Working with iPad, Word Documents & Comments

ipadI often get asked to feedback on drafts by students – frequently long documents, for example draft chapters from PhD students. So I’ve tried to look at away of using the iPad to create feedback/annotations, and as a convenient way of taking material with me to read when “on the road (train/airplane…)”.

The biggest issue is that Word on the “normal” computer has a the track changes/comment function, which is not available on the iPad as such. Therefore, I was trying to find a substitute – which unfortunately is a bit more tricky than I thought!

From the usual apps I use, Goodreader can open Word documents (.doc/.docx) to read on the go. As I use Goodreader with Sugarsync to read and annotate papers, this was my first choice… However, while Goodreader can open the documents, it can’t annotate the document. This makes it effectively “read only” – which really is not helpful at all for giving feedback “in the document”. Also, while Goodreader displayed most of the large documents I tried this out with just fine (including images), colour highlights in the original document get lost – so you may miss important points.

Documents to Go is another, pretty pricey, app for opening, reading – and working on documents from the office suite (amongst others). It allows to alter the text, highlight parts of the  document – though not tracking changes. As a plus point: colour highlights in the original document remain. However, with large documents, the app becomes very slow… and I mean VERY slow, making it burdensome because to work on a document – often becoming unresponsive. Definitely not a good choice!

The worst performer for reading/changing Word-files was surprisingly Apple’s own Pages. A beautiful programme when it works – but it definitely decided that it did not like large docx files. So it crashed when opening large documents … not a good starting point!

So – what is my solution? Well – there are two options:

First: I found the most reliable way of reading Word documents is to convert them into PDF files (this is pretty straightforward on a Mac: Just click File, Print, Save as PDF). The PDF can then be transferred by saving it them to Sugarsync or Dropbox, in the same way as described here. Alternatively, you could email the PDF to yourself, and then open it on the iPad in Goodreader. This ensures all highlights, formatting etc are kept in place as much as possible. You can then open them in Goodreader for reading on the go – annotate the PDF, and send the annotated file back as feedback.

Another option is using iAnnotate: By default,  iAnnotate doesn’t open .doc/.docx files. You need to enable this feature in Settings – Advanced – “Experimental settings”. It takes quite a few moments to open files – BUT – once opened you can annotate the doc(x) files just like a normal PDF. It also looses highlights in the original document. When finished, the file with the annotations can be sent via email, however, be aware that it will be sent as a PDF file. Thus, the result is pretty much the same as converting the original file to a PDF first, but loosing the highlights.

If you have any more suggestions, more convenient way of reading while on the go, please get in touch by using the comments below – or via twitter @stephx! Thanks!

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