I am not a native speaker so I would like to know what terms are suitable to describe

  1. notes
  2. highlight
  3. underline
  4. strike-through

to the user, in computer applications where user can annotate text like PDF readers

(notes appear as yellow boxes near words and show text when clicked, while 2,3,4 appear as text decorations).

I feel that underlining, highlighting and striking are sort of acts of annotation too. I may be wrong.

I see that most applications that enable the user to annotate text, like PDF readers, collectively name notes (like sticky yellow "adhesive" notes) and decorations (like underlining) as "annotations".

Many tutorials or wiki entries about annotating a book use annotations for both types of items.

Maybe it is because many programmers are not native English speakers. Or maybe it is correct to call notes and decorations together annotations. I do not know, I am asking here.

In other languages, in fact, words like annotate encompass also underlining or drawing arrows, circles, writing marginalia and so on, in addition to create and attach or link to notes, as a whole process that goes along study.

Are 2,3,4 annotations? If yes, are they annotations also when 1 is explicitly called notes? (important)

If an app is able to manage 1,2,3,4, how would I describe 1 and 2,3,4 as two separate categories to the user (like notes vs annotations)?

I feel it is also ugly to call 2,3,4 text-decorations.

  • See the definition of notation vs. annotation. The broader definition of notation might be a better fit.
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:42
  • @David M According to dictionaries "notation" is more like a "set of symbols".
    – P5music
    Mar 20, 2014 at 21:21
  • Yes, but it also lists annotation with those symbols. I'm just saying it's a broader stroke than annotation.
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 21:46

1 Answer 1


Annotations are simply notes, usually meant to clarify or explain, often found in the margin or facing page of a text, and meant for someone else to read. They don't edit the text, but are meant to add to it. Underlining, highlighting and striking are editing mark-ups, or "edits". They are technically different from annotations. HOWEVER... You want to know how to group them and name them in your app. That's an app design question. Is breaking them up into separate features and calling them Annotations and Editing Markups really better for the user? For you to decide.

Good Luck.

  • I think you have this spot on. For the purposes of software design, it is immaterial that there is a difference between them. Perhaps notation would be a better fit than annotation.
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:42
  • @Stew Sorry, I do not understand your answer, I am dealing with user-created notes and editing mark-ups (as you name them), but they are not "edits" at all: the user puts them over the text to add relevant information, in different forms; sometimes, for example, striking out a word adds very important information as it was an annotation. Is "mark-up" right from the user point of view? Note that "nota" means sign, mark in Latin as pointed out in English dictionaries. I can use one word or two words for the two categories but I have to use the right ones that sound correct in English.
    – P5music
    Mar 20, 2014 at 21:07
  • An "editing markup" is a term from the days when a piece of writing was passed around on paper to editors who made marks on it with a red pen. Thus the editors would indicate needed edits by marking up the sheet of paper, that is, making marks on the paper.
    – Stew
    Mar 21, 2014 at 3:48
  • Merriam Webster definition of "annotation" noun : a note added to a text, book, drawing, etc., as a comment or explanation
    – Stew
    Mar 21, 2014 at 3:50
  • So an annotation contains new text, it is not just a mark on the page indicating a needed edit. Also, an "annotated edition" of a book always means there are meaningful and clarifying pieces of text added to the original text, not strikeouts, highlighting, or the like. You've noticed that other app designers seem to have chosen ease-of-use rather than exactness of label for their products. If your boss will get angry if it isn't absolutely language-perfect, I'm afraid you're in a bit of a fix, because the most correct language is probably not the most useful here :/
    – Stew
    Mar 21, 2014 at 3:57

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