As I mentioned in my post on using the iPad productively, I have used my iPad to reduce the piles of papers that were lying around on my desk, especially all the journal articles and papers-in-progress. As I’ve increasingly digitalised the way I work with literature and draft texts, I needed an annotation tool, and iAnnotate has become my favourite.
iAnnotate is a feature rich app with lots of options for annotating, navigating and importing/exporting PDF files. After the latest update, you can also use it work with Word and PowerPoint documents.
I use iAnnotate for three main purposes:
– annotating journal articles
– commenting on draft texts (draft articles, papers from students, draft presentations for seminars and conferences)
– marking up data transcripts, especially the first few times I read through transcripts to gain an initial familiarity with the data
Now, to the features:
With iAnnotate you can highlight, underline and strike through text, add free text with a type writer or by hand, and add sticky notes with comments, all in lots of different colours. Here are some illustrations from a randomly selected journal article page:
In addition to the regular mark up tools, when I edit my own work-in-progress or mark up data, I often add a blank page if I want some extra space to take notes or make sketches, or to outline a new way to organise a page or a paragraph.
More generally, iAnnotate comes packed with options. Here is a screen shot of the many features available (some of them hidden as they don’t all fit on the iPad page):
To the right, you will see the tool bar which you can leave visible when you are working on a document. You can add and customise tool bars as you wish, and then easily switch between them by pressing the arrow key at the bottom.
iAnnotate comes with a lot of options for navigating your way around a document, including a lot of the common ones like ‘next page’, ‘previous page’, ‘go to page’, ‘first page’ and ‘last page’, in addition to a tool bar which makes it easy to scroll between pages and multiple tabs to navigate between different documents. You can also search for specific words within the text. One of my favourite features, and the main reason why I use this app instead of worthy competitors such as PDF Expert and GoodReader, is its capacity for continuous, vertical scrolling. In all other apps I have tried, you have to scroll page by page, and I find this very annoying if I want to skim through a long document or just get a quick overview of a text.
Another feature I find extremely useful, is the set mark/return to mark option. Wherever you are in a document, you can select ‘set mark’ on a random spot on the page. After that you can go elsewhere in the document, do whatever you wanted to do, and then just select ‘return to mark’ when you want to continue reading where you set the mark. This feature is excellent for switching back and forth between the text and the bibliography without having to remember which page you were previously at (I usually forget by the time I have inspected the bibliography), or if you want to switch, say, between presentation of data and the discussion of findings.
Bookmarking is also a very useful feature, which I use a lot when I do first readings of long data transcripts – it provides a good tool for that first round of text chunking and highlighting of salient themes, if you are working with material such as observation data or semi structured interviews.
Importing and exporting
iAnnotate syncs with DropBox, as well as a range of other cloud services. With DropBox, there is both a one way and two way sync option. You can’t change the file structure around, though, iAnnotate mirrors the folder structure you have set up in DropBox.
If you want to import a pdf file from your browser, you can simply add the later ‘a’ to the beginning of the address bar in Safari (before the www….), and then your iPad will open the document in iAnnotate – a neat feature which is quite useful.
You can export annotated documents by email, adding an annotation summary if you wish, or simply upload it back to DropBox.
iAnnotate’s main competitors, PDF Expert and GoodReader, are also excellent alternatives. I continue to use iAnnotate particularly because I prefer the vertical scrolling and some of the other features, but I have slight envy of GoodReader’s magnifying window for hand writing, which makes it much easier to work with hand written notes (I’m hoping this will be included in a future update of iAnnotate). I also used PDF Expert for quite a while, as their user interface used to be much more intuitive than iAnnotate’s – however, iAnnotate has significantly improved in this area over the past half year. Whichever app you go for, annotation tools are extremely useful for academic work.