How To: Edit on an iPad

by - December 16th, 2010

The iPad has been hailed as a boon to readers of books, newspapers and the web since its release at the beginning of the year. And it’s a great device for passive consumption of multimedia content and for sharing – but what about working? Well, having tried to use it for writing, I’d say its potential for writers is limited. But what about for editing?

Unlike editing on a traditional computer, the iPad provides a more paper-like electronic editing experience. It’s still not perfect, but for less mark-up heavy edits (like proofreads, light copyedits and report-based structural edits), it’s excellent.


I’ve tried a bunch of different PDF editing apps on the iPad, but the standout is iAnnotate by Aji. It sells in the App Store for about $12.99, which is a bit pricey for an iPad app. However, if you’re an editor and you already have an iPad, it’s definitely worth it. You might also want to invest in a stylus for the iPad if you foresee using it for editing on a regular basis. Although the device is optimised for a finger (and in fact doesn’t work with a normal touchscreen stylus), for fine-level work and writing freehand it’s easier to use a stylus. Aji has a deal with a company called brvsh to provide discounts, so it’s worth checking it out (under the help menu after purchasing iAnnotate).


The easiest way to load a PDF into iAnnotate is by email. Email yourself the PDF you want to edit, and you can easily open it up in iAnnotate. The app takes a little while to index the PDF, making it possible to search and annotate the text. If email doesn’t suit you, or the PDF to be used is too big to email, you can also load PDFs into the app via iTunes or by downloading a PDF from a website directly.

There are a bunch of different ways to mark up the PDF itself, but the main ones – crossing out text, underlining, highlighting, commenting and so on can be accessed on the customisable right-hand side palette. There is a similar toolbar at the bottom of the page used for navigating the document – searching, flipping pages, going to a particular page number or accessing and jumping straight to existing annotations.

One useful tip for editors is the ‘stamp’ function. Using this tool, you can save any single piece of mark-up (such as the delete mark, as above – click to enlarge) as a stamp, which can then be accessed on the palette. This means you don’t have to physically draw each piece of repetitive mark-up, it can be inserted into the document at the tap of a finger.

All mark-up, once inserted, can easily be moved around, deleted or changed. The page can be zoomed in (using the iPad’s pinch to zoom multitouch movement) so any fine editing can be easily done on spacing or punctuation (without straining your eyes).


When you’ve finished editing and the time comes to get your document back onto your computer (or directly to the author or typesetter), there are a few options. Using iAnnotate’s sharing feature, you can choose to email the entire PDF, a textual summary of the corrections or both. If you choose to send the PDF itself, you can send just the pages that have mark-up, or the entire PDF. You also have the option (shown above) of exporting the annotations in full (so they can be edited using Adobe Acrobat software on a computer by the author or another editor), as flattened mark-up(which means the annotations can’t be modified, but can be viewed with any computer or printed instantly) or the unedited, unannotated version of the PDF (which iAnnotate preserves). This gives you lots of options to send corrections to the typesetter or back to an author to check.

What’s Missing?

Although iAnnotate is the most full featured PDF editor on the iPad, there are still a few annoyances. Chief among these is the search function, which doesn’t seem to recognise spaces. This means you can search for individual words in a document, but if you’re looking for a few words or a phrase – too bad. Another missing feature is the ability to use the keyboard to write in-line notes directly onto the PDF (like the Typewriter feature on Adobe Acrobat). However, these are small annoyances, and it’s likely Aji will address these in future updates.


Editing is a big subject, and using the iPad is another big one – so if there’s anything I haven’t covered (or haven’t been clear about), please let me know in the comments below and I will update this post.

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Joel Naoum (113 Posts)

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