Adobe Acrobat as a solution for reading articles off the screen

November 6th, 2006 by jose

I posted here about some advantages of reading papers off the screen. However, most people find the very thought of reading off the screen almost unconceivable. In this post I’ll try to show some usability tricks that will help you make the transition (or at least give it a try!).

Part of what I’m going to use here is obtained with the help of an scripting language. called AutoHotkey (AHK). This is probably one of the most useful things you can install in a windows machine.

I’m using the 30-day trial of adobe acrobat 8, but all the tricks and keyboard shortcuts should work on acrobat 7 as well.

an example of how the window looks after pressing F8 and F9 to remove taskbars

Ideally, the bigger your screen the better, for two reasons. (1) it will minimize the number of keypresses that you need to navigate the document, and (2) If you can display the full page (or 2 pages) at real-life size, you can use borders, and other low-level indicator to better navigate and remember the location of the different ideas that you read. A couple of things that I found I can do now (maybe they were there in acrobat 7, but I couldn’t find them) and I highly recommend are:

(1) Use split-window view. This is very good to read papers that have all the tables and figures at the end (e.g., APA style). Before it’d require a lot of actions to either go back and forth from the point I was reading and the end of the paper to see a figure. Now, in split mode, you can apparently move around reading normally and always have the figures or the reference list open simultaneously. There is even a spreadsheet split where you have four different windows. Recommended for people with huge screens only :-)

(2) Have two pages in full screen mode. I like this mode because it minimizes distractions. However, if you do not feel confortable not seeing toolbars, windows task bar, etc. there is a little trick to maximize viewing area: press F8 and F9 to hide/unhide the taskbars and menu bar respectively. That should give you about one inch of extra viewing space.

Configuration options

After installing acrobat, I go to view edit > preferences and change these three things.

  1. In preferences > documents, I uncheck the ’show each document in its own window. We academics may juggle many papers at the same time and taskbar space is limited.
  2. In preferences > page display, select rendering “smooth text, for laptops and LCD screens”.
  3. Last, enable single-key shortcuts, select the Use Single- Key Accelerators to access Tools option in preferences > General .

I’m running windows XP, but since the shortcuts are single-key some of them *might* be the same for macs. Important shortcuts are:

shortcut action
U underlines the selection
shift + ctrl + H automatic scroll. Very useful to read a paper while doing something else :-) .

To change the scrolling speed to a specific speed, press a number key (9 for fastest, 0 for slowest).

To increase or decrease the scrolling speed, press the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key, depending on the direction of scrolling.

Escape will stop the scrolling. Note that all the tools (e.g., underlining, comments, etc) need you to stop the scrolling.

Go full screen
G crop an image. Useful if you need to save a figure in your notes

Autohotkey usability tricks

With the few key shortcuts above, one can manage quite well. However, I still felt something was lacking. I wanted to scroll down not line by line (using the arrows) but say jumping 5 lines at a time. For that I remapped some keys that I find convenient as +/- 5 lines with the following code:

;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; in AdobeAcrobat 7 substitute

; with AcrobatWindow

; this code
maps:; the scroll combo to F1 and the keys ; / -
’ to scroll the document up and down 6 lines

#IfWinActive, ahk_class AcrobatSDIWindow

F1::Send ^+h; mouseweel scroll with keys (pressing
#)’::MouseClick, WheelUp, , , 6/::MouseClick,
WheelDown, , , 6Return

Since the scroll combo is not very convenient and I use it a lot, I mapped it to a single keypress: F1 ( I don’t think I need to use the help that much ).

You can download the executable version of this script at the end of this post. Just run it (you will see a little H icon on your task bar), and whenever you are in an acrobat window, the keys will have different assignments to speed up your reading.

Improving the physical environment

Most people hate reading things off the screen because paper gives you virtually unlimited resolution, and your eyes feel it. However, A screen with say several hundred pixels per square inch and very good optics is virtually Indistinguishable (for my eyes at least) from paper. By good physical conditions I mean good illumination and a polarizer filter, such as the series. I use a 1400 x 1050 14″ laptop screen (which is far from optimal!) and a vikuiti HF300L filter, and I can spend hours reading off the screen without problems.

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Attached Files:

  • acrobatShortcuts3.exe (206 KB)
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6 Responses to “Adobe Acrobat as a solution for reading articles off the screen”

  1. darioNo Gravatar Says:

    An interesting solution for Mac users who find it difficult to read long texts on the screen is Tofu: – definitely worth a review ;)

  2. ShaneNo Gravatar Says:

    Acrobat 7 has the split screen option – I just checked. Thanks for the tip – definitely will be using that for references.

    My fav shortcuts are ctrl l for full screen, and then ctrl + a couple of times to zoom in so the doc fills the screen.

    Polarising filter eh…they don’t seem cheap. So do they really reduce sore eye syndrome for too much time in front of a computer screen?

  3. joseNo Gravatar Says:

    Re: polarising filter. Yes, I think they help a lot. They can be had for cheap (relatively!) on ebay often. I really think there is little else one can do to improve readability… that, and having lots of pixes per square inch (note that having a large monitor, say 19″, with a so-so resolution, e.g. 1280 x 1024) may result in visible pixels, which could be discracting.

  4. DeNo Gravatar Says:

    Thank for your tips, they are very helpful!
    however I don’t know how to
    (2) Have two pages in full screen mode.

    Thank you again

  5. joseNo Gravatar Says:

    I don’t think you can! that’d be a major omission…
    The alternative described here is to maximize window and remove toolbars. Sorry. Let me know if you find a way.

  6. Photoreading efficiency on a screen - Personal Development for Smart People Forums Says:

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