Electronic Interaction With Research Made Easy
Tuesday, July 05, 2011 Tech Tips
By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant
Based on personal experience, my guess is that most students groan when they find out that the assigned readings for a class are a whopping 28 pages at least. It’s not so much that we don’t want to read the material, but that we like to print out articles so we can write in the margins, highlighting and circling important information and ideas and scribbling large question marks when confused (that one might be just me). Marking up an article in this way helps us better understand the material, as well as pick out the important bits weeks later.
Not being able to print out long articles is a bummer because we cannot interact with the assigned readings. What I have now realized, though, is that the recent version of Adobe’s PDF Reader has some handy new tools that allow us to do just about everything we would with a print version. Previously these types of tools were only available to those who bought Adobe Acrobat Pro. Now the free version, Adobe Reader X, includes these capabilities.
Highlighting. Highlighting is an important and useful tool to use as you read an article. Not only can you highlight the main ideas of the author, you can also highlight ideas or facts that will be important to you in your research. If you’ve ever read an article, set it aside, and then come back to it weeks later with the intent of using it in your paper, you know what I mean. You’ve already read the article but have forgotten where that great quote was or where the author mentioned her thesis. By highlighting this important information, you can easily skim the article and find what you need.
Annotations. Not only can you highlight important information, you can also write yourself notes about the highlighted information to help you in the future. Not only are you now able to remember that this was important stuff, you can remind yourself why. There’s no need to wonder why you highlighted a sentence; an annotation can tell you that you thought it would be great to use in your introduction.
Sticky Notes. Similar to annotations, you can also place sticky notes throughout a document (similar to Post-its). Instead of highlighting something, you might want to include a global note for yourself, something that isn’t attached to a specific sentence or paragraph but is placed within the document itself. These are great for summarizing an article, recording your reaction to a particular paragraph, or noting to yourself where information might be useful in your own paper. Or maybe you want to insert that big question mark I was mentioning earlier when things get confusing.
Color Coding. You can also change the shape and color of any of these tools by right clicking and selecting “Properties." You can then make whatever changes you’d like and choose “Make Properties Default” so that all further uses of that tool will follow these settings. This might be useful if you want to highlight all information for chapter 1 of your dissertation in green and all information for chapter 2 in pink. Of course, you can always use these options to make the article just a bit more colorful!
Use these tools in whatever combination and way you’d like—if circular sticky notes make you happier, go for it! Just make sure to take advantage of these options. Interacting with your research will help you to better understand the material, make connections between ideas, and use the research in the future. No need to make the excuse that you couldn’t print out an article; use that green highlighting to your heart’s content!