Working with Pdfs (Adobe isn’t the only option)

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

I was talking with a faculty member the other day who was complaining about being sent a .pdf, as he was unable to “edit” it in any way, he wanted the more friendly Microsoft Word document. (If you don’t know what a .pdf is click here, most of the “professional” documents you get are in this form, like journal articles.) After making the point that there is nothing friendly about Word, I asked him to explain more. And then I realized his concern. I think a lot of people assume that you cannot edit .pdfs because they use either Adobe Reader or Preview. There are in fact programs which let you edit .pdfs and this can be of significant use. Consider:

  • You could use such an application to take notes directly on those articles you download from JSTOR, Project Muse or other such journal databases.
  • Many publishers will send you proofs as a .pdf, you could make corrections directly on the proof, rather than writing a separate document.
  • Many sites allow you to download brochures, maps, fliers, etc. in .pdf form, this way you can make notes straight on the file.
  • In fact you could require your students to submit everything as a .pdf and comment directly on the papers, sending them back to the students. This would replicate the “writing in the margins effect” while keeping everything digital. One of the authors on The Unofficial Apple Weblog does this, as he outlines in this post.

What You Can Use

As the above post from The Unofficial Apple Weblog outlines there are two paid options, PdfClerk and PdfPen. I have used both, and really don’t have a preference, and this post does a good job of covering the differences, so I am not going to get into it here, but . . .

As several people have emailed (thanks especially to Curt and Ryan) there is a FREE option for Mac users, that is also open source: Skim. While it is still in beta, and not as robust as the above two it is FREE. You can read reviews here and here. Apparently this is made from the folks who made Bibdesk, so it has good lineage, and although it is still in Beta one can expect that it will continue to develop.

All of these are for the Mac, but if you are a PC user you can try Scribus or check out this list at Wikipedia.