I am currently letting friends and family spellcheck my thesis written with LaTeX. Since my markup is macro-heavy and not all of them have ever used another editor but MS Word, I cannot let them work with the source files directly.

What is the best way for them to review the PDF and send me comments, so that I can quickly integrate them back into my .tex files?

Some of them have Adobe Acrobat at work and can send me annotated PDFs, but at least 50% of the time of fixing the changes is searching the exact position of the missing comma or mistake.

Is there a (preferably cross-plattform) solution that would make their and my life easier?

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    I take it that the old-fashioned method of giving them a print-out is out of the question?
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:25
  • @Joseph: I think this should be an own answer since it’s often the most appropriate method, and easy to oversee since we’re all so used to working with computers. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:28
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    That is easy for those that live close by, but hard if they do not. It also is even more difficult for me than annotated PDFs. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:32
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    the poor printer :) much ink or laser gets lost when printing -.- Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 10:12
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    If the problem is about finding the piece of code that corresponds to a particular area in a document, a decent modern LaTeX IDE will provide a facility to navigate between corresponding locations in the source and the pdf preview. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:05

10 Answers 10


PDFSync is the way to go. Also, compile your thesis with the lineno package for line numbering (you can find it on CTAN with docs).

When anyone annotates your PDF and send it to you, PDFSync will allow you to just click on the passage in the PDF in order to open your LaTeX file in the corresponding position. It will save a lot of time when searching for missing commas and such things. For people that cannot annotate your PDF, they can refer to page and line number (thanks to lineno), and that will also greatly speed up your ability to find the place you need to do corrections, because you can just open your own PDF, and thanks to PDFSync you will be able to open the LaTeX source in the right place.

This is what I do now for my LaTeX writing, and it works wonders when passing review versions around to co-authors. Moreover, line numbers are used by APS when they send proofs for papers about to be published (not sure why they don't do it for referee versions too, but ...), and that makes the communication of typesetting errors much easier.

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    In OSX, you will need Skim to support PDFSync, but I think Skim can read Acrobat annotations. In Windows there are other PDF viewers that support PDFSync (Google points to "Sumatra PDF", which seems ok, but I am not a Windows users).
    – Marcus P S
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 16:31
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    ! Thanks this is the missing round trip that I have been looking for. You should also mention in your answer that you need a PDFSync enabled viewer, which I currently do not have. Great new answer anyway! Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 15:22
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    Synctex is the modern replacement for pdfsync. It doesn't suffer from the incompatibility with other packages (because it's built into the tex engine, rather than being a latex package, it even works with plain tex), and it doesn't cause your line-breaking to change. Most editors and viewers that support pdfsync will also support synctex.
    – Lev Bishop
    Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 22:14
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    I also found that Synctex hits closer to the mark than PDFsync, which is somewhat erratic in its placement. No idea why this is or if it was just an artifact in my documents. Commented Aug 16, 2010 at 8:56

First of all, you are asking people to do you a favour. That's an important thing to remember and my answer would be different if this was about collaborators. Therefore, the number one principle is:

Make it as easy as possible for them.

Unfortunately, the exact answer is therefore going to be as variable as the people involved! But in case it's of any use, here are my recommendations (which can be broadly interpreted as being what I would like if I were being asked to do this):

  1. Don't send anyone the whole thesis. Theses can get quite long and it's a bit daunting to be given the whole lot. People's effectiveness in proof-reading tends to slide a bit after a dozen pages (unless they're specially trained) so chop it up in to sections.

  2. I really do find it much easier to proof-read on paper. I don't know what it is about it, but I spot far more when I'm reading it on paper rather than on screen. If you're only sending smallish sections, that's not a lot for any one person to print out. Plus you can make it so that it prints 2-up with reasonable margins but without shrinking the print size very much. Offer to pay for the printing cost, and then it's shouldn't be hard for a person to find a scanner to send you back the scanned copy - again, offer to pay for any costs (no-one will take you up on that).

  3. For someone who does feel happy doing the proof-reading on-screen, I strongly recommend annotating the PDF. If the person has a graphics tablet then it's easy: get hold of one of the programs designed for annotating PDFs and let them use that. If you use jarnal then it's cross-platform (written in java) and it can also be installed on a central webserver so your friends and family don't have to install anything. Other free annotators are xournal and gournal for Linux. These can save their annotations as XML files or export them back as PDFs.

