ve found some people are stumped about how to offer edits once a piece is in PDF form. And sadly, handwritten comments are highly likely to introduce ambiguity and errors into the editing process. Plus, think of the trees you’ll save by going electronic! So here’s our no-nonsense guide to get you up to speed in five minutes flat.

First, download Adobe Reader

The free version of Adobe’s software includes all the editing tools you’ll need. If it’s not already on your laptop, download it here for Windows 10. If you have a different operating system, select it from the drop-down menu. You can even download Adobe Reader on your iPhone or Android!

Download, open, and resave the document

You can’t edit a document in a Web browser, so download the document, save it somewhere safe, and open it. Immediately hit “Save as” and add your initials to the end of the document’s name (for example, “Consumer insights whitepaper_v5_blw”) so your colleagues and editors can easily identify that you’ve already edited the document. Also, saving at this point ensures you don’t forget to do it later; get in the habit.

How to edit a PDF on a PC

TL;DR: If you prefer a video tutorial, click here.

There is a “Tools” tab at the top of the document window; click that, then scroll down to the “Share & Review” section and click the “Comment” icon. All your tool buttons should now be displayed along the top of the window, and the comment pane should be open on the right.

You really only need two tools: the sticky note, which looks like a Word comment bubble, and the highlighter, which resembles the beloved high school implement. The edits you make with these two tools are highly visible and appear in the comments pane on the right as you make them.

Sticky note: This tool lets you stick a comment anywhere on the document. Click it and then click anywhere on the page. You can move it around on the screen even after it’s placed. You’ll need this tool if you want to comment on the design of the PDF—for example, “Please darken the colors here” or “Please move this box to the right.”

Highlighter: This tool allows you to highlight text and—just as important—add a comment to the highlighted text. Select the tool, select the text you want to highlight, and right-click the highlighted text and click “Open pop-up note.” You’ll need this markup tool if you’d like to make edits to specific parts of the text. For example, you might highlight the words “This debate leverages several principles for you” and type in “This white paper offers several examples of principles that you could apply in your business.”

Stick to these two tools; they get the job done, and they’re easy to see because everything is in bright yellow.

Slight variation for Macs

Editing is slightly different on a Mac. To highlight text, use your cursor to highlight it, click the highlighted text to open a drop-down menu, then click “Add note to text.” Type your edit into the pop-up box that opens, then hit “Post.” Click here for a nonverbal video tutorial.

PDF editing best practices

Edit like a copy editor. The principle in classic copy editing is to make explicit changes to exacting pieces of text. You wouldn’t highlight an entire sentence if you only want to change one word. Instead, highlight just the word you want to change and the words immediately before and after it, to clarify how the text should flow once the edit is made.

Get Adobe Pro. Want to combine multiple peoples’ comments into one PDF? Want to splice pages from different PDFs together? Want to rotate a PDF? Want to delete entire pages from a PDF? You’ll need to go pro—as in Adobe Acrobat Pro—as those abilities aren’t available in Adobe Reader.

Go forth and edit

Once you’ve got the basics down, editing a PDF is a breeze. Go forth, dear reader, and be confident in your changes.

Brittany Williams

Brittany is the editorial director at Leff. She is passionate about helping clients tell their stories through incisive, fact-based narratives. Every once in awhile, she takes a break to muse on rhetorical devices, grammar, and content strategy on the Leff Communications blog. Follow Brittany on Twitter @britpetersen.

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