Document annotation has come a long way in just a few short years. Microsoft Word, with its track changes and commenting features, used to be the only viable tool for this, and it had to be done offline and then shared via e-mail to be of any real use.

Now, however, with the advent of creative, web 2.0 tools, document annotation is far more sophisticated and varied. Instead of being limited to Word documents, now it’s possible to annotate webpages, images, Google documents, even video and audio (see tools like SoundCloud). Perhaps best of all, now document annotation resides in the cloud, which allows for real-time document markup, perfect for when working with a remote student and trying to improve their paper. Instructors find that document annotation work can also empower students to generate their own material and offer independent interpretations of course readings and material.

(Lit) Genius

Genius LogoGenius is a collaborative annotation tool that allows students to comment on one text together. Genius originally only allowed users to annotate the lyrics to rap music collaboratively, but it has expanded its educational efforts and now allows students to annotate poetry and prose uploaded to the site. Genius includes an enormous database of works for students to comment upon, in fact, and comments can be made in the form of not only text, but also images, videos, and can even include outside links. Even if a piece is not already uploaded on the Genius site for commenting, users can easily upload new pieces and add them to the Genius database. A quick search on the website reveals which poems have already been uploaded and annotated upon publicly.

While Genius used to host “Educator” accounts for instructors to create private class pages, this feature has unfortunately been phased out. Therefore, Genius is best employed when instructors want their students to contribute to a publicly-available archive of annotated work.

Annotate.Co is an annotation tool intended only for individual use. Users can sign up with their Google accounts, so instructors who do not want their students creating separate accounts can encourage them to use their UC Davis Google accounts. To use the free version of, users are only allowed to upload 20 MB of material. However, what that means is that students have the room to upload several dozen PDF files before running out of room.

The annotation tool in is limited to adding in “sticky notes” around individual moments that users find noteworthy. After users are done with their annotations, they can save work to their accounts and share it with others by inviting them to view the file. Annotations can also be exported as PDFs and printed out.

Google Drive

Google Drive LogoEvery UC Davis student has access to a Google Drive account, so students will not need to create anything new to access the resources in Google Drive! Google Drive is, on the surface, simply a place to store tools, yet students can annotate work within several of the applications within Google Drive, like Google Docs (which is a word processing program like Microsoft Word) and Google Sheets (which is a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel).

Google Docs in particular works particularly well for text annotations using a tool called “Suggesting.” Just like Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, the “Suggesting” feature can allow users to add marginal comments or edit text directly.

ucd aggie logo Visit for more information on getting campus support for Google Drive.