Teaching Resources


Resource Overview

Guide to using PowerNotes, a research and writing tool

The PowerNotes Extension is a research and note-taking tool that allows students to go to any website or pdf, highlight content with personal notes, and organize it in shareable outlines.  

PowerNotes example showing annotated text with PowerNotes sidebar with example notes

For more ideas and technical support, email us or schedule a consult with a CTL staff member. 




Reasons to use PowerNotes

PowerNotes can support five key strategies outlined in Janae Cohn’s framework for digital reading from the book Skim, dive, surface: Teaching digital reading 

  • Curation: Identify the most essential ideas from text with highlights and then use outlines to showcase, organize, and further analyze the text.  
  • Connection: Bridge text with prior knowledge and experiences (e.g., feelings, reactions, anecdotes) using highlights and notes. Further, make new connections by mapping across highlighted text, notes, and citations within a project outline. 
  • Creativity: Extrapolate from the text by adding web resources, images, summaries, and other content in the notes or project outline.
  • Contextualization: Emphasize the importance of citing online texts and evaluating the sources of texts with embedded citation tools. 
  • Contemplation: Bring intention into the reading and research process with PowerNotes as a note-taking and tracking tool that can support specific writing or research projects.  
Ideas for teaching with PowerNotes

We provide a few ideas below to get you started in teaching with PowerNotes. If you have ideas to share, contact us at ctl@wustl.edu – we can add your idea to this guide or feature you and your class on our blog!


  • Provide all students with an online resource or pdf to read with instructions on what to focus on. Students can submit or share an outline with their highlights, annotations, and notes. 
  • For topics that are controversial or has conflicting viewpoints, ask students to find an online article/blog/resource relating to the topic, annotate it for a concept/theme, and submit or share the outline with citations. Students can share with each other what they learned and discuss which sources to use in the future when researching this topic. Students can also fill in Source Notes, a space to assess each source for features that you specify, such as bias, relevance, and accuracy.


  • Help students organize content into a structural outline that matches the structure of their papers. When students have done enough research and have an idea of how their paper might be structured, use PowerNotes’ flexible topic naming to create a hierarchy. Simply add an outline heading letter or number to the beginning of the topic name to indicate its place in the paper’s hierarchy. For an example of how you and students might use this in practice, check out this blog post.  


  • Manage sources in a semester-long research project using PowerNotes to collect text snippets, notes, and citations. Make sure students are properly citing and quoting sources in papers, posters, and other research products.  
  • Facilitate peer review of outlines or paper drafts. Each student produces a PowerNotes project with annotations and notes. Students can share their projects with collaborators for comments and feedback.  

Looking for more ideas? See the PowerNotes blog for more ideas and faculty experiences on how they teach with PowerNotes.


Cohn, J. (2021). Skim, dive, surface: Teaching digital reading. West Virginia University Press. 


Get Started
  • Install the PowerNotes Chrome extension (also works in the Microsoft Edge browser) or Firefox extension 
  • Sign in with your WUSTL email account to get access to the WashU institutional account for unlimited projects. If you used a different email, follow these steps to link your WUSTL emails. 
  • Make sure to find the verification link (may be in spam) and click on the link to verify 
Reading with PowerNotes
  • To enable (or disable) the extension, click on the “P” icon in the extension tray in the upper right navigation section of your browser window.  
  • Change the switch to ”Yes” (or “No”) to turn PowerNotes on when you are researching and off when you’re browsing or doing other activities.  

  • Navigate to a relevant website or pdf, then:
    • Use your cursor to highlight text in the article. Once you highlight text, a menu will pop up with generic topic names (Topic 1 and Topic 2). 
    • Select or create a topic to categorize your highlight. 
    • After you have selected a topic, you’ll see the notes box appear. Type any notes related to the passage you’ve highlighted then hit the enter key or click the checkmark icon in the notes box to save the passage. There is no limit to the notes you can take. Just use ctrl, alt, shift, or command + Enter to add line breaks. 
    • Your highlight and notes as well as a source link will appear in the sidebar.
Organize content using PowerNotes
  • Review content in your PowerNotes sidebar: 
    • At the top is your project name. Initially your project will be labeled “New Project,” which you can change later. 
    • Below that, you’ll see a filter and a link to your project outline. 
    • The rest of the sidebar is where your highlights, notes, and source links will populate when you start researching.  
    • You can expand or collapse the sidebar by clicking on the PowerNotes icon (to expand) or “minimize” icon (to collapse) in the lower right of the browser window. You can also adjust the width of the sidebar and move the minimized sidebar around your screen if it’s in your way. 
    • Read more on adding topics, changing topic names, and reordering topics. 
  • Access your project outline by clicking on the “Project Outline” link in the upper right of the sidebar. In your project outline you can reorganize your work, change the title and description of your project, and download your work.  

Issue: Having difficulties highlighting, especially when highlighting just one word. 

  • By default, PowerNotes highlights whole words with a minimum of 2 words per highlight. We did this so you can highlight quickly without the need to be precise about the beginning or end of your highlight. So just make sure you get part of the first and last word you want to save and you should be all set. To highlight less than 2 words, even one character, hold down CTRL (on a PC) or COMMAND (on a Mac) when you highlight. 

Issue: Cannot annotate on PDF 

  • Make sure the PDF is OCR’d, which can be processed in the PowerNotes sidebar  
  • If you have a choice in using HTML or PDF format when accessing articles from academic databases (EBSCO, ProQuest, etc.), we recommend that you use the HTML version when highlighting with PowerNotes. HTML is consistent and will provide a better highlighting experience. PDFs can behave very differently depending on how they were scanned, how old they are, and what character recognition software was used on them. 

Issue: Cannot use PowerNotes on a PDF on my computer 

  • Solution: you will need to give the browser permission to access stuff on your hard drive. To do this: 
    • Go to (you can copy/paste this into your search bar): chrome://extensions/
    • Scroll to “PowerNotes” and check the “Allow access to file URLs” box. 
    • Then just open the PDF you want in the Chrome browser by using CTRL+O (for a PC) or COMMAND+O (for a Mac) in a browser window. You can also find the PDF in your computer’s windowing interface, right-click, and select “open with” Chrome. 

 Issue: I have other question or concerns. 

  • If anything doesn’t work, or you want something to work better, click on the PowerNotes icon in the extension tray then on the “Feedback” link or use the “Feedback” button on the right side of the PowerNotes sidebar (this button will auto-populate the URL you are on too). PowerNotes will try to respond by the next business day. 
  • Contact the CTL EdTech tools team for support by calling 314-935-6810 or emailing edtechtools@wustl.edu 


Have suggestions?

If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.