Need Help Creating Annotation Workflow with Multiple File Formats


In my work, I receive folders full of info that I need to review. A typical folder may have Word documents, pdfs, and Excel files. My preference would be to open up the folder on my iPad Pro and be able to open each document, and be able to highlight and write comments on it with the Apple pen, and then close it and move onto the next document and do the same. I don’t want to have to send each document to a different app to annotate, then when I’m done send them back to Dropbox or something. I do need to access the finished product from both a Mac (or iPad) and a Windows machine. Any suggestions? Thanks!


Given the document types you mentioned – .docx, .xlsx, .pdf – if I were doing this I would use OneDrive to store the documents and use the OneDrive app on my iPad as the hub to access them. You can mark up .pdf directly in OneDrive. For .docx and .xlsx, with one touch, you can in OneDrive open the document in Word or Excel or PowerPoint, mark them up with the pencil, then save right back to OneDrive. OneDrive syncs equally well with macOS and Windows 10.

You can get similar results with Dropbox, but I find the integration with the Office apps better with OneDrive, which is no surprise.

(You wanted one app – there are multi-purpose apps that work with all Office docs but then you have to be concerned about the sync and compatibility with Microsoft products. IMO, OneDrive is “one-app” enough to count as a solution.)


I struggle mightily with this same issue. I have toyed with converting all files to PDF and annotating with PDF Expert. But sometimes people want a redline in Word, so I have to make the edits natively. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just over-thinking all this.


Do you need to make edits to change what others have written or do you need to make edits to suggest changes that others should subsequently consider? In the former case, you will do best to work from within the native apps themselves (Word or Excel). In the latter case, you could do better to work always from an “immutable” format, e.g PDF.

With regard to annotating PDFs, you have two different paradigms to consider. The first is just to annotate for others to review. On the iPad, for this approach, you have apps such as PDFExpert and PDFPen. The second paradigm is to annotate with the intent to collect the annotations for further processing. On the iPad, for this approach, you have apps such as LiquidText or Margin Note that provide their own internal methods to collect and review annotations after they are made. Alternatively, you have the option to take import annotated documents from the first approach (e.g. from PDFExpert) into other apps such as DevonThink (To Go on the iPad).

With regard to the best user experience to annotate PDFs on the iPad (Pro) using the Apple Pencil (2), you will have to review a few of the apps yourself to find your sweet spot. My favorite is PDFExpert. First, it allows me to put the toolbar on the left side of the iPad. While I hold my iPad, I can select the pen, eraser, selection tool, or whatever using my thumb and continue to annotate with my right hand. The top or bottom toolbars in other apps always leave me with the sense of having to “reach up and over (or down and below) the document”. I am becoming fairly adept at using my left hand in both PDFExpert and ZoomNotes or Concepts (two other apps that allow the toolbar positioning on the left). Secondly, the options to manage cloud sources are well-designed in PDFExpert. I have clear setups to access both work and personal Dropbox and Drive accounts with no confusion, unlike other apps.

So, in summary, decide whether you need to annotate to make (permanent) changes to the source or to annotate to make recommendations for the owner to consider. In the former case, annotate in the source program itself (Word or Excel in your case). Others with greater experience may be able to speak to the best approaches to annotate using these apps on the iPad. In the latter case, switch to annotating on PDFs of everything. My starting recommendation in this case is to use PDFExpert.



I appreciate the simplicity of this approach. I already use OneDrive for its cross platform utility. I hadn’t thought through its advantage in being able to easily annotate and the ease of going back and forth to the corresponding Microsoft app. Thanks for this solution!

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Just to clarify (I’m new to the forum), the simple, elegant workflow I’m going to try, and really appreciate, is the one suggested by Quorm above.
Also really appreciate others’ comments. Thanks.

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