Students Get an App Assist When it Comes to Reading & Writing

Today and tomorrow, I’m going to talk about apps and tips to help students. I am talking about high school and college-age students, but some of these apps could be useful to kids younger than that. Many people say that the iPad can’t be used to replace a laptop for “serious” work. It’s for entertainment, mainly. But, my laptop and I have been on the outs for a year and a half now. I do all but a fraction of my work on an iPad. Both, for the blog, and for grad school. And, I’m going to tell you how.

Today, let’s focus on apps to help you write and read better. I usually don’t include prices with app reviews (see my Pricing page), but since most of today’s apps are on the pricey side of the app world, I included them.

iAnnotate makes marking up pages easy.

The first app that made me want an iPad in the first place is iAnnotate. I was tired of printing out several hundred pages of articles for each class that I’m taking. Besides being bad for trees, it cost a lot in ink, and I always ruined my copies with stains and ripping them when I took them places. iAnnotate saves me from those headaches.

iAnnotate has multiple, collapsable, customizable toolbars.

iAnnotate PDF for iPad ($9.99) is absolutely the best PDF reader and annotator available. Besides the traditional annotations (underline, custom highlighters, handwriting, strike out, post-it notes), iAnnotate lets you do the untraditional annotations not even possible with paper copies (typing in multiple fonts and colors, photos, voice, stamps). You can even add blank pages to take notes on before and after other pages.

A new tool makes signing documents a breeze. I saved my signature as a stamp. You can save pretty much anything as a stamp: dates, shapes, words, etc.

Search the entire library with key words and phrases.

Reading documents is easy too with a number of navigational tools, including bookmarks and every kind of tool to make a page move up and down that you can think of (and a few that you can’t). Read several documents at a time with tabbed reading just like your web browser. Rotate pages with charts on them so that they’re easier to read, or delete irrelevant pages.

All of these tools are neatly organized in as many customizable, adjustable, collapsable toolbars as you want. Set them up how you need them to work, and you’re ready to go. You just drag and drop the tools you want to make up new toolbars. A slide-out tray from the left side of the screen also allows you to naviage a document, search annotations, and see your bookmarks and document outlines.

Organize your entire library of documents in folders, search the entire library with key words and phrases. Back up everything to Dropbox,, and WebDAV using the connectivity tab. Email flattened annotated copies of documents from the app, get PDFs from an in-app browser, or open them up through email or Safari using the “open in” button.

And, watch for updates from these developers. They’re full of surprises. As soon as I think the app is perfect, they improve it with things I hadn’t even imagined but soon find indispensable.

Look here for an in-depth review of iAnnotate.

Outline Pro helps give papers direction.

I never used outlines for papers in undergrad, but in grad school it has either become required or is needed to write better papers. A relatively new app, called Outline Pro for iPad ($4.99), helps you do just that.

Essentially, Outline Pro has you write out your topic and thesis sentences, and then you add beginning and ending sentences for each body paragraph, including your intro and conclusion. This process really ends with half the work being done, and the second half isn’t so bad. You can even flesh out paragraphs with bulleted lists to support your arguments.

When finished, you can open your outline up in Pages or other writing apps to finish writing and editing. There are also options to AirPrint and export your outline as a PDF or plain text document or email the outlines. It is really the only app of its kind in the App Store.

Magical Pad makes mind mapping easy.

As an alternative to or alternate way of outlining, more visual students may want to try mind mapping. Magical Pad for iPad ($4.99) makes mind mapping (and note-taking) easy and kind of fun.

Magical Pad app example

Take notes, brainstorm ideas, build outlines, and make mind maps using Magical Pad. Plan out your papers using structured lists that prioritize your actions. The workspace is unlimited. It extends endlessly in every direction.

Use lists with indenting/outdenting and notes, and add connecting arrows and links to organize your thoughts into something bigger. Export the final product, or even import information in multiple formats. Google Docs, Evernote, and Dropbox are integrated.

Grammar App HD makes learning grammar simple.

