Interacting with texts: Adobe Acrobat Pro

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, writing | Comments Off on Interacting with texts: Adobe Acrobat Pro

Today I’m plugging one of my favorite applications, one that I’ve found to be indispensible both in my work as a researcher and my day-to-day life as a seasoned grad student:  Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Most everyone is familiar with Adobe Acrobat, the free, gold-standard tool for reading pdfs.  Well, the Pro version is the superstar older sibling of Acrobat.  You can use it not only to read pdfs, but also to:

  1. create pdfs (from Word or Excel documents);
  2. set the security level of the pdfs that you create, such that they cannot be copied or altered;
  3. mark up and annotate pdfs (highlight text, insert comments and graphics)
  4. copy passages from a pdf to insert elsewhere (such as into Endnote, a great tool for creating and managing bibliographic references);
  5. combine multiple pdfs into one;
  6. convert pdfs into Word (or Excel);
  7. compare versions of a pdf document;
  8. create fillable pdf forms.

The main thing that I use Adobe Acrobat Pro for is the third point above – marking up and annotating texts.  In fact, Adobe Acrobat Pro has (for me at least) revolutionized the process of how I interact with texts.  Let me explain.

In the old days I’d build up massive collections of books and articles for my research – enough to fill a small library.  Each one of those books and articles would be covered in my handwritten jottings, highlights, sticky notes, and flags.  To retrieve those notes (and the thoughts that went along with them) I’d have to revisit each one of those texts, flip through it, decipher the jottings, and then do something with them.  Traveling was a hassle because it meant the agony of choosing the most necessary texts and then schlepping them around with me.

Not anymore.

These days I have everything I can get my hands on in electronic format.  I can carry thousands of texts around with me, safely contained in the hard drive of my laptop or in a virtual safe deposit box in the cloud.  Using Adobe Acrobat Pro I can easily mark up those texts electronically with all the virtual highlights, sticky notes, flags, scribbles, and jottings that my heart desires.  All of these are also easy to modify and even delete.  Remember flipping through your old library books and diligently erasing all your pencil marks?  Remember your dissatisfaction in knowing that you could never remove that ugly highlighting?  With electronic texts these little problems simply don’t exist.

The other thing that’s so useful is that all of the typed comments I insert into a pdf can easily be copied and then pasted into other documents and programs.  For example, I sometimes start composing parts of my own writing into the texts that I’m reading.  With a few clicks I can lift my compositions out and paste them into Word.  When I’m jotting things down about the text itself, I lift and deposit those into Endnote, where I store all the bibliographic information for each book and article that I read.  (Note to grad students – this is extremely useful in preparing for your general exams, as well as preparing your literature reviews.)

The only pain point about using Adobe Acrobat Pro is that it’s pricey, but the good news is that students and educators can get a substantial discount.

What programs do you use for marking up text, and what do you like about them?

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