The PDF has become ubiquitous these days, hasn’t it? We PDF draft and final reports, proposals, and even presentations. We receive a lot of PDFs, as well.

With all this PDF’ing going on, I thought I’d better weigh in on some of the basics to give you a better sense of when it is best to PDF and how to maximize the usefulness of a PDF. But let me start off with a caution.

CAUTION: Saving (or exporting) a PDF to Word is appropriate only when you need to re-purpose some portion of the text.

When you save a PDF as a Word document, you will not have the original Word document. In fact, what you end up with is a major deviation from the original…and getting back to the original will take a LOT of work. PDFs are simply snapshots (a scan, if you will) of the original document. The PDF does not interpret headers, footers, graphics, or tables* as such. When you save a PDF as anything other than a PDF, you are getting the software’s “best guess” of what belongs to what. If you need to make changes to the document it is always best to start with the original document. If you have an LMI product (report, proposal, etc.), check with your AA or editor. It is likely that one of us created the PDF and can get you the original file. If the document is not an LMI product, ask whoever sent you the PDF for the source document.

PDF when you

  • have multiple parts (chapters, sections, appendixes, title pages and table of contents) and want to present them as a whole,
  • want a document to remain unchanged by those receiving it,
  • want several people to review and comment on a document,
  • want to set security limits on a document,
  • need to submit something that has no metadata,
  • still have tracking but you don’t want people to see the tracking, or
  • are sending a final deliverable.
Getting the most of your PDF

There are a few interesting features that you may not be aware of with PDFs.

1. You can attach source files to a PDF. I recommend using this approach when you want to send out a document for comment. You can attach a protected (tracking already turned on) version of the original files (chapters of a report, say) that everyone can access. Those on the receiving end can simply save back to the original PDF and return it to you. You then compile their changes and comments using a macro we have just for that purpose.

This is also a good option if you have a spreadsheet or other attachments that you want to preserve in the original software.

2. You can allow people to comment on your document, even if they only have access to the free PDF reader. This is a feature you can “turn on” before you send it.

3. You can capture tables* from a PDF and translate them into Word or Excel—but it takes a bit of work.

4. You can create a form within a PDF.

5. You can create tags, links, and bookmarks automatically when you publish to PDF. (Tags links and bookmarks help readers navigate your document.)


* To capture the contents of a table, you need Adobe’s Acrobat.