Searching and Marking Multiple Words in a PDF

Legal Professionals often need to search across a large number of documents. Finding a key fact, name or term is an important part of how you will apply your knowledge to a case.

For example, recently a paralegal sent me this email:

An attorney I work with just gave me a list of about 50 words and phrases as part of a case. I need to mark these terms each time I find them in my case documents. Help! Is there a way I can list all of the search words in a PDF?

While many folks have discovered the Search functionality in Acrobat, Acrobat 9 and below do not offer the ability to save searches or report the results.

Oddly, the only tool in Acrobat that allows you to search for terms and mark them in a PDF is part of the Search and Redact feature. This will add a mark to the page around the search term.

Redaction highlights on a document

I wrote about using this technique in my previous article Highlighting Multiple Words in a PDF Document.

In Acrobat 9 Pro, it is possible to highlight multiple search terms using this same technique and you can do so “jiffy quick”.

But, Acrobat redactions permanently remove information!
That’s true, once you apply them. However, in this use case, we are only going to mark the words using the redaction tool, not apply them which actually removes the information.

So . . . no worries!

I’ve also included a link to Joel Geraci’s Redact to Highlight and Back, a free script for Acrobat that can convert redaction markups to standard Acrobat annotations.

In this article I’ll show you how to:

  1. Input a series of search terms and have Acrobat automatically mark them
  2. Create a new PDF which summarizes all of the words where found


Getting Ready

Before starting, it is helpful to change a preference to make it easier to work with the marked words.

  1. Choose Edit—> Preferences
    (or Acrobat—> Preferences on the Mac)
  2. Click the Commenting category on the left side of the Preferences window
  3. At the bottom, enable "Copy selected text into Highlight, Cross-Out and Underline comment pop-ups."

    Commenting Preferences

  4. Click OK to exit Preferences.

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 View—>Toolbars—>Redaction
    This will open the Redaction ToolbarAcrobat Redaction Toolbar
  3. Click the Search and Redact button
    - Click "Multiple words or Phrases"
    - Click the Select Words button

    Search and Redact window
    You may need to click the Arrange Windows button if you cannot see both your document and the Search window.

  4. The Words and Phrases to Search and Redact window opens. You will enter the terms you wish to find.
    A) Type in a word
    B) Click the Add button
    C) You can import/export a plain text file which will populate the window.
    D) Click the OK button to mark the words in your document

    Searching for multiple phrases in a PDF

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.

    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:
    A) Enable Document and comments with connector lines on single pages
    B) Disable “Pages containing no comments”
    C) ClickCreate PDF Comment Summary button

    Summarizing options

    You may like other Layout settings. Try them out. The third option produces a listing-only style document.
  3. Acrobat will create a new document which looks like this:

    A comment summary

Managing the Comments

    Here are a few tips that will come in handy while managing the comments.

  1. Showing and Hiding Comments
    To hide all comments
    Comments—> Comment View—> Hide All Comments
    Or, from the keyboard, Shift-Ctrl-8

    To show all comments
    Comments—> Comment View—> Show All Comments
    Or, from the keyboard, Ctrl-8

  2. Deleting Comments
    Open the Comments Panel
    Select a comment, then CMD-A to Select them all
    Hit the Delete Key
  3. 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.

Seriously, Redaction Marks are Ugly. . .

Redaction Marks look different than standard highlights:

Redaction marks and standard PDF highlights look different

You may prefer the appearance of the standard highlights. I do!

Fortunately, my colleague Joel Geraci offers a free script called Redact to Highlight and Back, which convert redaction markups to standard Acrobat annotations.

Prevent changes to your marked words . . .

If you flatten the document, this will burn the highlights into the document.

See my article Add a Flatten Document Menu Item to Acrobat to learn how.

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