Highlighting Multiple Words in a PDF Document

Update: Using Acrobat 9 and a similar technique, you can highlight all the words at once. See Searching and Marking Multiple Words in a PDF.

Acrobat has powerful search capabilities, but one feature which is lacking is persistent highlighting via search. I discovered an interesting workaround to this problem after pondering this email message from a customer:

We have a fairly large case where I pulled up 7,000 pages of shift logs. I need to find select words throughout the document so I am using the word search to go through all the pages and pull out those pages that reference the word I am searching. I have some questions for you:

  1. When the word search is done and I am looking at the document, all the words that I searched are highlighted in blue. However, when I print them off they are not highlighted anymore. Is there anyway to make it so those words are highlighted and will stay highlighted when I print them off and are easy to spot?
  2. One of the words we are needing to search for our discovery produced over 3,000 pages. Obviously I really do not want to print off all of those pages. Is there anyway to print off a summary of where that word is on each page without printing off all 3,000 pages?

I scratched my head for a bit, but I found a great workaround which takes advantage of Acrobat 8’s Redaction feature. The end result is a persistently highlighted document like this:

Persistent highlight marks on a PDF document

Read on to learn about the workaround in easy step-by-step instructions.

Acrobat 8 Professional can mark multiple words as part of a redaction workflow. While redaction is permanent and irrevocable, it would be virtually impossible to apply them accidentally.

Don’t worry— until you apply redactions, they are simply Acrobat annotations. If you accidentally click the Apply Redaction button a stern warning message is presented. If you accidentally click OK, Acrobat will ask you to rename your file.

Once the words are highlighted, Acrobat can flexibly allow you to view, delete or summarize the comments.

Highlighting Multiple Words throughout a PDF

To persistently highlight multiple words in a PDF, follow these steps:

  1. OCR the document if necessary. Acrobat cannot search for words unless there is a text layer in the document.
  2. Choose Tools—>Redaction
    This will open the_ Redaction_ Toolbar
  3. Acrobat 8 Redaction Toolbar
  4. Click the Search and Redact button
    This will open the Search window
  5. Search and Redact panel
  6. You may need to click the Arrange Windows button if you cannot see both your document and the Search window.
  7. Type in your search term. Note two important options for Whole Words and case sensitivity.
  8. Click the _Search and Redact _button
  9. Click Check All which will mark each result.
  10. Check all button
  11. If needed, you can click on each search result in the list to see the corresponding highlighted word in the document. This allows you to highlight a portion of the “hits” in the document.
  12. Click the Marked Checked Results for Redaction button at the bottom of Search window.
  13. Mark Checked Results for Redaction
  14. If you have additional words you would like to highlight, click the New Search button:
  15. New Search Button
  16. Then, repeat steps 4 to 7 above.
  17. Close the Search window

Working with the Highlighted Words

Once Redaction highlights have been applied, you can use the Comments Panel to sort through the marked words. Here’s how:

  1. Choose View—>Navigation Panels—>Comments
    Alternatively, click on the Comments Panel button at the lower left hand corner of the screen.
    Comments Panel Button
  2. You can work with each comment in the list.
    (A) Click on any word in the list to highlight it.
    (B) Add a comment to the highlighted word.
  3. Working with the Comments Panel in Acrobat

Summarizing Comments

Once words are highlighted, it is easy to create a comment summary which creates a new document containing only the pages with the marked words.

  1. Choose Comments—> Summarize Comments…
  2. In the Summarize Comments window, there are a variety of options to choose.
  3. Set to:
    – Document and comments with connector lines on single pages
    – Disable “Pages containing no comments”
  4. Summarize Comments window settings
You may like other Layout settings. Try them out. The third option produces a listing-only style document.
  1. Click the Create PDF Comment Summary button
  2. Acrobat will create a new document which looks like this:
    A summarized PDF. Click to download.

Helpful Tips

  1. Here are a few tips that will come in handy while managing this kind of project.
  2. Showing and Hiding Comments
    To hide all comments
    Comments—> Comment View—> Hide All Comments
    Or, from the keyboard, Shift-Ctrl-8
  3. To show all comments
    Comments—> Comment View—> Show All Comments
    Or, from the keyboard, Ctrl-8
  4. Deleting Comments
    Open the Comments Panel
    Select a comment, then CMD-A to Select them all
    Hit the Delete Key
  5. Marking Multiple Documents
    Acrobat can also mark words across multiple files. In the Search window, Choose the option for All PDF Documents in . . . and select a folder containing your files.