Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ink Annotations Float in Word. How Can I Grade Papers with my Tablet PC

A question that came in recently was:
Today I marked up documents my students had submitted to their dropbox. I used the pen feature on my HP tablet PC. My plan was to send the papers back to my students using the Feedback feature in dropbox. However, when I later checked on those files going back to my students I found that for some of the documents my markings had slipped down on the document and therefore made no sense. My editing marks were not in the right place on the document. I'm not sure but I believe the problem was with files that were in Word 2007 (docx). I am using Word 2007 but I have noticed that the pen feature does not work the same on 2007 as it does on 2003. In fact my pen seems to work a lot better in 2003 than it does in 2007. Has anyone else run into this problem and, if so, do you know of a solution?

My Answer:
The problem is the way Word formats and treats annotations versus text formatting. You can usually see this by marking up a Word document (2003 and 2008) and then going back to the beginning of the Word document and adding text -- usually the annotations move.

What is the best work around? Well there are two, one free and one that will cost about $30 (for academics).

The free solution. Retrieve and open the word file from the drop box. Then select File/Print and select the printer called Journal Note Writer. This will copy the word file to Microsoft Journal and allow you to use your pen and annotate the document on each and every page. When finished you must print the Journal file to pdf (using Adobe Acrobat Pro) or supply the students with the free MS Journal Reader (click here for the web page) so they can read the files. This requires the students to be genuine MS Windows users.

The best solution and the one I use is Bluebeam PDF Revu. This will cost about $30 for an educational discount pricing and is the best $s I have spent on software since my Sudoku download to my phone (thanks Bluebeam Revu will allow you to annotate the word documents (or any other document and save and return to the students in a pdf format that everyone can read if they have Acrobat Reader.

Why not use Adobe Acrobat Professional and then how does one use Bluebeam Revu?

Adobe Acrobat Professional has terrible ink annotation tools, but you are welcome to prove that to yourself if you already have it. Adobe Acrobat Professional is also expensive. Even the on campus discount price is many multiples of the Bluebeam PDF Revu Educational Discount Price. See a video of's reason here (The Acrobat Alternative). Full disclosure-- has chosen to highlight my review on one of their pages, but it was not compensated. Perhaps this professor's review was ... click here for his electronic grading solution.

To use Bluebeam PDF Revu, open the document (Word, Excel, ... anything) you want to mark up. Then open the document as a pdf file using the printer 'Bluebeam pdf" which is installed with the installation. That is, if you have a Word document open, select File/Print from the menu, choose the "Bluebeam pdf" printer and the word document will be saved to pdf and opened in the Bluebeam Revu product. The pen annotations in Bluebeam's product are excellent and will allow you to grade the paper and save the annotations in a pdf file that all the students can read.

Information on Bluebeam PDF Revu:

Free download:

If you like it, then buy your license here for $30. You get two seats (one for your work computer and one for your home). Buy the standard edition unless you use CAD software.

I presented how to grade with a Tablet PC at the 2008 CELT (see here for the full presentation -- choose the first presentation under CELT 2008) and blogged about it (actually did a review of Bluebeam on October 2007 (here)).

Let me know if this helps or if you agree or disagree with this electronic grading fix.


  1. I work for, the developer of Annotate for Word. It isn't a Pen-based annotator; the add-in brings 70+ frequently used comments to the Word interface (2003 or 2007) that can be clicked to quickly add detailed comments on grammar, organization, style, citation documentation, and other issues.

    We would be interested in giving out evaluation copies to Tablet PC users to give us some feedback on combining handwritten annotation with our product. Please email us at if you are interested.

  2. I have used ink in both Word 2003 and 2007 and neither re-flows the page necessarily. If you use the Autoshape Scribble from the drawing toolbar you can annotate even without a tablet PC i.e. with a usb-type pen input device. This is a great really cheap solution. There is a knack to getting this working - you need to customize your toolbar to have access to the scribble button as it is buried in a drawing menu and then double click it before using (this makes features sticky in Word - very useful for the Format Painter also).

    - Eamon

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