Collaborative Annotation Tools

With these tools, there will be no need for your colleagues to hover over your shoulder while you annotate!

With these tools, there will be no need for your colleagues to hover over your shoulder while you annotate! (via

Collaboration in the digital world can be awkward and confusing, especially when it comes to talking about sources. Emails with questions get lost or forgotten and Google Docs comments can be accidentally resolved before their time. Further, finding the right tool for you and your colleagues to communicate can be time-consuming, especially when deadlines loom. To help you get started in finding a tool that works for you, we have compiled a list of four free collaborative annotation tools that may help you get started!

  • A.nnotate
    • A.nnotate is probably the most straightforward of these platforms. You invite colleagues to an online document through an emailed link. From there, you and your colleagues write annotations that you can reply to and tag. Further, A.nnotate automatically creates an index listing the text selected in each document, along with comments and tags, allowing users to read what their colleagues are saying without necessarily having to scroll through specific documents. Users can also choose to receive email notifications when a change is made to a collaborative document.
  • DocumentCloud
    • Initially created for journalists, DocumentCloud is a great tool for annotating and finding primary source materials. Your annotations can be either public or private, and each has a unique URL that you can either share, or keep to yourself. DocumentCloud is open source, and already holds over one million public documents that you can use for your research or reporting. Because it is set up for journalists, DocumentCloud has a wide online reach, meaning that your primary sources and thoughts can be made available to the public at large.
  • eLaborate
    • Aimed towards academic scholars, eLaborate allows users to scan manuscripts or printed books, create annotations for them, edit them, and publish them online. Similarly to DocumentCloud, its primary purpose is to annotate primary documents, and to store them. Unlike DocumentCloud, eLaborate focuses on the digitization and preservation of these online documents, and creating a space where scholars can share them with one another. To see eLaborate in action, you can look at the Rembrandt Documents Project, which uses eLaborate as its platform.
  • NB
    • Created with teaching in mind, NB is a multi-dimensional platform that allows you to highlight text and make notes in a collaborative setting. However, the best part of NB comes from its additional capabilities. For example, you can create a question regarding a certain part of the text, which your colleagues can answer. Further, if members of your group mark certain spots with question marks, the program notes it, and allows you to focus on confusing aspects of the document. While it was created as a teaching tool, these capabilities can be easily transferred to academic research.

Have you used an annotation tool that you love? Let us know in the comments! Still looking for the perfect collaborative annotation tool, or have some cash to spend on some software? Check out DiRT Directory’s list of annotation tools.

If you have further questions about collaborative annotation tools, or any other technological tools that may aid you in your online research process, feel free to email us or stop by the Scholarly Commons, open 9am-6pm on weekdays.