Searching for highlits in PDFs


I’m trying to use Scrivener to view PDF’s that are imported into my references folder instead of external software (such as Skim) so that I can use split views to help me write synopses of the articles I’m reading that can later be copied across as a starting point for literature reviews in my essays.

I can highlight text using shift+command+H. I then would like to be able to find the next highlighted item in the PDF. I can’t find a way to do this. If I have a book with hundreds of pages and dozens of highlights, it would be useful to skip around using these highlights.

There is a ‘Find by formatting’ function in the edit menu that has a ‘find highlighted text’ option. For some reason, this doesn’t work. I’m guessing that a highlight in a PDF acts differently from a highlight in a text document created within a Scrivener project.

Does anyone have any tips to help me out?


Indeed, PDF acts differently from the text editor, the Find by Formatting tool won’t work. Apple just so happened to be kind enough to give third-party developers the ability to let users highlight and strike-out text in PDFs, but sadly no search. For serious PDF work, I really do recommend sticking with dedicated tools.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up Scrivener for organisation, though. Scrivener is designed more as a hub than an all-in-one everything tool (down that road lies madness). Toward being a hub, you can easily open imported PDFs in Skim with Documents/Open/in External Editor (Ctrl-Cmd-O) or by clicking the “send to” arrow button in the footer bar below the PDF, where you can also select which application to use by right-clicking.

Skim is all right, it’s my favourite PDF reader actually, but it does have one Achilles heel: it can’t read normal PDF annotations (and by that I mean all markings, including highlights), and the annotations it creates cannot be read by other programs (including Scrivener). It can export with embedded annotations, but then it can no longer read them in the sidebar. As much as I hate to say it, the best PDF reader on the Mac these days is probably Adobe Reader/Acrobat. Preview creates highlights that are invisible in most contexts and barely visible in others. Adobe’s stuff will read the highlights and markings you make in Scrivener, and to my knowledge, all of the annotations you add with Adobe’s software will be visible in Scrivener once you save and reload it.

That’s very helpful. Thank you very much for the reply. You’ve saved me valuable time in ‘highlighting’ the shortcomings of both programs and suggesting Adobe. I’m not a fan of using ‘big corporation’ stuff, but when something is the best then I’m not shy. In the end, it’s a team of normal people that make the stuff and a job well done is a job well done. If I have a choice between two similar things, then of course I will choose the smaller company or even ‘one man band’.

One thought I have is that if Skim can incorporate a useful way of doing this, even if it cannot be read in other programs, then such a feature would be useful in Scrivener as well. I think reading notes is directly linked to writing so there would be justification for developing such a simple feature. There could be a choice of highlight options such as one that is readable by other readers and one that is useful in Scrivener (including color options).

Thanks again.