eReader as Research Assistant: Kindle

My ereader is quickly becoming one of my most useful research tools. Using it, I can carry an enormous amount of research material with me at all times and quickly put my fingers on the information I need. In addition to purchased and public domain books, most devices can read PDF documents too so I can include documents like research notes and reports generated from my genealogy software in my reader’s library.

While all readers have some of the same features, each has its own special functions and methods for implementing them. This article looks at the Kindle Touch, but future articles will discuss other devices. Here’s a look at those features and how you can use them:

  • Search. Kindle’s search functionality works on both ebooks and PDF documents. When you tap the top of the screen on any page, the search box appears front and center at the top of the screen. On the Touch, tapping inside the search box displays an on-screen keyboard to type your search criteria. You can tap Next and Previous to find every instance of your search within the book or document.
  • Dictionary. Tap and hold on any word in a book to display the built-in dictionary. It gives you a definition for the word and offers buttons to display the full definition, highlight the word, add a note or share it. Tap anywhere on the screen and it all goes away.
  • Locations vs. Pages. This is a relatively new feature on Kindle readers and one researchers will find quite useful. Since ebooks are flowing text rather than paged, it’s difficult to use an ebook to find a cited reference that includes a page number. Of course you can search, but now you can go to page numbers on selected books. This feature isn’t implemented on every book but there’s an easy way to see which are. Look at the Product Details section of the Kindle book (in the Amazon store) and you’ll see a field titled Print Length showing a number of pages. Underneath it you should see a field showing the ISBN for the book used as the source for defining the page numbers in the Kindle edition. When you’re reading one of these books, you’ll see both the Loc and Page references at the bottom of the screen as you move through the book.
  • Bookmarks. Who doesn’t love bookmarks? On any page, tap the top of the screen then tap Menu to display the menu options pane. Now tap Add a Bookmark and a virtual dog-ear is added to the top-right corner of the screen. Display the menu again on the same screen and you’ll see Delete Bookmark. Use the View Notes & Marks command to display all the notes, highlights and bookmarks you’ve added to a book.
  • Highlights & Notes. To add a highlight or note, tap and drag across some text in your book. A popup menu appears with Highlight, Add Note and Share buttons. Tap Highlight. The text is now highlighted on your screen and you can easily return to it at any time using the View Notes & Marks command from the Menu. Should you want to add a note, tap the Note button and a Note box appears on your screen with a small keyboard below it. Type your note, then tap the Save button. A note icon appears in your book at the point where the note was added. Tap it to display the note.
  • Public Notes. You can share your notes and highlighted text with your social networks on Twitter and Facebook (when you’re online) using the Share button. A link to the shared passage along with an optional short note is posted to your registered social network accounts. You must first go into the settings for your Kindle and set up your accounts with Twitter and Facebook before this function will work.

    Notes and highlights viewed at my online Public Notes page.

  • Social Sharing. Using Kindle’s Public Notes feature, you can share your book notes with your connected friends or family. This requires that you first find and follow others via, then turn on Public Notes in the Reading Options settings on your Kindle. This doesn’t give your followers access to every note or highlight you added to every book. You check Make Reading Status Public from your book list on the site which then activates the checkbox for Public Notes which you then also check. You can change a book’s status at any time.

My book list at Kindle's "social center".

These capabilities also work in the Kindle apps for iOS and Android devices as well as the Cloud Reader and your annotations will by synched between devices as soon as a device comes online.

It doesn’t take long to get comfortable with these features. By maintaining a collection of reference material – with annotations – in your Kindle library, you can now have your research with you whenever and wherever you need it. And, all this research goodness weighs less than half a pound and fits into my bag. Yeah, I’m lovin’ that!