Technically Speaking: Editing content with Acrobat XI

Monday, 15 Apr 2013, by

In late 2012, Adobe released a new ver­sion of Acrobat, a useful program in the copyeditor’s arsenal. While Word remains our top program, many of us also edit and proofread copy post-layout using an Adobe product rather than paper and pen.

Acrobat XI makes editing faster and easier, which will be a relief on deadline. It also offers us many more chances to fix documents, providing support for our publishers and new opportunities for us; however, if we aren’t careful, we copyedi­tors could find ourselves performing tasks beyond our abilities—and for no more pay or recognition. 

What’s new

In earlier versions of Acrobat, you could add or change text only if all the con­ditions were just right. The added or changed text was going to be in the same font as the surrounding text—provided your computer had the font—and you couldn’t make any formatting changes.

With Acrobat XI, you can edit text quickly using the expanded Content Editing menu, located on the right side of the screen. Under Tools, click the arrow next to Content Editing, then click Text & Images, and you’ll see a series of boxes appear in the content. Those boxes were created in whatever software was used to create the original file (InDesign, Quark, Word, etc.). You can work inside the boxes or with the boxes themselves.

TIP: Use Ctrl + F to perform a Find and Replace. Note that Acro­bat doesn’t recognize capitalization in the Find box but does in the Replace box.

Working inside the box

Inside the box, you can edit text similarly to how you would in Word, without many of the fancy tools, of course. Acrobat is still best for light editing and proofread­ing. Still, the software is much faster than it was, and you really can do a lot with it.

Editing text is much easier in XI than in earlier versions. Add, change, or delete as necessary; the text will reflow, but only within the box you’re working in. You can change the font, color, size, and several other formatting features, as well. If you don’t have the correct font, Acrobat will substitute a similar font that you do have. Depending on what you have, the number of changes, and the project itself, this may or may not work for you.

New to XI, you can now work with the images, again from the Content Editing menu. You can replace or delete an unwanted image or add a new one. Images can even be rotated or cropped.

Be warned: when you add a new image, you can’t reflow the text around it. You also can’t change text that’s been made into an image. You’ll need to create a new image from text.

Working with boxes

You can also work with the boxes them­selves once you’ve activated them in the Content Editing menu. You can move the boxes, which is handy if one of your boxes is now larger because of additional text. You can also increase or decrease the box’s size; however, you can’t change its proportions (a square can’t become a rectangle, or vice versa), nor can you link boxes together.

These limitations serve as a reminder that Acrobat is not desktop publishing software. It cannot do all the wondrous things that its big sister InDesign can do. It can’t even do what its friend Word can do. It can only mimic them, and then only within the limits set up by the originat­ing file. If your PDF file has a lot of small content boxes, you’re going to have a hard time making changes.

TIP: Don’t forget to add your fa­vorite proofreading mark stamps to your new version of Acrobat. See “Technically Speaking” in our February–March 2012 issue for more on Acrobat stamps. 

What else you can do

Copyeditors who work in nontraditional publishing situations often have other publishing duties, and Acrobat XI has some new features that can help make those duties easier. Now you can:

  • convert a PDF file to a web form
  • have others sign the PDF file
  • assign passwords and permissions
  • merge multiple file types, such as Word and Excel, into one PDF file 

Other features, such as converting Word files to PDF files, have been improved. You can find out more on Adobe’s features page

What to watch out for

Acrobat XI allows you to do so much that it’s easy to miss the landmines, and there are several.

First, you might be asked to do work that’s not in your job description. It’s fine to help out in an emergency or once in a while. That’s what team members, whether they’re employees or contractors, do. But when it becomes the rule rather than the exception, it’s time to have a discussion about responsibili­ties and the like.

Second, your supervisor needs to understand what Acrobat is and is not capable of doing. This can be challenging if the supervisor isn’t familiar with publishing software in general. Don’t fudge what you can do with the software and set up false expectations. Let your supervisor know what’s possible and what’s not.

Also, you are limited in what you can do based on how the originating file was created. If the original file was sloppily cre­ated, you’ll be limited in how much you can do, and you’ll be stuck explaining it.

Your best bet is to set expectations accordingly from the beginning. Be clear about what the software does, can do, and how you both depend on the originating files to do these things. Reinforce the fact that the improvements and new features do not make Acrobat desktop publishing software, and they do not make you a desktop publisher. 

Where to buy it

Acrobat is available in Standard and Pro versions, and student and teacher pricing is available for those who qualify. 


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