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Basic Digital Annotation Software

In today’s digital age it is rare to have professors who ask you to purchase bounded bulk-packs of printed readings for class. Over my past four years as a full-time graduate student, for example, I have only been required to purchase this sort of reading material for one course. Campus wide technology systems, like Canvas, allow professors to seamlessly upload and deliver documents digitally. Some students opt to print these readings (and sometimes more than one copy). Nevertheless, many of us have had to be resourceful and figure out how to make digital reading work for us. If you’re among those of us working with technology to make reading more active and engaging, check out the following readily available annotation tools that have worked for the students I work with at Weingarten and myself.

Adobe For most computers, Adobe is a default application that allows you to share, open, annotate, edit, and markup documents. As it is a common application it works rather well across devices and operating systems and allows you to make digital reading more active. As part of its standard features are the following powerful tools:


Ranging from functions that highlight, underline, cross-out, or add text these functions allow you to actively engage with the texts you are reading. I recently shared these annotation tools with a medical student who was interested in improving her note-taking strategies. While she found all of the tools useful she identified the pointed text boxes, as we referred to them, as “revolutionary” since they allow her to take notes on graphs and diagrams without altering their nature, a problem she had in the past.

There is a caveat to the Annotation features on Adobe. Not all of the text-specific functions work if your document has been scanned. Adobe reads these documents as images and therefore does not recognize text lines. You can optimize your readings for this to occur rather easily if you choose to invest in a more sophisticated Adobe version (insert link here). Shapes, thought-bubbles, and all of the Drawing Markups continue to work on these imaged documents.

Preview Similar to Adobe, Preview is a standard application for Mac computers. Preview’s tool layout is rather intuitive to understand and work with. In my experience I’ve found that Preview’s functions are quicker than Adobe’s by a slight margin. Perhaps this is due to the application’s specificity to Macs.


Different from Adobe, Preview allows you to highlight in not one but FIVE different colors which makes strategic highlighting a reality. Another one of the functions I am a fan of in Preview is the ease with which colors are available for shapes. This function is also available on Adobe but requires a bit more clicking.

Like Adobe, some of the text-specific features like highlighting do work if your document is a scanned PDF or book chapter. Also like Adobe, shapes, underlining, and text-boxes continue to work on this sort of document.

Adobe and Preview are the most accessible annotation tools for computers given their robust, universal, and straight-forward designs. If you are interested in more sophisticated digital reading, sorting, and storing systems visit our colleagues at Weigle Information Commons for an extensive collection of tutorials on different programs. Next week, a guest author and I will share specific reading strategies to continue our exploration of digital reading.

Staff Writer: Erica Saldívar García

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