It sounds stupid, but I came to realize that it's significantly more difficult for me to read scientific papers when they are typeset in two columns than papers in which the text appears in one column. Something about multiple columns feels too "packed" and wearisome to the point that it takes me a lot more time to read than a single-column paper.

Each publisher chooses its own style, obviously (an interesting discussion about it here), but what I want to know is if there is any way to transform a two-column paper into a one-column paper for an easier read? Are all papers being published with a single typeset according to the publisher's preference, or perhaps there may be different versions in different databases?

  • 4
    There's always willus.com/k2pdfopt (converter), but the quality of figures is often very bad.
    – StefanS
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 7:01
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    If you are starting out in research then it would be cumbersome at first but will be accustomed to it as you move along. In short: you'll get used to it.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 8:21
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    This is curious, because for "non-technical" text, readability is increased by reducing column widths. Some sources claim the optimum width is around 45 characters per line. This is why newspapers are typeset with many (e.g. 7 or 8) narrow columns per page.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 10:46
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    @alephzero This is emphatically true for technical text, too (with notable exceptions being equations and source code). OP’s subjective impression is almost certainly not in agreement with actual ease of reading. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:16
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    Many journals (in some fields at least) have webpages with html versions of the articles. These are always single column.
    – Axeman
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:42

6 Answers 6


If the paper has a preprint on on https://arxiv.org/ you can select to download "Other Formats".

Then you can probably get the LaTeX source (if it was typeset in latex), and from there you can modify it (likely very simply) and recompile it.

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    Furthermore, you can look for preprints/older versions on Arxiv or on the authors homepage, they are often not yet set into two columns. Especially if there is a page restriction for the publication, some authors like to publish a longer, more detailed version online for everyone interested to look up.
    – Dirk
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:31

While the comments (and also Lyndon's answer) give you some ideas that you can try, I suspect the most realistic answer will be that converting a 2-column paper into a format that's slightly easier to read for you will not be worth the (considerable) effort on a consistent basis. So, unless you actually have a disability that makes this impractical, I am afraid you will have to get used to reading papers in this way.

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    I am aware of the fact that many papers are published in this way, and what you say is of course true and valid. I posted the question to see whether there are some alternative databases or formats I was not aware of.
    – Don_S
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:35
  • If it's a LaTeX paper on the arXiv, Lyndon White's solution is probably worth it, it can be easily done in around a minute.
    – fqq
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 12:56

adobe acrobat has read mode, which rearranges columns in papers into just wall of text as you would like.


If the paper is in arxiv, you can give Arxiv Vanity a shot.

It tries to convert papers into webpages.


There a few different ways to do this, depending on affordability and convenience. Since LaTeX has been covered in a previous answer, I'll mention some ways that work for (readable) PDFs.

(1) Get Adobe Acrobat Pro- it allows a lot of direct manipulation within the page.

(2) Acrobat Pro also allows you to export to MS Word, where columns can be easily adjusted.

Now for the free, less convenient options:

(1) Open the PDF through a browser (Chrome and Firefox work, don't know about others). Now export as a text file, copy to a word processor and save back to PDF.

(2) Some free PDF readers allow exporting to text files, which you can then process in a word processor and save back to PDF. Most likely, you won't be able to copy pictures/tables- but since readability is the major issue, you can make do with two files open in adjacent windows, one text-only, one with figures/tables.


Here's what I do if I want to read a paper only viewing one column at a time:

  1. Set the display to portrait mode. (I have 2 displays, one is always in portrait mode and the other in landscape mode)
  2. Set the zoom factor to about 280%. (The best zoom factor to use varies a bit depending on how the journal typeset the paper and the dimensions & aspect ratio of your display.)
  3. Use the horizontal scrollbar to center the column.
  4. Read

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