  4. Give the person a one-page list of proof-readers' marks. An example can be found here, though it would be best to customise it a little. Most won't use it, but the idea is to make it clear that all you really need to know is where an error is, actually what the error is is less important as you'll be able to figure that out for yourself.

  5. Provide a nice wide margin for comments. Add or subtract a lot from \hoffset to get the whole document as close to the edge as possible. Also, use line numbers so that big comments can be easily "anchored" to points in the text without long lines going this way and that.

  6. To make it easy on yourself to integrate their comments, add in easily-findable tags that get shoved in to the margin every, say, paragraph. Then you can search for them rather than searching for words in the text. And if you do need to search for words in the text, make sure that your source is in one-sentence-per-line format as some programs aren't so good at searching when the desired text goes over a linebreak.

  7. Lastly, don't send them back again. If you need it proof-read again, find some new friends. Ideally, proof-reading should be done at the very last stage and only when you've been through it so many times that you've started to think that "your's" is correct because you've seen it so often. Anyone not trained is going to be far less effective when seeing something for the second time. And you can never predict exactly what minor grammatical points the examiners are going to pick up on (mine was a rather over-heavy use of the word "then" - quite justified, I should add) so trying to be 100% perfect is senseless.

In case it's lost in that lot, let me repeat the names of those PDF annotators:

  • jarnal. Java (so cross-platform), can also be used in client-server mode.
  • xournal. C++ (so fast), Linux (AFAIK).
  • gournal. Gtk2-Perl, Linux (AFAIK).

I've used both xournal and jarnal and found them great tools for just this purpose.

  • Publishers and copy-editors tend not to like "by hand" annotations –as opposed to ones that can be accept/rejected directly into the source– because some fraction of problems indicated by the reviewer get forgotten or mangled in the revision process. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:32
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    @Charles Stewart: granted, but there was no mention of publishers nor copy-editors in the question - everyone involved is an amateur (or may be assumed to be such). I tried to make it clear at the start that the answer depended very much on the people involved. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:36
  • Thanks great answer! It describes everything really well. I still gave Marcus the checkmark, his answer which contributes the important idea of PDFSync is otherwise to far at the bottom. Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 16:35
  • xournal was nice, aptitude install, then open a pdf, paint, write highlight etc etc and then export into new pdf that can be sent back. Nice tool :)
    – Johan
    Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 13:51

I can highly recommend Skim.app (BSD license) if they are using MacOSX. This tool has been valuable to my research and it provides various ways of commenting on pdf files.

  • It looked interesting so I just tried this tool. But does it have any advantage or extra feature not already in Preview.app? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 9:50
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    @Juan: it’s just vastly superior to Preview in every regard. I use it exclusively for working with LaTeX. For one thing, it crashes much more rarely. For another, forward and backward search is working properly. Thirdly, navigation is much better: e.g. it has a history of location so you can go back (indefinitely) to previous locations in the document. Useful e.g. when clicking on a bibliography link and wanting to jump back to the main text. Finally, its annotation tools are much better than Preview’s. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:02
  • Sounds nice! I'll give it a try. Could you elaborate on why the annotation tools are better (which was the main need for the original question)? Also something I would really like is a way to quickly annotate insertion of text at some mark (e.g. insert this letter or word "here" between these two other words) and things like "swap these two words". Things that I often do when copyediting articles on paper. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:15
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    For me, the most useful thing about Skim is its syncTeX support (I've used it with MacVim and TextMate and I'm pretty sure it works with a bunch of other editors). Just being able to quickly go from the PDF to the right point in the source .tex file makes things so much quicker when editing. Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 7:42
  • Yes, that too, I use it with Emacs.
    – Leo Liu
    Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 8:12

Konrad is right: use Word or OpenOffice, with Word being rather nicer to work with. LyX is not too bad, but it is not nice to ask family and friends to install it. I recommend Word where you can.

Work with the source if you can, don't detex, and don't work with the PDF, since the back and forth generally causes problems, needlessly missing corrections or introducing errors that you are likely to miss.

You can put the source text directly in Word, and highlight regions that don't contain text to be reviewed (say, middle grey on pale grey), and it is possible to tell Word to make these regions uneditable.

