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Zotero @ the WSU Libraries: Searching and Annotating PDFs

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PDF Conversion Tools

PDF Creation Tools

Smartphone PDF Scanner/Creators

What's So Useful about Searchable (or indexable) PDFs?

Annotating PDFs

See the Home tab in this guide for a schedule of Zotero classes

PDF Creation and Conversion Tools

Adobe Acrobat Professional 9:  AAP 9 is available at the WSU Libraries Creativity Stations (in Media Materials and Reserves @ the Holland and Terrell Libraries, also at the Owen Science Library and the Animal Health Library).

Adobe Pro XI (or an updated version) is available from at a greatly reduced price for WSU students (along with a bunch of other cool software). Be sure to also check out the Tech Store in CUE 305, or online at your zzusis student page (under Quick Links) for other discounted software.

Google Docs - Upload your file to Google Docs then download it as a PDF and upload or drag it into Zotero. Note - you must convert it to a Google Doc, and there is a 25 mb limit on files that can be uploaded and converted.

Libre Office - save a file in PDF format (you can also do this with Microsoft Word if you have Adobe Pro (or other iteration) installed)

PDF Download


Mac Software (working on this...)

Other PDF Creation Tools

What's So Useful About Searchable (or Indexed) PDFs?

Zotero can search inside attached files that are certain file types, notably OCR'd PDFs (note, you must install the PDF indexer in the Zotero preferences for this to work). To me, this is the real killer app for Zotero: it creates the database of you. Converting non-PDF documents to PDF makes them searchable. If you copy an article from a print source it will be an image file that is not searchable. Run it through Adobe Acrobat Professional (or convert it with a similar tool) and now it is a file that can be indexed and searched witin Zotero.

What about articles that you receive from  Interlibrary loan? Here at WSU, at least, ILL'd articles are PDFs that are flat image files and not searchable. Your options are:

  • attach the file to the Zotero record for the item as-is: you can read it on-screen and print it out, but it will not be searchable
  • use Acrobat X (or earlier versions like Adobe Acrobat Professional) to convert them into OCR'd and searchable PDFs
  • If you use an alternative to Adobe's products, they don't always convert - for example, I use Nitro's PDF-XChange Pro, but it does not do OCR conversions for image PDFs. I have to purchase an add-on for $19.99 in order to do this.


OCR - Optical Character Recognition.

Smartphone / Tablet PDF Scanner/Creators

You can always just take a camera/smartphone/tablet photograph of the text you are interested in and attach it to a Zotero record (by dragging it or using the paperclip), but these apps allow you to take a photo of that text with your device which will then be converted to a searchable PDF for you to attach.

Annotating PDFs

Sometimes you may want to write directly on a PDF in addition to creating notes about it in Zotero. These tools will allow you to do this (and you can always print out a clean copy of the original PDF (without annotations, stamps, etc)  if you need to).

Note: this listing does not include tablet apps such as iAnnotate, PDFExpert and GoodReader (all iOS) that enable you to annotate PDFs and other documents. These apps (including PaperShip)  can sync with Zotero using ZotFile or ZotPad (see the Mobile Devices tab on this guide).

Second Note: Not all PDF anotations are searchable! First they need to have been created by an application that follows PDF standards; second, in my testing it seems that an annotation that can be selected can be searched, but if its a mouse-over annotation, it can't. You will also see a difference in which annotations are viewable based on whether you are opening a PDF in a standalone app versus (the more limited) in-browser view.

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