How to transfer notes and highlights from scanned books into a Word document or Excel spreadsheet via Kindle

Charles Miller
5 min readDec 23, 2020

The problem

If you find an old book that’s been scanned by Hathi Trust, for instance, that you want to use for an academic project, it will consist of pages that look like this:

How do you turn the text into a form that you can easily quote and paste into your own documents? It can be done, with several steps. Here are two methods, each of which has its advantages.

They’re needed because of a restriction on what Kindle lets you do:

If you read Amazon books on a Kindle and highlight passages, possibly adding notes too, Kindle lets you access that information on a laptop. The Kindle for Mac or Kindle for PC app will show your Kindle library with the content of all your books and the notes and highlights you made on your Kindle device. You can copy and paste individual notes and highlights for use in other kinds of documents or you can export all the notes and highlights from a book and save them as a document.

You can also read books or documents on your Kindle device from sources other than Amazon and you can make notes and highlights on them just as you can with Amazon books.

BUT these non-Amazon books and your highlights from them do not transfer over to Kindle for Mac/PC: the app only recognises and syncs books bought from Amazon.

Annoying — and a bit of a roadblock to taking notes from old books that are online.


Convert and highlight on a Kindle

1. Hathi Trust doesn’t let you download in a Kindle-friendly text format. Next best is epub. Download the epub file of the book you want:

2. Convert you epub file to a Kindle readable mobi file, using, for instance, Convertio, which works well and is free.

3. You can then use your send-to-kindle email address to send the mobi file to your Kindle device (having registered with Amazon the email address you will be sending from). NB: after sending the first email, you need to wait for Amazon to send you an email asking you to verify that you want to send the book to your Kindle: it doesn’t just appear on the device after you have sent the first email.

4. You can now read the book on your Kindle device and mark it up, just like any book on your Kindle.

5. Here’s where it gets a bit primitive: to transfer the book from your Kindle back to your laptop, you need to plug the Kindle in to the laptop. When you have connected them the Kindle will display a screen titled “USB Drive Mode”. That means you can go to the Finder on your computer and open Kindle.

6. When you open the Documents folder in Kindle, you will see all the books on your Kindle listed, whether Amazon-purchased or not. Find the book you want, right click on it and choose “Open with Kindle”. That will open the book on your Kindle for Mac/PC app on the laptop.

7. Now you can close Kindle for Mac/PC, unplug your Kindle and when you next open Kindle for Mac/PC, the book will still be there on your laptop in full.

8. Unfortunately your highlights and notes will not have transferred — just a clean version of the book itself.

9. However, you can still extract that information from the Kindle device onto your laptop: plug it in again, open Documents and look for a file called My Clippings.txt. If you right click that and open with Text Edit, you can copy all your highlights and paste them into a new document on your laptop.

10. So now you have access to your highlights. And if you want to see the context of any of them, just copy from your text document, and paste into the search box on Kindle for Mac/PC. It will find that passage, and you could highlight it in the laptop version of the text if you wanted.

The above is a clunky process, made worse by the fact that the conversion from scanned pages to text in a mobi file is not completely accurate. So if you need to be sure that your quotes are accurate, you’d need to double check against the original scans of the text.

The advantage of the above method is that you can read and highlight on a Kindle, which you may prefer to reading whole books on a laptop. But if you’re not too concerned about that, here’s an easier route that skips a few steps and achieves the same result:

Highlight PDF on a laptop

1. On the Hathi page, download the book as a PDF (another choice from the same menu, above, that offers the epub file).

2. Right click on the downloaded PDF file (on a Mac anyway — I’m not sure about a PC), and choose “Open with Kindle”.

3. Now you can access the book in Kindle form on your laptop, and can create highlights and notes just as you would on the Kindle device (which you can’t do with scanned pages on the device).

4. If you click the Export box, top right in the above screen, you can create a saveable file of the highlights and notes, with the highlights transcribed from the scanned page form to electronic text. The advantage over the previous method is that you can edit the text of the highlight, so if something hasn’t transcribed correctly, it’s easy to correct by comparing with the original page which is already displayed.

If despite the ease of this method, you don’t like having to read so much on your laptop, you could work out a hybrid version of these two methods:

- Create the mobi file, send to your Kindle device and read and note there (as in the first method above).

- Also export a PDF, send to Kindle for Mac/PC (as in second method above).

- Link your Kindle device to your laptop and copy the myclippings file to your laptop.

- Use the search feature on Kindle for Mac/PC to paste in highlighted text.

- Now you have highlights from your Kindle device transferred to your laptop. You can see the highlights in context and even re-highlight them on the scanned version if you want to.

This is just what I’ve worked out to try to solve a problem. If you have suggestions for a better method or other comments, I’d love to hear them. Thanks.



Charles Miller

Writer and producer, CoinGeek. Former BBC documentary producer. PhD student in History, University of Roehampton @chblm