How to Use “Preview” to Take Notes Within PDF Files

Last week you got a taste of my paperless aspirations and with that in mind, I figured I’d pass an additional tip along to you this evening. Before we begin though, I have a question for you. If you spend just five minutes reading this post you will probably print 10%-25% fewer documents this year. Why? The reason is simple – people love to print out PDF files and then take notes on them during a meeting. What’s worse? People store these notes into filing cabinets a week or two later and they’re never heard from again (the notes I mean, not the people). It’s an unfortunate reality of today’s workplace – meeting notes being added to the mountain of paper that just grows, and grows, and grows.

So what is this amazing tip I have for you? It’s really quite simple, but I’m shocked by how many people don’t realize you can use PDF readers to add notes to PDF files. Let’s look at Apple’s Preview program for example, the default PDF application on Mac OS. If you’re using Windows the same functionality can be achieved using other software such as Adobe Acrobat Pro. I’d suggest Googling something like “markup PDF Windows”.

So let’s say you have a document that is saved as a PDF file, kind of like the example I’m about to show that contains a set of instructions from one of my school assignments. Upon opening, the temptation to print that thing out can become overbearing. The need to grab your pen and scratch important dates and random thoughts that bounce out of your head becomes palpable. In fact, you may even begin to shake and experience blurred vision if you can’t print that document out within the next five minutes. “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS DOCUMENT TRAPPED INSIDE MY COMPUTER SCREEN! I NEEEEED TO PRINT…..I HAVE TO PRINT!”.


Take a breath.

Forget what you know.

Forget what you think you know.


Open your file in Preview. Read through it as you would read through a paper document. When you feel the need to add a note or write something important on the page you can do so by accessing the Annotate menu (pictured below). You can even highlight selected lines of text.

Preview Menu












When all is said and done, you can do pretty much anything that you would have done with a pen and paper. The only difference in doing it this way is that instead of writing everything on a piece of paper that could get lost, you’ve uploaded the document to Dropbox or Evernote – right?

By following this relatively simple methodology, you can drastically reduce the number of pages that you print on a regular basis. This not only saves paper and space on your desk, but it reduces the possibility of you losing your important notes.

This is a huge step to living the “paperless” life, and a relatively simple one at that. Give it a go! If you’re still not convinced I’ve attached an example file to the bottom of this post to help give you some ideas regarding what’s possible in terms of marking up your document.


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2 Responses to “How to Use “Preview” to Take Notes Within PDF Files”

  1. ACollins Says:

    Wow, I had no idea! This will save me so much time in my school studies. Thanks!


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