Creating Anchored Comments in InDesign

More and more of my graphically inclined authors are choosing the option to create their chapters in InDesign. Problem is, InDesign doesn’t (really) have the two things an editor needs to communicate effectively within the document during the editing process: trackable changes and efficient comments. For the latter, there’s the Notes palette, but unfortunately that hasn’t improved since we learned to hack it into CS2. It still has an impossibly hard-to-select reference point and a weird sense of order. (If you are still using InDesign CS2 and would like to know how to get the Notes palette, check out this InDesign Secret.) I came up with a system for creating comments with anchored objects that the dekeTeam is still using today, even after the Notes palette became a regular cast member in CS3, because my anchored comment system works better. Here’s how we do it. (Oh, and I’m using a draft of the upcoming Illustrator One-on-One book so you’re getting a miniscule sneak peak here for what it’s worth. Nothing but the best for you people.)

By the way, as far as tracked changes goes, yes, I know about InCopy. I’ve used the InCopy plugin effectively, but it adds another layer of complexity (and another $250 a person to the process). I’ve actually had authors simply tell me it wasn’t going to happen. InCopy seems ideal for collaboration in real-time, say, on a magazine project, but in the book world, chapters go linearly to each person and we rarely work across the same server, which ultimately makes InCopy more cumbersome than it needs to be. What I really need is to be able to track changes, a la InCopy, in the regular old InDesign Story Editor. I’ve whined about this incessantly to Michael Ninness, our beloved friend and InDesign Product Manager. I truly believe he’ll make sure it happens one day, just to shut me up.

Repeated (and plagiarized) words of advice and shameless (but sincere) plug: Much as Deke did in one of his posts, I’ve tried to make the following steps of use to anyone, regardless of experience. As an added bonus, you can click a screen shot below to view a full-sized version in a separate window. But, necessarily, the steps will make the most sense to those with a working knowledge of Adobe InDesign. To gain such knowledge, check out Deke’s InDesign CS3 One-on-One book from O’Reilly. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Step one: Create the styles

There are three styles we’re going to need to have at the ready. Creating styles in InDesign is simply a matter of clicking the Make New Style button on the appropriate palette, but the trick is to hold down the Alt (Option) key while you do it so that you can immediately name it something useful and immediately set its attributes.

Object style: Pithy Comment Box
This is just a text box whose key property is how it’s positioned as an anchored object, so let’s go straight to that tab in the dialog box. I like my comments to sit off the edge of the page directly out from the text I’m commenting on, so I go for a 6pt horizontal offset from the page edge and set the other positioning attributes as shown here. Note that you have to set the Position pop-up to Custom to see these options.

For more, um, obtuse authors, I put a big bold stroke around it, but Deke and his helpers are pretty observant.

Character style: Colleen Highlight
We use this for pointing to text without disturbing it. It’s actually a negative-offset, reduced-opacity rule, so the key attribute I’m concerned with is to set the Underline settings as you see here: a point or two size wider than my text (in my case, 12pt), an offset that lines it up so that it “covers” the text (-4pt), a color that’s assigned to me (I like green), and an opacity that still allows me to see the text (25%).

At the end of the editorial process we seek and destroy this style, replacing it with None and hopefully not blasting away any other local character styles, but when we’re working it gives a nice “Hey, look at me,” quality to it. This isn’t really part of the anchored note but it’s handy for calling attention to problematic passages, as you can see.

Paragraph style: Colleen Comment
This is just basic text set to a different color for each reviewer, and I usually match it to my highlight shade above.  I like to create a style (color) for each reviewer, so I can quickly tell them apart.

Step two: Make a keyboard shortcut for inserting anchored objects

Next thing I want is the ability to place my anchored comment with little effort (I have lots to say and need to say it quickly). So I set up a keyboard shortcut for inserting an anchored object. Go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts, and in the Product Area field, choose Object Menu. Then choose Anchored Object: Insert (Defaults) and set the keystroke you want in the New Shortcut field. Click Assign then click OK.

Step three: Set the Default Anchored Object to create a note

Then it’s time to set the defaults that will appear when we use the keyboard shortcut we just created. With nothing selected in InDesign, choose Object > Anchored Object > Insert (Defaults). If you have an anchored object or a text frame selected, you won’t get the option to set the default because it thinks you want to just manipulate the one you have selected. So make sure you see “Defaults” in parenthesis, or press Command-Shift-A (Ctrl+Shift+A under Windows) to Deselect All first for safety.

The Insert Anchored Object (Defaults) dialog appears. Everytime I use that shortcut, here’s what I want to appear by default:

  • Content: Text
  • Object Style: Pithy Comment Box
  • Paragraph Style: Colleen Comment
  • The Position options should fill out according to the Pithy Comment Box object style I created above.

Here’s what the dialog box looks like:

Click OK, and your prep is done.

Step four: Use it to convey editorial wisdom

Now I can just click in any text field in the document, press my keyboard shortcut, hit return and, voila, I get a nicely placed box out in the pasteboard with my chosen comment color already queued up. I can just start typing my pithy comment without losing my train of thought. If I want to comment about an image, I anchor my comment to the caption text. There’s even a happy dashed line (the Anchored Object indicator) that points right to what I’m talking about. And if I need to be more specific, I have the Highlight style at the ready. If the text flows, as it inevitably does in dekeWorld, the anchored comment goes along with it. Chaos, misunderstanding, and repetitive stress injury averted.

Tip: If you want to move the anchor point for this or any anchored object, it’s much easier to do so from the Story Editor, where it’s represented by an easily grabbable Anchor icon.

Does it seem like a lot of work? Not compared to trying to interpret comments out in the pasteboard when the text to which they refer has drifted several pages away because of additions or deletions. Or trying to create, style, and position anchored comments by hand for 544 pages. Plus once you create these styles, you can load them into any new document, quickly set your defaults, and you’re on your way.

Next entry:Picked up a Couple of Awards

Previous entry:Join Us at Photoshop World, Free


  • Awesome post, CW

    Honestly, after a lot of painful interim fixes, this was the first solution that satisfied me (I tend to be a little picky about these things) and made sense to the non-designer editors on my team. It really has helped our workflow tremendously.

    And cuz they’re anchored, if the text moves, the comments move with ‘em. Unless you’ve already bought into InCopy (which is great insofar as it goes), give this technique a try.

    Wait a sec, it occurs to me we’re sharing trade secrets . . .

    (Oh, and by all means, if you have a simpler approach, let us know. Cuz we’re not above pilfering. wink

  • I was just wondering what

    I was just wondering what difference drupal has made to the way blogging can be done. Your site is looking good with drupal powered system.

  • Nice to share trade secrets

    I think is great to have people who are willing to share their trades to help others. I think the exchange of information is a good way to help with the growth of a business.

Share your feedback, work, homages, questions, wisecracks, advice, critiques, riffs, derision (within reason), frustrations, and love of all things graphical. Log in (or register) to lend your voice.