Annotating PDFs — the Missing Function?

The NYT has an article on a subject I’ve been forced to care about, since my office is now effectively more-or-less paperless (it is actually almost fileless, but for most purposes why have paper if you can’t keep it?): How to live without a printer.

The key recommendation in Getting By Without a Computer Printer is pretty obvious:

You can limit contact with your printer by becoming more familiar with PDFs

But the problem with .pdf’s is that I don’t know how to annotate them. I know how to take notes in the margin of a paper document. How do I replicate this virtually, easily, and visibly on a .pdf?

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8 Responses to Annotating PDFs — the Missing Function?

  1. Paul Gowder says:

    iPad + an app called iAnnotate. Works pretty much perfectly, syncs with dropbox. I’ve gone 100% paperless with it. Can “flatten” annotations to be read in any app, email to yourself to print… I’ve even filled out then printed forms with it.

  2. Jamie says:

    Similar to Paul, I use GoodReader on an iPad.

    I suppose I’m a bit less enthusiastic. I dislike PDFs in general, finding them inflexible and less useful than text files or books/other forms of paper + scanner. But it does work, and the UI of doing this on the iPad actually works well for things like document review, where you are concentrating on one document, using a reference work alongside your main computer, or just reading and scribbling in the margins. It works less well if you’re using a document to, say, write an email and you’re doing it solely on the iPad – copy/paste/switch apps and whatnot gets tiresome quickly.

    On a Mac, Preview is actually pretty good for this sort of thing. I don’t know what Windows folks do.

    I do wish people would just use text, or a human-readable text format like Markdown. There just aren’t that many disciplines that both need complex layout and invite serious study. Whoever it is that writes the various citation standards will catch up – stop mimicking dead trees, already.

  3. Mike says:

    In Acrobat 9 Pro, show the Tasks Toolbar (View menu), then use the Comment function.

    You can do a lot w/ PDFs, but very few people use the advanced functionality.

  4. I don’t own a Mac or an iPad, and having only just very recently acquired a new Droid Incredible 2 (aka a Dinc2), I’m very unlikely to also get an iPad. So I think I need a PC-based solution.

    What I’m hearing is that I need to give Acrobat Pro a fuller try. My initial sense was it was a bit clunky as an annotator, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

  5. James Madison says:

    1. Install Acrobat 9.
    2. Disable the god awful Acrobat reader.

    You can add comments into any document with Acrobat 9. However you cannot do so with the Acrobat reader. The Acrobat reader probably came pre-installed on your computer, and will automatically open .pdf’s no matter how hard you try to avoid it unless you terminate it’s existence. The good news is that it is easy to uninstall since it was not designed to be malware, and once it is gone your documents will open in Acrobat 9.

    A better solution that may be available, depending on the document, is converting it to a word document. Locking the word document to only accept red-line changes and then annotating however you wish, knowing that your additions will be in red-line. This works really well with westlaw documents. Email them to yourself in an .rtf, lock it and edit it as you wish.

    If I am drafting a paper or a lengthy brief/motion I eschew all paper, since it is too hard to keep track of all the notes in the margins of a desk top full of cases and other authority. It’s also next to impossible to file the research in any meaningful way so that you can find it months later if the issue comes up again.

  6. Adam says:

    Foxit Reader has annotation functions, and is free and a lot faster than Acrobat Pro.

  7. Just me says:

    Print. Hand write notes in margin. Scan.

  8. Altoid says:

    I don’t know about Adobe Reader 9, but Reader 10 has a post-it note function that sticks a note wherever you want to put it. The window expands as you add text; I don’t know what the ultimate size limit is. You write what you want and then minimize the note. When you move the cursor over the note symbol the text expands to become readable, like MS Word comments and footnotes. The menu icon for post-its is a yellow comic-strip-style thought balloon right next to the highlight text button, near the right end of icons up there.

    The same function exists in Acrobat Pro 10 and can be gotten to either through the icon on the menu bar (same one) or by clicking “comment” on the menu (far right end of the bar) and picking the post-it note balloon, per James Madison. (But btw, you can right-click a pdf either in an explorer window or if it’s separately listed as an attachment and pick “open with” from the menu to control which program opens it. I often don’t want to open with Pro because I don’t want to risk altering the document.)

    Since Reader 10 is a free download, I’d go with that first.

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