Would marginnote work for my needs? (vet school PDF annotation)

Hi. I’m a second year vet student. I used OneNote as my note taking app my entire first year but it has some major issues which can’t be overlooked. When uploading PDFs, I cannot “search” them for a specific word. This function used to work fine. I’ve tried several solution to this and it doesn’t work .And now it also doesn’t keep my scrolling location when going between note pages. These two issues make the app essentially unusable for me.

I take notes on my MacBook Pro. Professors upload PPTs or PDFs of PPTs before class and I put them in and add occasional bulleted notes (by typing), words to slides in specific spots, highlight, and occasionally use the pen feature. I do this to stay engaged in class and focus on the big topic points being covered. I basically need a note taking app that allows for an organized way to keep track of multiple classes of notes every quarter (one day of lectures may utilize 5+ long PDFs). I need the app to have at least a 3 level organizational system (ie on OneNote I have a notebook for each quarter, a section for each class per quarter, and a note for every PDF/class day.

The app would need to:

  • work on macOS
  • be able to upload PDFs (bonus for .doc or .ppt) and have them be searchable
  • be able to add outlines/bulleted text in chunks as well as fill in blanks with words easily (ie without clicking insert text box every time!)
  • have multiple highlighter and pen colors
  • be able to add pages between PDF pages if wanted (or even better, add space between like on OneNote)
  • have at least 3 organizational tiers
  • be able to make notes that are pure text/don’t have associated PDFs

I’ve been fiddling around with marginnote a bit and really like certain aspects of it but not others. One issue I am having is that I can only search a specific document, or a “study”. I was thinking of making a study for each class I have every quarter. Downside of that is there is no universal search. I can’t search all the PDFs across my classes for a specific word. Thoughts here? Additionally, when adding documents to a study, the file system doesn’t appear to be maintained and it doesn’t seem like there is a way to make a file automatically get put in the same study. So this would mean I would have to manually upload every PDF then move it to its correct spot in the right study without the organizational system maintained. is this correct?

Another issue I am having is the inability to make easy bulleted/outlined points. For instance, if on one note or notability I type “- blah blah” and click enter, the next line will have a bulleted point. I can even click tab to get an outline sort of going such as:

  • blah blah
    • insert answer
  • etc etc

I am not seeing how I can do this on marginnote. Is the text not predictive in this way? Like I would have to put a dash every time I clicked enter and wanted a new bullet point? This is a pretty big drag for me if it is impossible to do as abut 90%+ of what I do on my note taking app is make a few short bulleted points under different PDF slides.

My free trial of marginnote is running out and I am trying to decide if it’s worth purchasing. if it doesn’t seem like the best for my needs, do you have any other MacOS apps that would work?

Current Marginnote user who got tired of unsatisfying and plateauing Onenote and moved on.

I didn’t read the whole OP because it’s obviously too long but here’s some points you mentioned that could work.

  • I don’t believe it’s on Mac. Check it on App Store. I only have an iPad and I’m already very satisfied.
  • I never tried uploading doc or ppt but you can always convert them to pdf first without much hassle so that doesn’t seem to be a problem.
  • Adding pages and basic pdf annotations are superior to Onenote imo.
  • Making a note that is pure text without associated PDF is possible on Marginnote but I don’t think it’s ideal. More on this later.
  • You complained about not being able to search globally, but once you convert Documents (which are mere pdfs basically) to Study, you can search globally. Marginnote is all about Study feature, which turns your pdf into an amazing mind map structure so I think it’s doing its job just fine.
  • You mentioned about uploading many pdfs to correct spot and I think I know what you mean. In Onenote, you make a section and upload multiple pdfs on different ‘pages’. So I think that’s what you want in MN.
  • The way to pull it off is to add multiple pdfs in the existing Study mind map. You can import additional documents to your existing mind map and that’s how you work with multiple pdfs.
  • It’s way better than primitive Onenote method because Onenote is basically just a digital version of a paper notebook. Nothing special there. However, if you work with multiple pdf documents on Marginnote, you can link between your nodes from one pdf to another, making it easier to connect fragmented information into one. Just imagine a situation where a topic from earlier chapter is covered more deeply in the later ones. You can connect the two and later refer to them without trying to figure out which chapters they were in.

For the last thing, let’s talk about ‘making notes that are pure text and not associated with existing pdf’.

  • I think you need that for taking notes when the professor is not using any lecture materials and just start writing things on the board.
  • I suggest you use another note taking apps like Notability or Goodnotes because Marginnote is specialized in situation where you have an associated PDF, especially a textbook.
  • Also, Notability and Goodnotes have handwriting recognition which is not supported in Marginnote.
  • So the solution? Use them both and later integrate your handwritten notes into Marginnote.
  • One of the best thing ever of Marginnote is that it is very versatile and it supports a lot of extensibility unlike most of iOS apps. Write things down with Notability and export the note to Marginnote, and import that note to your Study mind map.
  • This is really good because Notability preserves recognized handwritten texts in the exported note you now you can search your handwritten texts in Marginnote and at the same time enjoy Marginnote’s mindmap cabailities.
  • This is my workflow I’m currently using when I’m taking a lecture. I create an initial mind map with the pdf textbook, import given handouts and class materials(which are also pdfs), and take notes separately on Notability and later import them to Marginnote to make a complete mindmap that has all the information from textbook to class materials to my own handwritten note.

Hope it helped.


Marginnote 3 is available on the macOS, not just iPad


Have you asked around your classmates and see what they use in their efficient workflow?

On youtube, search for paperless student, she reviews apps and shares her perspectives.

