Using Notes for hiding text in InDesign layouts

Instead of deleting text from Adobe InDesign documents, you can hide it from sight by using the Notes function.

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InDesign has a similar function to Microsoft Word’s Comments feature – ‘Notes’. Notes insert text into an InDesign document, that will not get printed or included in a PDF, that other InDesign and InCopy users can view.

They can also delete text from documents, without actually deleting it.

I recommend editors get into the habit of ‘noting out’ text, as it can be easily recovered. Cut text from an InDesign file, it’s gone. If you later need to reinsert a Note – for instance, if a page layout changes and you have room to fill, or you simply change your mind about a cut – you can just make the hidden text visible again.

If you set a shortcut key for noting out (and unnoting out), it can become as much second-nature as tapping backspace.

How to ‘Note out’ text in InDesign

The following steps will show you how to create shortcuts to create and undo Notes, and how to use the Notes to hide and reveal text.

Creating the shortcuts

Use Edit… Keyboard Shortcuts to open the shortcuts editor.

Select ‘Type’ from the Product Area menu. The Commands list will populate with entries from the Type menu – where the Notes commands are located – listed in alphabetical order.

Scroll to ‘Notes: Convert to Note’, in the Commands window and click it.

The command Notes Mode has the default shortcut Cmd-F8. This converts selected text into a Note. I prefer setting up a new shortcut , as Cmd-F8 conflicts with a system-wide shortcut on my Mac.

Click in the ‘New Shortcut’ field and press Cmd-K to assign the shortcut.

A message will appear informing you that Cmd-K is used to open the Preferences pane.

To fix this, click on the Context menu and select ‘Text’. This means when click out of a text box and use Cmd-K, it will continue to open the Preferences pane.

Click Assign to set the shortcut.

Repeat this process for Notes: Convert to Text (directly below Convert to Note). You can use this to restore text in a Note back to the page.

For simplicity, I use Shift-Cmd-K. If you have kept Cmd-F8, I suggest using Shift-Cmd-F8.

Once you’re satisfied click New Set… and save your customised shortcuts set.

You can use Keyboard Shortcuts to customise InDesign’s shortcuts or change them to a preset selection. It’s worth assigning shortcuts to commands and tools you often use, but lack shortcuts for.

How to note out

Open the Notes pane, using Window… Editorial… Notes. The text in Notes appears in this.

Select the text to be removed using the Type Tool. Do not select break characters unless you want to remove them to reflow text. Use Type… Show Hidden Characters (Alt-Cmd-I) to make them visible.

Sharing InDesign with other users? Set the shortcuts back to how the last user had them.

Tap Cmd-K or Cmd-F8. A small orange barbell will replace the text. Clicking on that will reveal the now-hidden text in the Notes pane.

How to restore noted out text

Inside the Notes pane, select the text you want to restore. Then tap Shift-Cmd-K (or Shift-Cmd-F8).

The text will be removed from the Note and flowed in after the barbell. If you restore all the text, the barbell will be removed.


InDesign treats the barbell that marks a Note’s location as any other character in InDesign. That means it can be deleted with the backspace key or dragged or cut-and-pasted into a new position.

If you move the barbell, restored text will be inserted after the barbell, not in its original position. And once a barbell is deleted, the Note can’t be recovered.

Post-It, don’t Note it

While the Notes function is designed for annotating InDesign documents, the barbells are easy to miss. I find that leaving a ‘Post-It note’ – a very visible text box, placed on a non-printing layer – on documents is more effective. You can find a sample Post-It note in my shared InDesign library.

If you find this tip useful, or you have one you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.


The text used in the InDesign document is from 5G is Revolutionary for Security Mobility Solutions by Rosina De Palma which was first published on Ground Report. The main photo is based on a work by Alexei Kuznetsov

Copy editing isn’t about finishing a writer’s work

Lego Computer Programmer figure by wiredforlego
You aren’t alone when you have a copy editor. But please don’t take advantage of us. (wiredforlego\Flickr)

Writing is a lonely business, especially if you’re a freelancer. But sub-editors and copy editors are ready to work with you. But we aren’t here to do your job for you.   

I once saw a writing tip given by a well-known, occasionally controversial, author and journalist. (I won’t name the writer, for reasons that’ll become clear.)

Like many writing productivity tips, the advice aimed to maximise the writer’s output while speeding up their workflow.

But this tip didn’t cut the amount of work to do: it just passed it from the author to a copy editor.

The placeholder problem

The author’s tip was to when you have to include a non-critical fact you don’t immediately know write ‘XX’ as a placeholder and carry on writing.

So you’d write, “The XXkm trip between Berlin and Cologne…” instead of, “The 574km trip between Berlin and Cologne…”.

The author would then leave it to the copy editor to replace the XX with the correct information.

