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.

How to copy edit your own work

Sony PlayStation console controller
It may sound odd, but this controller is a useful editing tool. (Image: Unsplash/Pexels)

As a writer, there are easy things you can do to improve your writing and reduce errors, before sending it to your editor or clicking the ‘publish’ button.

Every writer finds it difficult to spot errors in their own writing. Even copy editors, like myself, can struggle to spot mistakes in our own writing. And it’s all down to how our brains work.

When writers read over work we’ve written, we unconsciously skip ahead, as we recall what we’ve written and know what we intended to say, and so we end up skimming over our mistakes.

To help reduce this ‘typo blindness’, try out these tricks of the editing trade.

Take a break, then re-read

Have a drink, attend a meeting, walk your dog, play with your kids, gossip with workmates, find a PlayStation buddy up for a Call of Duty match – do anything that doesn’t involve writing before reviewing your work.

Why should I do this?

This helps you see your work with fresh eyes because the text becomes unfamiliar – you set aside what you meant to say and see what you’ve really written. The longer the piece, the longer you need to take a break for: 10 minutes for a short article will help, but a book should be set aside for a couple of weeks.

New fonts, please

Changing the fonts before re-reading your work can show mistakes you’ve overlooked.

Pick one in a different typeface style to the one you wrote in – so if you used a serif font (eg. Times New Roman or Garamond), switch to a sans-serif font (eg. Arial or Calibri) and vice versa. Use whatever font works for you – even Comic Sans.

Why should I do this?

Changing the font and the layout makes the text unfamiliar to your brain and you read what is ‘on the page’, not what you believe is there. Typing out material that you’ve written longhand, or pasting text from a word processor into your blog’s CMS also has this effect.

Spelling and grammar checkers are great for making final probes for mistakes. But ensure your document’s language matches your audience’s before unleashing the robot. (eg. British English if you’re writing for the UK, and US English for North America.)

Edit from hard copies

Print off your article in a large, clear font with double-spaced line breaks, to give you enough room to make notes; grab a pencil or a pen (blue pencils are traditional for marking up edits, but I prefer green Biros) and a ruler (optional); find a spot where you can focus; and read the print out.

Use your finger, pen or ruler to keep your eyes fixed on the word or line you are reading, so you don’t skip ahead. And make sure to subvocalise the words and punctuation you see.

Why should I do this?

As well as making text unfamiliar, moving away from your computer helps you focus: there’s no internet and email to distract you.

Reading slowly using a finger or pen may make you feel like a child learning to read, but it will highlight small mistakes you may otherwise miss.

Subvocalising also slows your reading down. (Aside: not doing this and ‘following your finger’ is a speedreading technique.)

Loud out …backwards work your read, finally

Starting from your work’s last word, go backwards throughout the entire piece, reading each word out loud.

Why should I do this?

This forces you to pay attention to each word and trying to pronounce a misspelt word is hard. This is possibly the best way to spot typos and minor mistakes, such as doubled punctuation.


…I have a deadline!

Not all writers feel they have the time to do this – especially content writers and reporters, who have multiple deadlines to hit each day. But the best writers I work with make sure they have enough time to re-read their work at least once.

…copy editors will fix these!

Yes, we will. But if we have a lot to fix, our work takes longer, and if you’re paying by the hour, you’ll be spending more money.

Copy editors also send you queries about your work. So you could end up spending more time (and money) replying to queries than you would’ve spent correcting your typos.

Just make sure you stick to just one Call of Duty match and get back to work.

Do you a trick to self-editing you’d like to share? Please let everyone know in the comments 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.

Retro science-fiction poster for People Per Hour


I heard about the PULP-O-MIZER site from the screenwriter Steve Turnbull.

It enables you to create posters similar to the old science-fiction anthology magazines that were around early last century.

So I decided to make one for an ‘Hourly‘ I placed on the People Per Hour website.

It’s certainly more fun than the expected copy editing advert.