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Students take heed: The winter semester is off and running, and it’s going to be time to turn in term papers before you know it. If you’re stressing out about getting through your reams of writing in a timely fashion, we’ve got a suggestion you might not have considered — writing with PDFs.
PDFs not only produce a great looking final document, they also offer a versatile and flexible format for the writing and research process itself. With the right tool, you can build PDF documents that include time-saving annotations, perfect for highlighting the important parts of your research and adding notes along the way. You can organize your work in super useful ways and create a table of contents for easy navigation.
PDF Expert is a powerful tool
Unfortunately, PDFs don’t exactly lend themselves to these tricks — you need the right tool. One great option is PDF Expert. It’s an app that lets you get at some of the hidden potential of PDFs. And below, we’ll show you how to use them to get an edge on your term papers.
Cut the clutter with annotations
No matter the subject, the process of writing a term paper begins with research. Lots and lots of messy, messy research. To keep the information overload at bay, it helps to create handholds in the form of annotations and comments. By using color to keep topic areas and sources distinct from one another, you can create a visual shortcut to exactly the information you need right when you need it, overlayed on the contents of the paper. Doing this saves a lot of page flipping and can make sure you don’t forget key information while writing and revising.
Say you’re a history major, with an essay topic of “The History of Digital Marketing”. You’ve broken this meaty topic down into 5 main sections:
- The Early Marketing Age
- Current Trends
- The Future
Set red as the color for everything that relates to the Introduction. Yellow can relate to ‘The Future’, blue for ‘Current Trends’, and so on. Right away, you can easily begin to sort out your paper based on the subject being discussed at any given point. We’ll cover how to add your research and notes to these annotations in a second.
First though, using PDF Expert for our example, open your PDF document and select the annotations tool from the top bar.
Select the style of annotation you want to work with: strikeout, highlights, or underline.
Then, start marking it up based on the subtopics. Once you’ve marked all your sections, you can jump to any subtopic by selecting the corresponding color in the sidebar.
Now you can add comments and summaries to any bit of highlighted text. If you’ve only sketched out an introduction, you can makes notes the key bits of information that you plan to add later. Maybe in reading your draft, you realize you need to flesh out your hypothesis for the ’future’ section. In which case, just click the yellow tab and add a note, whether to set a reminder or to log any ideas about what more you plan to say. All of this is built into the document itself, so there’s no coordinating notebooks or dog-earing textbook pages.
In two clicks, you can even download the annotations you’ve created as a separate file. To do so, select File on the top bar and select Export Annotation ‘Summary as’. Now you’ve got a separate master list of all the notes you’ve taken so far.
Keep all your materials in one document
Think of all the notebooks, textbooks, lists of links and other scraps that make up the research process. Don’t stress yourself out by thinking about it for too long.
PDFs offer a great way to keep the mess of research materials you’re drawing from organized and easily available. In PDF Expert for example, you have 3 ways of merging any PDF content from your research materials into a single master document — there are several ways to convert images and even websites to PDF. These summaries can be just as handy for writing term papers as for sharing the research behind them. Let’s go over some ways of creating them.
Go to the ‘File’ menu and select ‘Merge files’. From this menu, you can select any combination of PDFs at once, and instantly create a brand new document containing all of them.
Enter ‘thumbnail mode’ by clicking the icon in the upper left toolbar. Click ‘append file’, and then select each PDF file you want to combine to the currently opened one.
Enter Mac OSX’s split screen mode with the app, and once opened, you can just drag and drop the file from one side of the screen to the other, instantly merging into your opened document.
Create a table of contents
Last but not least, creating a table of contents is like having a subway map of your term paper, both for the writing process and part of the final product. The table of contents tool in PDF Expert makes it simple to jump between pages and sections for easy navigation.
There are two ways to do it with PDF Expert:
Highlight the area of text that your table of contents entry will link to. Right click and select “Add Outline Item”. An outline will appear on the sidebar of the app, and you’ll now be able to return to that spot with one click.
Another way is to open the sidebar, select the “Outline” tab and press “Add item” at the bottom of the bar. The outline will be connected to the page you’ve selected.
When using tools like these, it’s important to remember not to overdo the outlines. It’s easy for what should be a time-saving and streamlining habit to grow over-complicated, gumming up the research and writing process.
Using strong, clearly reasoned headlines and subheadlines in tables of contents and annotations can help serve as anchors for outlines. They can branch into sub-sections that together form a kind of topic tree that grow alongside the document. This kind of structure can help save you many needless umps.
So there you have it, a set of basic ways to make PDFs an ally in the struggle to write a great term paper. By having a framework, a single document for all your key data, and an easily navigable table of contents, you can stay on top of your subjects and deliver a better result. The example we used throughout, PDF Expert, is a great place to start — it’s straightforward and reliable, and right now you can try it out over a free 7 day trial.