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Taking Notes Using PDF Files

September 30, 2018

Paid versions of Adobe Acrobat have long featured enhanced commenting tools to help users take notes using PDF files. Those tools are now a part of the free version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, beginning with Acrobat Reader X, introduced in December 2010.

The following is a tutorial on taking notes on PDF files using Adobe Acrobat Reader:

Annotation Process for PC

Sticky Notes

One of the most common means of annotating documents is the sticky note. To add a sticky note to a document, do any of the following.

  1. Click the Sticky Note button on the top tasks toolbar. Using the cursor, click the loca­tion in the document where the note is to be anchored. Type the desired text into the body of the note then click outside the sticky note box in order to save your text.
  2. Click the Comment button on the standard tasks toolbar and select the Sticky Note annotation option or right-click on the face of the document and select Add Sticky Note from the context-sensitive menu. Drag the sticky note anchor to the proper location and then type the desired text into the note then click outside the sticky note box in order to save your text.

Under default settings, Sticky Notes have a common yellow border. The title bar of the note contains the name of the person who added the note, the date and time it was added, and an Options button that allows users to perform common tasks. To reposition a note, click on its title bar and drag it to its new location. To resize a note, drag one of its bottom corners.

In default, notes remain visible after creation. To minimize a note, click on the minimize icon in the upper right of the sticky note or click on the anchor itself. To redisplay a note, double-click on the note anchor. To temporarily view a note, hover the cursor over the note anchor. To delete a note, click and highlight its anchor and then press DELETE or right-click on the anchor or the note title bar and select Delete from the context-sensitive menu.

To change the color of a note and its anchor, click Properties in its title bar. On the Appearance tab, click the Color box, select the color desired, and then click OK. To make the chosen color the default for all notes created in all documents, right-click on the note title bar and select Make Current Properties Default or click on sticky note anchor and select Make Current Properties Default in the context-sensitive menu. Customizing the color of notes by user is very effective in small offices. Each user can choose a different color for notes so that the color becomes a visual clue to who created it. Further, replies to notes are more difficult to overlook because the original note and another reviewer's reply are displayed in different colors.

To reply to a note, click Reply in the note title bar. Alternatively, right-click on the anchor or note body and select Reply in the context-sensitive menu. From the Comments List, right-click on the comment and select Reply from the context-sensitive menu. Note that the first reply to any Sticky Note is nested within the original note. Replies to replies are listed in the Comments List. Acrobat places a link to these replies in the bottom border of the original reply in a thread as shown in Figure 2. Also, note how the contrasting border color used by the respondent is clearly distinguishable from the original note.

Figure 2: Nested Sticky Notes and Replies


The Highlighter tool is used to mark or call attention to text in a document. Click the Highlighter button on the Comment & Markup toolbar and then drag the cursor to select the text to be highlighted. The text highlight color can be customized by selecting your colored text and right click to show the context-sensitive drop down box. From this box, you would then select Properties. In default, the Highlighter only marks one text selection at a time, which requires a user to click the Highlighter button and highlight text and then re-click the button to highlight more text. This process can be very tedious if multiple text selections need to be highlighted. To remedy this frustration, check the Keep Tool Selected checkbox on the Prop­erties Bar as shown in Figure 3. To display the Properties Bar, select View, Show/Hide, Toolbar Items, Properties Bar from the menu. Once checked, a user can progress through a document and highlight multiple text selections without having to re-click the Highlighter button. To deactivate the Highlighter tool, just press ESC.

Figure 3: Configuring the Highlighter to Highlight Multiple Selections

Figure 4 shows how to print only the comments on a file instead of the entire file.

Figure 4: Printing Comments Only

With the tools detailed above, users can combine the advantages of electronic materials with the note-taking functionality of printed materials.

General Information:

User comments and markup can be displayed in the Comments panel. Simply expand the panel by clicking the Comments icon in the Navigation pane to display all of the comments inserted into a document as shown in Figure 1. Alternatively, select Comments, Show Comments List from the menu or click Show on the Comments & Markup toolbar and select Show Comments List. Selecting a comment in the Comments List highlights the comment in the document with a blue, moving border called a halo. Selecting a comment in the document identifies the comment in the Comments List.

Figure 5: Showing Comments in the Comments Panel of the Navigation Pane

Note the action toolbar at the top of the Comments panel. From the toolbar, users can expand or contract all comments in the list, navigate through the list using the up or down arrows, reply to a comment made in a sticky note, delete a comment, set the status of a comment, add or clear the workflow checkmark, filter the comment list so that all, none, or only comments meeting specified criteria are displayed, sort the comment list, search the comments for specified key words and print or create a PDF summary of the Comments List.

Annotation process for iPad

  • Ensure you have internet access on your iPad when beginning the download process.
  • Ensure you have a Document Reader app on your iPad. (Recommended apps include Adobe Reader, iBooks and Goodreader. To download these free apps you will need your iTunes login and password.)
  • Go to https://www.vscpa.com/public/secure/myematerials.aspx (you will be required to login to access the document by using your www.vscpa.com login credentials).
  • Click the "Manual" link associated with your course or conference.
  • Once you have the document pulled up, tap the PDF file. Select “Open in…” and select your preferred app as shown in the example below:


  • Once you open the document in your preferred app, a copy will then automatically be saved in your library.
  • You will now be able to view the document with or without an internet connection. 

Instructions for basic annotation

Note: You cannot annotate using the iBook app.

Using the Adobe Reader app:

  • Open the PDF file
  • When you are ready to annotate, simply tap your finger where you would like your note to appear. A popup box of options will appear, as shown below:
  • To create a “post-it note” image, select Note in the pop-up box. Enter your comments and select Save. The note icon will now appear. See images below:

  • To add text directly onto the document, select Text in the pop-up box. Enter your text comments and select Save. The text will now appear on your document. See image below:

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