EduTech is a new 9to5Mac weekly series that will focus on technology’s application in education, lower and higher level, both for productivity and enjoyment. If you have suggestions for topics or specific questions you’d like to see answered, feel free to let me know. Catch up on past installments here

In this week’s edition of EduTech, we’re going to discuss how to turn paper documents and handwritten notes into searchable PDFs using your iOS device. There are a few apps that do this, but the app that we’re going to focus on is Scanbot

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Turning your physical documents and handwritten notes into searchable PDFs is a great way to stay organized in an increasingly digital world Many people still take notes with pen and paper, and that’s perfectly ok. If that’s how you learn best, there’s nothing wrong with it.

There are, of course, some pitfalls with handwritten notes, including difficulties in locating specific words and topics and not always having those papers with you. That’s what today’s EduTech aims to fix.

Scanbot is an app that’s free on the App Store, but to take advantage of all of the features you’ll need to fork over $5.99 for the in-app purchase that adds OCR, or optical character recognition, support. That’s what we’re going to be using to scan documents.

How to scan documents and make them searchable with Scanbot

The first thing you have to do is obviously scan in whatever document you want with the built-in camera. Simply tap the “+” button at the top of the app and take a picture of the document in question. Scanbot will automatically recognize the edges of the document and instruct you to move closer, move further back, increase the light, or something else.

Once the edges have been detected, the image will be captured. You can also enable “continuous mode,” which will automatically detect new edges and take new scans as you flip pages. From there, you’ll hit the save button and then have the option to perform optimal character recognition.

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In order to make the scanned document searchable, you’ll need to run the optical image recognition process. This process is in addition to the initial scanning process, but it’s super quick. Once you initiate it, the optical character recognition process takes anywhere from a few seconds to a minute per page, depending on how many characters there are.

Once the OCR process is finished and you open the scan, you’ll be able select the text, search through it, and copy/paste. As far as accuracy goes, that really depends on the quality of the document you’re scanning.

Handwritten documents are obviously more prone to error depending on the quality of your writing. I’ve also had better luck when writing in pen rather than writing with pencil. I tend to have rather sloppy handwriting and therefore some issues with OCR, but your mileage will vary.

As for other documents, such as handouts, practice tests, and worksheets, Scanbot’s OCR is crazy accurate. Most of the discrepancies, if there are any, come with punctuation rather than letters and words.

Other options

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There are other apps that support OCR and while we won’t dive into details here, below are some suggestions if Scanbot doesn’t suit your needs. My personal suggestion from this list is Scanner Pro.

There’s also, of course, the option of buying a physical document scanner. This isn’t necessarily something that I recommend, but they have gotten relatively affordable. Below are some recommendations:

Wrap up

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Those are just some of the apps that make it incredibly easy to keep track of and scan documents and notes. Everyone has their own methodology for taking notes and it’s up to you find what suits your needs best. One suggestion I would have is to consider an iPad Pro + Apple Pencil setup. I’ve rounded up some of the best app for taking notes with those devices here.

If you have any additional recommendations for organizing your documents, let us know down in the comments.

Check out previous installments of EduTech: