When refereeing a paper, I usually receive a pdf version of a paper and then write my report separately in latex or a text file editor. When it comes to specific comments to the text, I like to include a page number and line number to specify the relevant position in the text, although counting the line numbers is pretty boring for long papers. I was wondering if there were any tips on how to speed up this process?

Ideally, I would like to edit comments directly in the pdf file of the paper, and then export the comments, along with the page numbers/line numbers, to a text file.

I guess this would only work in some cases, when it is possible to extract line numbers for the pdf. Is anyone aware of ways of doing something like this?

Thanks in advance!

  • I always send my manuscripts with numbered lines to facilitate the review. I thought that it was the norm.
    – The Doctor
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 13:16
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    Would be nice if it was! I've never received a paper like this, but I guess it depends on the field.
    – byu
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 13:20
  • There are of course tools for annotating PDFs, but I don't think it's possible to extract the annotations with line numbers. I don't think that PDF even has any concept of line numbers. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 13:53
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    Not sure if this is what you want, but one thing I sometimes do is to add a column of numbers in the margin. I can share tools for this if you like. Even if they don't match up with the lines of the text, it's still a convenient way to locate text on the page without counting lines. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 13:55
  • @TheDoctor: Depends on the field. In some fields, the norm is that manuscripts are required to use the official template of the destination venue, so there are no line numbers in there. I agree line numbers would be helpful in plenty of contexts, though. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 14:59

1 Answer 1


I've just taken to returning two documents when reviewing papers:

  • One is my annotated PDF (created on a tablet) where I can use both margin notes if I want to comment on things, and handwritten notes if I want to draw into a figure or mark up typos. The notes in this document are the smaller comments specific to individual places in the document.

  • A text file in which I collect the more general, less location-specific comments such as when I discuss the paper's overall structure, how it fits into the existing literature, etc.

This has worked pretty well for me because it allows me to annotate the manuscript right away, and getting back to the bigger items when I've read it all. The only tricky part is that your PDF reader may leave your name in the PDF for all annotations (depending on whether or not you've set it up that way). If you care about your anonymity, you can always edit it out: My PDF reader puts my name in clear text in the .pdf document, and I can just search-replace it by some other string.

  • Thanks! My only issue with this is that the reports would get quite recognizable after a while, which might result in some loss of anonymity for the referee.
    – byu
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 13:31
  • Maybe, but I suspect that's true regardless if you keep reviewing papers of the same people. I think that's the part to be avoided. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 1:19

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