Need to strengthen your grammar skills a little (or a lot)? Try the Grammar App HD for iPad (99 cents, or the free iPhone version) for an interactive chance to improve your skills through lessons, videos, and games, and to put those skills to the test. You even get a progress report.

More than 200 tutorials will help with choosing better words, vocabulary, and use of English grammar from the basics through the intricacies of punctuation. An initial assessment will let you know where you are starting from, and further tests will let you know how far you’ve come.

Templates for Pages gives you a LOT of templates.

For APA and MLA style papers and general types of reports (plus a lot more), try Templates for Pages (99 cents). This universal app will give you 150 practical and easy-to-use templates for everything from reports and papers to resumes and business cards, and a whole lot in between. And, if Templates doen’t have the template you need, request it and they may in the future.

Lesson #1 in reading? Read the title of this app. You MUST have the Pages for iOS app to do anything with Templates for Pages!

Pages for iOS is a word processor similar to Microsoft Word.

That brings us to Pages for iOS. The holy grail of word processing for Apple’s devices.

Some useful tools in Pages.

Pages ($9.99) is to iOS what Word is to Microsoft. It is one of the three apps that makes up the iWork suite. Pages works on any iOS device, and you can sync your work using iCloud across all your devices. All of your work stays up to date.

I have just about every type of writing and word processing app available, but I always come back to Pages.

Create and edit documents on the go (or sitting at home, in my case). There are 16 templates included with Pages, but they tend to be more on the side of letters and image-dominant documents. Speaking of which, making charts and graphics on an iPad is so much fun (I’m being serious. Look at the media browser below). To write posts for school, I just use the blank template.

Charts and graphics are a breeze in Pages.

Pages isn’t just for Pages either. Pages can view and edit Microsoft Word and plain text documents, and it can export documents in Pages, PDF, or Word format. You can bring things into Pages through opening up documents in your email, on the Internet, through WebDAV, or by using iTunes File Sharing.

Pages is so simple to use, so attractive, and so all around useful that you just must have it for writing proper papers for school. It does all the normal word processing stuff (adjusting text, creating footnotes and endnotes, gives word counts, undo button, searches and replaces words/phrases), and the not so normal. Pages saves your documents as you work (well, pretty much everything saves on its own, on an iOS device). You can even use the undo button after you have closed and reopened a document. So, give Pages a try. You will not regret it.

Everything is organized neatly in folders in the same way that you make folders using different apps. Hold down on a page and drop it on top of another page you want in the same folder.

Pages menu to adjust fonts, etc.

For heavy duty typing, a Bluetooth keyboard is a necessity. Apple sells them, but I get mine from Zagg instead. I think Zagg’s keyboards are sturdier and better made than Apple’s (Sorry Apple). Zagg also has cases that integrate an iPad and one of their keyboards. If you have a new iPad though, I’d see if you can hold out for the newer Bluetooth 4.0 keyboards. For more on that, read the information at this link.

That’s it for today! You made it! By the way, I use a lot of exclamation points because, as a rule, we were never to use them while I was at the newspaper :) Come back tomorrow for more serious and not-so=serious apps for students.

20 thoughts on “Students Get an App Assist When it Comes to Reading & Writing

    • If you’re looking for an APA-styled outline to use to write on, Templates for Pages has a really good one. Is there something else you needed in APA format?

      • Everything we will write in graduate program is based on APA style. I am just looking for apps, software, and or other that will help me to present the absolute best I possibly can.

        • Yes, I’m 3 classes away from finishing my Master’s using APA style. The apps I presented in this post were the ones I used through school because I only used an iPad. You may want to check out UX Write for writing (I did a full review of it). I offer some links along the right-hand side to APA style writing tips.

  1. Pingback: iAnnotate Best App for Students | iOS Affairs

  2. Pingback: Frustrated by missing pieces for APA references? APA Style Blog has the answer! « iNKBLOT

  3. Chicago works fine with Word on a PC or Mac, but the key is to use EndNote X5 – a lifesaver. It keeps a database of all your citation data, article attachments, reading notes, and links to Word via a new menu that enables many features like “Cite While you Write.” Available to most graduate students free from their college, but only $100 if you have to buy it – worth every penny. My dissertation had almost 700 footnotes; I don’t think I could have done it without Endnote, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried to write a paper of any significant length using the built-in citation manager in any current word processing program. I have 1,500 sources in my database, and counting – no more index cards in little plastic boxes, which is only slight less advanced than the built-in citation features in Word, Pages, etc. More to the point, thanks for the iAnnotate tips – I love the app and use it all the time for teaching; I’m always interested in ways other people have found to use the app.

