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Michigan State University

Virtual Note Taking: Use with MSU Libraries Resources

Information about virtual note taking and annotation. Students with electronic course packs will find this information particularly useful. Last updated: 3/1/18.

Working with Library Resources

Many resources from the MSU Libraries, such as journal articles and ebooks, can be used with virtual note taking apps if they are saved as a PDF first. The PDF file(s) can then be opened in or sent to your note taking app.

There may be some limitations to functionality depending on what type of PDF the publisher makes available:

Readable PDFs

If the PDF file is 'readable', meaning the content can be scanned and searched by other software, there should be no limitations on note taking functionality and any app may be used. If you can highlight individual words or sentences and use features like highlight, strike through, or underline in an annotation program your PDF is readable.

Flat Image PDFs

If the PDF is a flat image it may not be possible to make annotations such as highlighting or underlining, although freehand annotations and sticky notes may still be possible to add to the document.

One option to try is to first use a program with optical character recognition (OCR) to generate a copy of the PDF that is searchable and readable. Otherwise apps that support freehand annotations are the best choice to use with this type of PDF.

Protected PDFs

If the PDF is protected by digital rights management (DRM) it means that the content cannot be modified and annotation capabilities are limited. The best choice for annotating these PDFs are apps that allow for freehand annotations as the annotations are treated as a separate layer added on top of the original document. You may be limited in syncing or exporting these files beyond the note taking app.

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