Writing Center

Reading without Paper

This document supports the workshop "Reading without Paper," where we discuss PDF annotation software and how to develop good practices when reading academic texts on an electronic device (especially computer or tablet).

Active Reading

To become a more active reader, think of yourself as in dialogue with the text you are reading. Do not just highlight or underline, but also write in the margins of your text, if you can (or in a notebook if you cannot). Write questions, note why something is important, argue with the author, tell the author why you agree with him or her, register your surprise at something you have read. This approach will help you better remember what you have read. You will also start to develop a critical perspective on the reading and place it in relation to other texts you have read. In class, you will not only be able to say what the text said; you also will have something to say about it.

Here are some kinds of responses you might want to write in marginal or other notes:

  • Questions (to the author, to yourself, to the professor)
  • What the text makes you wonder or want to learn more about
  • Connections/comparisons to other readings
  • Critique of the argument
  • Extensions (x could also apply to y)
  • How the text connects, to contradicts, or complicates your own thinking

If you find that annotating the text is slowing you down too much, you might try instead just making quick marginal notes, and then taking ten minutes or so at the end of a reading session to fastwrite. The idea is not to take extensive notes on the reading, but to record what was most important or striking about what you read, in addition to your response to the text. 

Apps and Programs

Lifehacker has reviewed PDF annotation tools for Linux, Mac, and Windows computers.

On a touch-screen device, you should consider how you might use it before choosing an app. GoodReader (iOS/iPad) allows for typed comments, drawing, highlighting, bookmarking, and more.

Further resources

Use Goodreader on an iPad (Amherst College Information Technology Knowledge Base)

Editing and Annotating PDF files with Preview (MacWorld)

Annotating a Text (Hunter College Writing/Reading Center): though aimed at marking up a hard copy, this handout describes a number of ways you might interact with a text as you read. Its concepts easily translate to digital annotation.