  4. Chicago works fine with Word on a PC – the key is to use EndNote X5 – a lifesaver. Keeps a database of all your citation data, article attachments, reading notes, and enables “Cite While you Write.” Available to most graduate students free from their college, but only $100 if you have to buy it – worth every penny. My dissertation had almost 700 footnotes; I don’t think I could have done it without Endnote, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried to use the built-in citation manager in any current word processing program. I have 1,500 sources in my database, and counting – no more index cards in little plastic boxes. More to the point, thanks for the iAnnotate tips – I love the app and use it all the time for teaching; I’m always interested in ways others have found to use the app.

      • No worries, and nice blog. I also should have mentioned I’ve directed several theses for students who used Word for Mac and EndNote X5 – some differences, but no problems. Unfortunately there’s no EndNote for iPad yet – but I imagine it will be a while before it will be practical to write anything longer than a short essay on an iPad, particularly if you need to cite your work. I still love mine, though – I just don’t write much on it.

        • Thank you! The longest I’ve written on my iPad is about a 20 pages paper in APA format. No footnotes. To finish it, I still have to export it as a Word document. The most intensive thing I attempted in Pages was a 50-page chart on counseling theories. I won’t do that again! Typing slowed to a crawl near the end, but I was happy with the end result.

    • Interesting. Do you use “author-date” or “notes and bibliography” style for Chicago? I’ve used older versions of EndNote (and some other programs) that have not been able to consistently replicate “notes and bibliography.” The problem revolves around rendering the citations that require more fields than the standard book, chapter, and article citations– most notably non-written works. But I agree, a database is the way to go. I’ll have to check out EndNote X5 to see what they’ve improved. Thanks for the tip.

      • I use bibliography style (footnotes and bibliography) – my university’s standard for liberal arts students and also the standard where I teach. The secret to the missing fields problem is to learn how to “modify output styles” – the standard output styles that come with any of the EndNote citation formats are created by a team of software developers – they do the best they can to create output styles that will make footnotes and bibliography entries that conform to the relevant style guide (e.g., Chicago), but some styles need modification to look right. You can find info in the EndNote help manual or online help resource/forum on how to make these modifications – it’s actually fairly easy to do – and once you create your modifications you save the output style as your own (Mine is “Chicago 15A – Copy”). There are also three “custom” styles that you can turn into whatever source type you need, and with those or the standard ones you can add and remove fields and edit the code that determines how the note will look so it conforms to Chicago. As an aside, EndNote X5 does come with Chicago 16 as an available output style, but it contains a lot of errors, and the help line folks (who are quite responsive and have never kept me on hold for long) advised me to just stay with Chicago 15 as I’d edited it. All this probably sounds like more work than it is – I directed five masters’ theses for students who just graduated today; four out of five used EndNote and after a short break-in period they loved it and said they don’t know how people write theses without it. If you Google “Endnote X5 Guide” you should find a number of helpful .pdf and .ppt guides, and many college libraries have free courses (usually 1-2 hour sessions) and people who can give you informal help with the program. And no, I don’t work for EndNote or get any royalties from them – I just know I would not have finished my dissertation in time to graduate without it, and the longer I use it, the more helpful it becomes.

  5. Great post, and I love the latest theme! When I’m not doing my own studies, I work at a university writing center, so it’s great to see what’s out there. One of the difficulties I’ve had with crafting my app library is getting apps that compliment each other. So for instance, I’ve started using Scrivener for my MacBook, but doesn’t have much, if anything, to offer for iPad. It’s compatible with a couple of notecard apps, but that’s about it. I love the idea of drafting and doing more on the iPad. But is there a combination of apps that you have found particularly awesome?

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