Switch the document to Track Changes, and send both this document and the PDF to your reviewers. If you send the text to several people, it is likely that one does a far better job than the others and if you are lucky returns them as tracked changes: work with this text and add additional changes from other comments from your friends and family.

A nice bonus: Word's spelling checker is good, and you can set the language of the highlighted regions to non-spellcheckable, but please switch off the deeply problematic grammar checker.

Then at the end, with all changes accepted and rejected, and all issues handled, turn your Word document back into plain text, run it through Latex, and give the output a last, careful read through.

I made some notes on working through changes on my weblog: Reviewing Edits.

  • This sounds good, but isn’t it a lot of work to format/highlight the LaTeX source in Word? Also, Word performs a lot of auto-completions that could screw the source code. What about them? Can they be disabled for just the document? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:04
  • @Konrad: I'd like to say: No, it's easy, just run this nice Word macro, it does everything for you. Unfortunately I don't know of one, and my VBA-fu is low. It's not actually a whole lot of work to do by hand if you know how to use Word's search+replace, and I think the effort pays off, if you are working with Tex-illiterates. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:20
  • This seems to work surprisingly well. Many people who are not that much into computers do know how to use change tracking in MS Word. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 22:18

You can ask one of the people that have a full Adobe Acrobat to enable the document for commenting in the Adobe Reader.

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    It's horrible to work with. I refuse jobs if clients want me to work this way. Don't inflict it on family and friends. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:49
  • @Charles: do you know of anything better that is also cross-platform? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:58
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    A point about annotations in Acrobat: you can export them back as annotations in the source, if they were exported as Tagged PDFs. This works with Word (but why anyone would use the awful annotation system in Acrobat rather than the good one in Word is beyond me) but is not close to being practical with Latex, for reasons I guess you understand as well as anyone. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 9:19
  • @Charles: Can you elaborate on the idea with the tagged PDFs? Could it be possible to export the annotations from a tagged PDF and then use this to make changes to my original LaTeX sources? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:05
  • @Christopher: In principle, yes, see tug.org/tug2009/preprints/moore.pdf Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 11:24

For me the best application to do that is PDF-XChange viewer, as discussed on Gnurou's blog at http://www.gnurou.org/blog/2008/09/09/finally_real_pdf_annotating_under_linux . I use it now and find it really easy from the reviewer and the writer point of view. There are free and commercial versions.

The soft is available at http://www.tracker-software.com/product/pdf-xchange-viewer

It runs on windows or wine (currently I use it on wine under linux debian and it works great).

"The FREE version of the PDF-XChange Viewer may be used without limitation for Private, Commercial, Goverment and all uses, provided it is not -: incorporated or distributed for profit/commerical gain with other software or media distribution of any type - without first gaining permission."

  • cool bit of software, thanks for the pointer. Commented Aug 14, 2010 at 8:20
  • yes. I really like it ^^ Commented Aug 14, 2010 at 21:11

you could install the FoxIt PDF reader. In its latest version it has a comment function. Your friends could make suggestions and save those in their copy of your thesis.


The best tools for copy editing are still Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org with their “record changes” feature switched on.

Have you tried copying the PDF content (or the stripped TeX source – detex does that) into a Word document and distributing that? I know that the result is not always acceptable – but when it is, this solution is probably the easiest and fastest (both for you and for the copy editors).

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    Yes, considered it. Detex unfortunately gets confused with many of my macros and reintegrating the changes back into LaTeX is not any easier. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:35

You can also comment the document or PDF online using a free site, for example www.crocodoc.com

No need to install anything and works with all platforms and it has the advantage that several people can comment on the same version of the document.


OK, I have been thinking about this for some more.

OpenOffice appears to have a pdf import extension (it is no longer marked beta) but I tried using it to import a 60-page pdf and it said input/output error. Not sure if it had something to do with me using it through ssh.

http://tug.org/utilities/texconv/textopc.html has a lot of useful comments on various options of converting LaTeX to other formats.

Personally I will go with Convert LaTeX to an intermediate format such as docbook/html (See How to create PDF and HTML output from the same source) and import it into word or openoffice.

There is also latex2rtf (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX/Export_To_Other_Formats) but I have never used it.

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