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Reading Papers On-Screen

Vertical screen with an article

Reading papers on-screen is not something that everyone likes but if you can get used to it, it will help save you time and paper and make filing your literature a breeze. If you use a wide flatscreen monitor, something that is 17inch or bigger, then this tip could make your on-screen reading more pleasurable.

Go vertical

The tip is simply to change the orientation of your screen from horizontal to vertical. The vertical view reduces the amount of scrolling that you will have to do, and also helps you to keep orientated to the bigger picture of an article.
Couple it with a PDF annotator, which allows you to make permanent notes on the PDF,  and you are all set for going all-electronic  for your literature.

Vertical screen with an articleAnother advantage of a vertical screen, is that it feels more natural for  writing word documents (since most documents are in portrait mode), reading long lists such in Excel or browsing your reading list (e.g. on Mendeley).  It also works well for those who do programming and coding, so I’m told.

How to change your screen orientation

The technical details on how to change the display from horizontal to vertical may vary from one computer to another and this is dependent on the capability of the graphic card that is in your computer. But I will explain how I did it on my Windows XP machine.

1. Right click on your desktop
2. Click on graphic properties
3. Look for rotation or display settings.
4. In those settings, either choose 90 degrees or 270 degrees rotation.

If these steps do not work, feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I will deal with them as individual cases. So why not start viewing things differently and tell us how you are getting on.


  1. CR Turner on June 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    One downside to reading PDFs onscreen (or on-Ipad) is staring at a bright LCD for hours. I may be imagining it, but when I do pick up a piece of paper, it feels like my eyes ‘relax’ a little. I would really love a color version of the Plastic Logic QUE (http://www.que.com/). Annotating with a pen stylus also feels more natural/comfortable than using a mouse. Hopefully Plastic Logic and Mendeley or Papers will get together soon! It could ease the eyes of scientists everywhere 🙂

  2. CR Turner on June 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I started reading/annotating PDFs instead of paper when I started using EndNote 6 years ago. I read/annotate in Adobe Acrobat Pro. PDF management in EndNote is annoying (download biblio data, download PDF, link to PDF). Reading/annotating in Acrobat Pro isn’t bad – i mostly use the highlight tool and i like that it has different colors. That use of multiple colors is an option that does not exist in either Papers or Mendeley. When i imported a library of PDFs into Mendeley, the colors I had highlighted with in Acrobat Pro were visible from Mendeley, but they were no longer editable. Also, any text notes I’d typed into the highlights in Acrobat Pro were not accessible. Both Mendeley and Papers far outshine EndNote in terms of managing a PDF library that one reads onscreen. But switching to a PDF viewer/annotator that can’t incorporate my years of annotation in Acrobat Pro has kept me in EndNote so far – unfortunately!

  3. Jette Kjeldgaard on May 10, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Nice tip!

    I use Foxit Reader for my pdf´s, I think it’s fast and good. It has several useful tools for making permanent notes, comments, highlights etc. and you can export your comments by e-mail, if you wish to share your bright ideas;o)

    And; It’s free 🙂

  4. Senthil Gandi on May 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Yes you can do this on your laptop screen as well. Read the section “How to change your screen orientation” of the above article.

  5. bitezer on May 6, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    It would be nice feature but it doesn’t work on laptop (neither with XP nor vista).

  6. DrGenius on April 29, 2010 at 3:11 am

    This is great, but even better may be the ipad which arrives at my door next week =)

  7. ClaryD on April 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    This is really great, reading papers electronically can be pain but a lot of people use laptops…is there any way to do this with a laptop screen?

  8. Gandi on April 23, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Indeed Papers is a good software. But if you are looking for something FREE, then check out Mendeley. You can now do annotations on Mendeley as well. Also there is another upcoming PDF manager called Zotero, perhaps I will write about that.

  9. Kurt on April 23, 2010 at 4:20 am

    For Windows PDF-XChange will allow you to annotate PDF files and to highlight text.

  10. Alex on April 22, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    One thing that i like to do when reading papers onscreen is change the colors (the white background forces too much mine already deficient eyes).

  11. renee on April 22, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Papers for Mac. It’s like iTunes for your literature. Browse your entire library just like in iTunes, search multiple databases right from inside the program, automatically match papers using metadata to import all the pertinent details. (Eliminate the problem of trying to figure out what the paper named “1933.pdf” is.) Comes highly recommended by both MacWorld and Ars Technica among others.

    It’s not free, but not expensive either and if you’re a student, you get a discount. Either way, it’s worth every penny.

  12. Klaus on April 22, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Would be great to follow this up with a post on ‘PDF annotators’! Cheers

  13. PetetheScientist on April 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Wow! Such a simple idea but it’s completely hanged my life!!!1! Thanks so much

  14. HdM on April 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    sorry.. as i was saying: ..for windows just flip your screen to standing and press ctr+alt+ “right arrow”, and same except “arrow up” to reset.

  15. HdM on April 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    for windows just flip your screen to standing and , and same except to reset

    a lot of colleagues come in and go “wow, how did you do that” when they see a standing screen – it’s really simple and very practical

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