This guide offers tips and tools for students who want to digitally annotate or highlight texts to achieve close readings.  Printing texts out and manually marking them up is another option, but environmental concerns, cost, and convenience may make reading online a good choice. 

Notetaking, creating quizlets or mapping are other common techniques for achieving deep understandings of texts across disciplines but are outside the scope of this guide. Professors and Learning Support Services professionals can provide guidance. 

File Formats & digital Devices

The tools available for highlighting and annotating are contingent on the digital device in use and the file formats at your disposal.  PDFs are the most common file format offered by scholarly article and ebook platforms; ePub and html formats may also be encountered (but are not covered in this guide).

Most, but not all, PDF files are in editable or accessible formats.  You can use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to convert an inaccessible PDF to an editable version of the PDF with Read and Write Gold

There are many digital tools  that offer markup features for PDFs, but because Google Drive/Docs and Acrobat Reader DC are compatible with many digital devices and operating systems (PC, MAC, tablets, or smartphones) this guide focuses on these applications. 

Although ebook platforms such as EBSCO and Proquest offer highlighting and notetaking for online reading without downloading or borrowing the book,  this method is NOT recommended because other users may be able to borrow the title you've marked and block your access at a later date.


You can use Read & Write Gold to put PDFs through an OCR conversion to make them accessible.  Read and Write Gold is a customizable floating toolbar that provides reading, writing, studying and research tools including text to speech and speech to text capabilities.  Instructions for downloading and use are available from Learning Support Services.

Google Drive/Docs

Google Docs is a popular tool for creating and sharing resources.  It also has a convenient annotating feature.  Google Drive is compatible with PCs, MACs and both Android and iOS mobile devices via their app stores.

Steps to Highlight and Annotate PDFs in Google Drive

  1. Download and save articles, chapters or books in PDF format.
  2. Login to your Google account
  3. Open Google Drive
  4. Create a folder for your readings
  5. Upload PDFs to folder
  6. Open PDF
  7. Click "add a comment" icon in upper right
  8. Highlight relevant text, type notes and post comment.

Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

The Acrobat Reader DC is a free download that has advanced markup features beyond highlighting and comments, such as underlying, drawing, sticky notes and images.  It is compatible with PCs, MACs and there are apps for Android and iOS mobile devices

Steps to Marking Up PDFs with Acrobat Reader DC

  1. Download and save articles, chapters or books in PDF format.
  2. Download & open Adobe Acrobat Reader DC
  3. On right pane of application browse to open file, located on your device or in the cloud.  You can connect to Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and Sharepoint.
  4. When PDF is open, click on the yellow comment box in the right pane.
  5. Highlight relevant text & use any of the many comment tools on the top toolbar.
  6. Save changes before closing document.

Additional Help

If you want to learn how to take better notes, check out Learning Support Services' Strategies for Academic Success.