Microsoft Word: A Tool for Annotation

Not too long ago I blogged about Google Notebook as a tool for annotation.

Of course, annotation isn’t a new concept, and therefore there are other tools that allow for it.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft Word is one of these tools. By use of comments, Word allows for annotation. I’ve made available Word and PDF examples elsewhere. In addition to annotations via Word comments being author and date stamped, my example illustrates how annotations via Word comments:

  • Can indicate a specific point in a document – The start or end of the orignal blog post in my example
  • Can span a number of document elements – A few paragraphs and an item of a bulleted list in my example

My example also illustrates how annotations via comments are distinct from tracked changes, the latter being another very powerful capabilty in Word.

Although Word can annotate to at least the degree described here, there is one aspect that is limiting. To be wholly useful in the context of annotation, Microsoft needs to expose its mechanism of fragment identification. This is the Word equivalent of an XPointer entry. (The same applies to Google Notebook. Microsoft and Google may have already allowed for this through some API, Application Programming Interface. I just haven’t spent any time looking for them.) Using my Mac, I converted the Word example into HTML. (Sorry, WordPress wouldn’t allow me to upload it!) Comments become linked footnotes. Although this is understandable, aspects of the annotation are lost in translation. I’ll look at an XML-based representation next time I’m at my desktop PC to see if that does any better. Stay tuned.

In closing, it’s important to note that Word is representative of current office productivity software in its ability to convey annotations. In other words, I would expect that OpenOffice and others could do the same. Somewhat related Adobe Acrobat also allows for a similar capability in the case of PDF documents.

26 thoughts on “Microsoft Word: A Tool for Annotation

  1. In this post, I wrote: “I’ll look at an XML-based representation next time I’m at my desktop PC to see if that does any better.”

    The answer is: It does!

    More soon.

  2. Pingback: Google Docs: A Tool for Annotation « Ian Lumb’s Blog

  3. You might be interested in having a look at too – it lets you attach annotations to highlighted text of microsoft word and PDF documents in the browser without needing any plugins. You can also get a URL link to a particular annotation, e.g. a sample note on a PDF document (if wordpress comments can cope with this url…)

    (highlight text to write new notes).

    The notes get stored separately from the original document, and can be exported as JSON if needed, with references to the page number and start/end word indices.

    Annotation has been around for a while … Vannevar Bush proposed his mechanical Memex precursor to hypertext back in 1945 with marginal notes, and there’s an interesting post on ‘glosses’ from the 16th century:


  4. I realize you weren’t addressing teachers annotation goals specifically. But the ability to quickly and clearly comment on a student’s paper (whether draft or final, collected via email or Blackboard/Moodle) is increasingly important. Because students now expect digital content, and teachers are increasingly sensitive to the environmental costs of printing hundreds of pages, electronic documents are growing in popularity.

    There are some tools out there – the one mentioned above is particularly cool and reminds me of Vuzit. Bedford St. Martins have a web-based tool called ‘Comment’ (!) similar to Turnitin’s GradeMark – and they’re visually cool but slow if you’re grading zillions of papers. Plus, they attempt to replicate the professional editor’s process (with arcane symbols etc.), not the real world of student/teacher interaction.

    I’ve been beta-testing a Microsoft Word add-in called ‘Annotate’ (very original)…it’s simple, fast, and slick because it adds a ribbon to Word 2007 and therefore looks like a native feature. It makes the marginal comments in Word much more readable, and adds standard comments appropriate to a college/high school audience. You can find it here:

    Jim C.

  5. Pingback: 2010 in review « Ian Lumb’s Blog

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