Personally, I use Notability to do my notes and annotate pdf documents/slides. It does not have an endless canvas like OneNote, but this makes export to pdf easier. Notability searches handwriting too (provided that is not too sloppy)… it’s search function is much better vs OneNote.

I am a visual person and like SimpleMind on iPad quite a bit.

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I have asked around. Most use one note, which doesn’t work for me.

I have been using notability in the interim but the app is definitely flawed on MacOS and won’t work as a long term solution. Notability can only search within a specific note, or all of my notes at once. It is not very useful when I want to search the notes for one class and it just gives a random assortment of notes where the keyword came from. Additionally, the app keeps crashing and inserting text is super finicky.

Cannot comment on Notability’s stability on MacOS, but I use Notability on my iPad, where it can take advantage of the handwriting too. Instead of $ cloud services, everything is sync to my own server (the beauty of Notability!). Notability has been stable on my iPad, I come to depend on it.

For DIVIDERS, I name it as Time period, 19 Fall, 19 Spring.

SUBJECT is each class, can certainly divided by test if you like Biochem e1, Biochem e2. you can add multiple NOTES (pdf, handouts, your own notes) to each SUBJECT.

It’ll do a global search if you choose All Notes, it can also search within each SUBJECT.

It was a pain to develop an efficient workflow that made sense to myself. Hope this helps. :wink:

It must work different on iOS as opposed to MacOS. I have created dividers, subjects, and notes, like you have said already. My divider is for the quarter then I have subjects for each class.

But the search DOES NOT work within each subject. The search on MacOS will only work with the current note you are on, or do a global search within all notes. The searching function is extremely flawed and will not be that useful for me moving forward (and it isn’t even that helpful now).

Hi Olivia,

Interestingly I’m a vet who qualified 15yrs ago and am insanely jealous of the tools now available to students (the University got email whilst I was a student there!).

To be honest, MN3 isn’t the app for you, I use it for active reading - usually non-fiction. I go through and read it on my iPad and highlight the relevant sections I like. At the end of the chapter I then go through and update the mind map for the book with the highlights from the chapter - for this it works fantastically.
How I could see it working is when you need to pull together information from various sources for an essay (this is also how I use MN3 for my MBA) from multiple sources (PDFs), you can highlight the relevant sections and build yourself a mind map for the essay.

For note taking I use OneNote on my iPad, but its starting to annoy me how buggy the sync is - but its cross-platform and will work (via the web) on my hopeless work PC!
As suggested by other posters, I would recommend Notability (or GoodNotes which have just released a Mac app) - I’ve started using this on my iPad but can’t comment on the Mac app yet as I’ve not sprung for it!

Why not consider using the native Notes app on your Mac - seems pretty robust to be honest and, with folders, you should be able to get the structure you’re after.

Just my 2p.


booted up my MBP (I don’t use it very much) and sync Notability to my iPad.

After I enter the search term, looks like Notability will search all of its files. I can then click on each SUBJECT, the documents with matched terms will show up (in that subject).

:small_red_triangle_down:Divider > :large_blue_circle:Subject > individual notes/pdf books, lecture slides, handouts/etc.

Give it a try, hope it helps! :blush:

I agree with @koreader .
Postscript: Since MN 3.5 which has been released this week, built-in ABBYY engine could make PDF searchable. (now provided as a subscription)
To see the demo video:

According to our Users feedback, Spotlight and Alfred could be used to search MN notebooks and docs(https://cforum.marginnote.com/t/topic/2128). Mendeley works fine with MN.Maybe some workflow will suit you well. But it needs to explore.

Unfortunately it’s still very flawed but this is helpful short term.

If I am on a note and search, it will search all the notes. Then I can click on the subject if I want to look there. But it won’t actually tell me multiple hits within a notebook. So I have to exit out of the search, and re-search for it again. And then, when I exit out of the search, it puts me back in “all notes” so I have to then re-click on the section I want to be in again. It’s just very convoluted and not well implemented imo :confused:

Thanks for your advice. Apple notes doesn’t have the ability to insert a PDF to my knowledge. I use it for jotting down random things here and there though.
I may try GoodNotes but don’t want to pay if it doesn’t have the functionality I need, you know? It might be worth a shot though.

Be sure to update Notability first! :slight_smile:

In Notability, View… Thumbnails. In a search, that Thumbnails will show # of search hits in current Note and scroll down… it shows match in other Notes.

@ upper right corner… there is an icon looks like 2 sheets of paper stacked together.

If you click on it, it shows thumbnails (to the righthand side of the screen) of all the pages in the CURRENT Note. If you are searching stuff, that righthand side thumbnails will only show pages that match your search.

I hope this helps.

Notability people are very responsive (within a day), email them if you run into snags.

I will say I am more efficient and faster on my iPad than my MBP (that took time to develop!). The Notability interface does look simpler on iPad.

Whatever tools you use, it does not have to be perfect. As long as the tool(s) can help you to get things done quickly and efficiently, that’ll be good enough.

Ask your classmates about their “workflow” and see how they overcome the issues you had. It took time for me to refine my own workflow, to keep it simple and get stuff done quickly. gl ^^

How about Evernote or Bear? I’ve been using Evernote for the last 10yrs as a digital “filing cabinet” - this is where I store everything I read so I can refer to it later.

A more modern, free flowing alternative would be Notion.so which I use as a personal Wiki.


Are those all subscription based?

I also have a QNAP, that is my digital storage, accessible anywhere. Doesn’t make any sense to pay rent to store my own library.