For me, this showed, at best, an immense misunderstanding of what a copy editor’s role is.

What the writer got right

The author’s idea – using placeholders to stop fact checking slowing you down – is a good one.

Using placeholders for non-critical facts, which you then insert later, enables you to focus on writing the entire piece. And it breaks up a big job into subtasks, which can improve productivity (but not always).

But it remains the primary responsibility of the writer to do their research and include the details required in your article: not a copy editor’s.

If details seem to be missing in your writing, a copy editor will tell you. And, if they are able to, and you have previously agreed they can, they will add the missing details.

Placeholders have uses

There are times when you can use placeholders in copy submitted to an editor – but they are exceptional cases when waiting could cause serious delays in production.

For instance: I’ve had writers submit work saying they are expecting confirmation of someone’s name, a page reference that will only become known when a magazine’s or book’s layout is done, or a sentence being reviewed by a lawyer and may need amending.

In these cases, writers hand over their work and I (or another editor) add the missing details or changes after confirming them.

This isn’t ideal, as placeholders can get missed and reach your readers.

If you use a placeholder, start with text that can be easily spotted and followed by a note describing the amendment: eg. [PLACEHOLDER – DATE] or [XXX – COMPANY NAME TBC]

Stick with one style for your placeholders and tell your copy editor what the style is. This allows you both to be easily find the text using word processors’ and desktop-publishing systems’ ‘Find’ functions.

Fact hunting

There is nothing wrong with asking for a copy editor’s help in finding a fact.

But you should make your copy editor aware of any placeholders or details you are unsure of and need us to double-check when you send us your work.

We might be able to give you the information. And if we both can’t find it, then we can recommend on to change your text so that minor reference isn’t needed.

So, please do ask your editor for help if you need it. But don’t expect us to do your job for you.

If you have a writing productivity tip, or would like to share how you work with editors, please leave a comment below.

Website overhaul

The New York Times newsroom in 1942, taken by Marjory Collins
Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting for an editor to assign a story. A rewrite man in background gets a story on the phone from reporter who is outside the office.

I have given this website a much-needed overhaul. More minor changes may happen in the near future, as I fix errors and optimise the site’s content and layout.

Its new theme is ‘Shoreditch’, created by Automattic.

The image at the top of each page is of the New York Times’ newsroom circa 1942. Marjory Collins took the photo for the US Office of War Information. It is available on Wikimedia Commons.

The font used throughout the site is Open Sans by Ascender Fonts.

I created the site’s logo using Affinity Photo.

If you would like to discuss hiring me, please send an email using this contact form. Alternatively, you may phone me on (+44) 020 3290 3213 or on Skype at richard_cosgrove.

Copy Edited… Must-read links: 28 May – 3 June

Free data journalism handbook launched (Online Journalism Blog) – The Data Journalism Handbook is “free, open-source book that aims to help journalists to use data to improve the news”.

Telling wannabe journos “Don’t work for free” doesn’t help (Online Journalism Blog) – A discussion piece on the pros and cons of journalists working without pay.

Is linguistic inflation insanely awesome? (Macmillan DIctionary) – Is massively hyperbolic hyperbole leaving writers nowhere to go?

The problem with banning words (Sentence First) – Stan Carey (the writer of the previous post) looks at whether its constructive to prohibit writers from using certain words.

Shorthand: Still an essential part of a journalist’s toolkit? ( – Do reports still need shorthand? (The short answer: Yes.)

Ethical lessons learnt from covering the Norwegian massacre ( – Part of’s coverage of the Global Editors Network #HacktheNewsroom  summit, this report looks at how Norway’s news media approached the Oslo bombing and massacre, and gained respect of its readers and viewers.

Aggregation guidelines: Link, attribute, add value (The Buttry Diary via – Advice for reports who aggregation – combining and referring to online reports and posts – to improve their stories.

Seven tips in digital storytelling from the New York Times and CNN – ( – New York Times‘s assistant managing editor discusses how the newspaper is adapting to digital journalism, at the News World Summit.

5 Things Your Online Journalism Portfolio Should Include (10,000 Words) – These days journalists should have an online portfolio. These are the things you should include. It’s basic stuff, but easy to overlook.

New blog tracks ‘best practices in digital journalism’ ( – A report on Best Practices: a blog looks at and discusses how journalists deal with complications print journalists face on a daily basis (like corrections).

The corrections column co-editor on… the changing role of the sub-editor (The Guardian) – The editor of the Guardian’s corrections column details how the role of the newspaper’s sub-editors have changed with The Guardian’s move to a digital-first platform.

Online journalism jobs – from the changing sub-editor to the growth of data roles (Online Journalism Blog) – Another look at how digital publishing, and the rise of data journalism, is changing the role of journalists.