I am giving a thesis for review by several supervisors, who will comment and request changes. It's written in LaTeX, but I don't want to bother the people involved with having to compile that themselves. Instead, I would send a PDF as it'll represent the final product most accurately.

My question is, what can I use / do you use for the review process?

I know they can just comment inside the PDF, but maybe there is a tool that allows everyone to see everybody's comments?

If supervisor A and supervisor B disagree on something or don't want to have to correct the same mistakes, then it'll be easier for them to see the other persons comments. Kind of like a shared Dropbox file, but something that's a bit smarter about keeping the history of all comments.

Have you used anything like this or do I just have to rely on built-in PDF highlights / notes?

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    Haven't written a thesis, so I don't know how it works, but can you send it to them sequentially so that you aren't doubling up on grammar comments, etc? Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 5:54
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    Technically, yes, but practically I would prefer to send all at once, since review might take a few weeks for everyone and if they don't do it in parallel, then I have to wait a few months rather than weeks...
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:05
  • Fair enough, I also agree with David's answer that many reviews probably don't want to see other's comments anyway. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:11
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    I work in academia but don't review theses, but I'm pretty sure you'll have to do it the way they darn well tell you to do it. :) Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 19:19
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    Print a hard copy and get your supervisors to write on it.
    – user2768
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 9:48

7 Answers 7


Adobe Acrobat has a feature called Shared Review.

It lets multiple people in real-time comment on a single PDF so long as the PDF is hosted in a single place (e.g., if your department has network storage or there are services online to host such files).

It works pretty well and is already built-in.

Alternatively, you can email them each the PDF and then use the merge comments features to combine them, then send out that PDF. Not as nice but it doesn't have to be hosted.

  • I'll check it out - do you actually use it :) ? I asked the question that way to see if people also actually consider that tool useful (and got their peers / supervisors / professors to use it as well)
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:21
  • It looks like features requires a subscription, correct? Do you know if everyone involved needs that subscription or just me (the person initiating the review) acrobat.adobe.com/us/en/landing/…
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:27
  • @Chris I do not have a subscription and have used it. I'm guessing that is actually just for hosting. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:36
  • @Chris Added an alternative option, which is a simpler but not as convenient way. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:39
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    I generally dislike if people want me to make use a specific software. Note also that people may have different workflows and needs. It may well be that some of the guys wants to read the thesis on paper and send back a feedback on paper! If they do you a favor, make the work most easy for them and go with everything they propose.
    – Dirk
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 9:39

This is a good question and I don't want to discourage you, but let me explain what you will likely find most of the time.

They each already have a preferred way of giving you their feedback and some or all of them will not want to use whatever tool you choose. Since they are doing you a favor, you will need to respect their preference. For instance, I prefer to take a hard copy and a red pen and go to a coffee shop or library in order to focus.

Also, when I review a thesis I do not want to see comments from other reviewers before I form my own opinion.

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    I understand your concerns - this of course depends on the people you work with and your relationship with them. Your last point is one I had not considered - maybe I'll revery to a network / dropbox download link that'll I'll update along the way and anyone can get the latest copy (without comments) whenever they want.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:09
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    Since they are doing you a favor. Is it really a favor or duty?
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 23:01
  • Agreed, it depends a little what kind of review you are thinking about. If we are referring to the Prof, who took you on and initiated the project, they surely have an obligation to review your work, but there are obvious limits to this. In the end - you are still the author.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 0:27
  • @DavidKetcheson I assume you don't always get to do reviews the way you want to, though, right? At least when looking at journals / conferences, everyone also has to agree to a common review system and they can't possibly accomodate every persons preference. So I think it's save to assume that everyone does have some flexibility with the reviewing process.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 0:30

Not really a tool for commenting, but very useful for review: if you go through many iterations, you might want to consider using a tool to generate a "track changes" PDF file, which shows the supervisors what parts of the thesis have changed since the previous version. Especially if you are at some point making many changes scattered throughout the thesis.

I would recommend latexdiffcite for this purpose. It's an improvement over the earlier latexdiff program. latexdiffcite even understands git and can give you diffs between different commits. Illustration:

enter image description here

  • Definitely good for one of my reviewers, who always wants to see all the changes I made since the last iteration :) !
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 10:32
  • Also see rcs-latexdiff for differences between latex files github.com/driquet/rcs-latexdiff
    – JaBe
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 14:54
  • Also LyX and LibreOffice provide similar diff capabilities, and you can change how the content is highlighted. I use it to review and merge the changes the reviewers have done on my paper!
    – gaborous
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:13

I've been a reviewer for many thesis, and here is my 2 cents:

  1. It is preferable that you ask each reviewer for her review process and stick to it. For instance, I will always print the thesis and write my comments with a couple of pens (color value = type of the comment) and then send back the annoted manuscript (paper or a scanned version). Why? Because I read and comment mostly in transportation, in the waiting room at the doctor/local administration, etc. All places where it is not convenient/possible to use a laptop or similar device.
  2. I don't need and want to see the comments by other reviewers. As an author, it is your responsibility to arbitrate in case of contradictory comments
  3. About grammer/spelling/etc. Those errors must be anecdotal in a manuscript sent to reviewers. My policy is that if there is too many typos/grammatical mistakes in a sample of 5 pages, I'll send a message to the author saying that I will wait for a "more final version". As a reviewer my job is not to correct the spelling, but to assess the quality of the work.
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    I laughed at "Two many typos" :)
    – Bernhard
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 12:26
  • @Bernhard Indeed ^^ Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 13:55

A good option that I have used for effective shared review is Overleaf, an online shared LaTeX system, plus the LaTeX todonotes package. Overleaf means everybody is looking at the same shared document (and also has a git interface, if you wish). LaTeX todonotes let you annotate inline or on the margin, and can be customized in various useful ways, e.g., with a different color for each reviewer.

  • Would this work for people who don't know how to use LaTeX (some of my collaborators do not)? Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:40
  • They'd have to learn at least very small amount by rote---I have found this isn't a problem for people who aren't ideological about their document editors.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 3:41
  • It's a very good suggestion, but I didn't want to share the LaTeX source, probably very useful for collaborative writing, though.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 4:38

My preference, as a reviewer, has been to print a hard copy from the pdf file and then attack it with a red pen. As my handwriting becomes less legible ("benign essential tremor"), I'll switch to the second-simplest system: Ask the student to send me the TeX file and insert my remarks into it. (I have some simple macros defining an environment for my remarks, causing them to show up in red in the pdf file.)


I would recommend:

  • sharelatex : https://www.sharelatex.com/ - an online collaborative LateX editor
  • Authorea: https://www.authorea.com - sometimes called "google doc for academics". It's online and collaborative too, but you can also work offline because the document is stored under a git repo which you can clone to work offline. On the online version, everyone can comment on the document and edit it. There is a chat too. This is also present in sharelatex I believe.


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