Reading PDFs for Research: Three Reasons To Consider GoodNotes

Organize your digital reading workflow.

Emily Hokett
4 min readJan 14, 2023
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Reading is a necessary part of the research process. I reference many PDFs when learning about a new research topic. Since printing articles can get messy, I use digital mediums for reading. Most of my reading is done with an iPad and Apple Pencil. In the past, I’ve switched between GoodNotes and Notability. They’re similar tools. For the purposes of this articles, I’ll give three reasons to consider GoodNotes for reading PDFs.

Three Reasons GoodNotes Is Good For Reading PDFs

1. The Search Capabilities Are Excellent

PDFs can be searched using most apps, but I have yet to come across better searching capabilities than the ones in GoodNotes. The search bar in GoodNotes displays previews of instances of each mention of a word or phrase. You can search within the body of a PDF, typed text, or handwritten annotations.

What’s phenomenal about GoodNotes is that it separates the search results in categories. For example, it may show every handwritten instance of when I write the word “sleep” or “memory” in my notes. And, as you’ll see below, my handwriting isn’t the most legible. Impressively, GoodNotes still recognizes my scribbles.

Example of search previews in GoodNotes (image from author).

2. Organization Feel Effortless

The organization features in GoodNotes might be my favorite parts of the app. It makes moving information around feel effortless. We’ll discuss some of the organizational features below.

Quick Notes

Within the GoodNotes app, you can start a new note without setting up a notebook, folder, or file location.

Steps to start a QuickNote in GoodNotes (image from author).

When you’re done making the note, you can save it separately or add it to a another document. This may be helpful for adding pages of handwritten annotations to PDFs.

Options to save a QuickNote as a new document, combine with an existing document, or delete the QuickNote (image from author).


Organizing information with folders in GoodNotes is intuitive. The quickest way to move PDFs around is with multiple instances of GoodNotes (using split screen or slide over) and drag and drop. You can easily drag selected PDFs from one folder to another. This avoids multiple taps to go through your filing directory. Instead, you can just drag the information to where you want it with no fuss.

Page Sorting

Pages within a PDF can be moved around in the same way — with drag and drop.

Pages within a document can also be moved out of the document to a different one. For example, if you have one document with annotations about multiple PDFs within a similar topic area, you might want to move annotations from the PDF to that document.


In your PDF window, you can create your own outline. Basically, you can define important sections of a PDF and name them whatever you want. For example, you might name a page of the Results section “key results” if you want to define the page with the most important result.

Bookmarking or Favoriting

A similar way to mark important sections of a PDF is with bookmarking. However, bookmarking differs from outlining because it does not give a name to the bookmark. It just marks it with a red ribbon. This is quicker than outlining but less descriptive.

When you bookmark a page, it also shows up in the “Favorites” tab in GoodNotes. This means that you can see a preview of any page that you bookmarked in that tab. Personally, I don’t use bookmarking often so that I don’t clutter my favorites view. I reserve bookmarks for pages related to active projects that I’m focusing on and my favorite personal notes.

3. Send PDFs to Yourself, Read Them Later

Another interesting feature in GoodNotes is that you could use it like a Read-It-Later app. GoodNotes assigns each user her own email address, and any PDF that you send to that email will be imported to the Documents folder. It’s pretty neat.

If you don’t want to clutter up your main folder, you could also create your own reading inbox. I sometimes add PDFs to an inbox in GoodNotes for research articles that I want to read soon but can’t read thoroughly at the moment. Because moving PDFs around is so easy in GoodNotes, I enjoy this reading setup. Articles might start in an inbox folder or a specific folder for a reading topic session, but they eventually end up in the “vault” folder where all other PDFs live.

Academic research often starts with reading PDFs of research articles. Reading PDFs digitally keeps my work space organized. GoodNotes is one tool that helps me to focus on my research questions and not get lost in the tool itself. What does your reading workflow look like?

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Emily Hokett

healthy sleep advocate | writer, runner, doodler | learning time management skills to live a balanced, meaningful life