Web writing guide: using PDFs

Before adding PDFs to your site, consider when it’s appropriate to use a PDF (as opposed to a standard web page) and when a PDF is an inconvenience to the user. Your decision should be based on common sense, efficiency, and, most importantly, the needs of your users.

  • Is the content short with few graphical elements? It may make more sense to turn it into a web page. Avoid annoying users by asking them to download simple one-page Word documents. (Note: Longer documents can be converted into a series of short web pages, if appropriate.)
  • Is the content lengthy? Few people have the patience to read long documents online; they'll probably print them out anyway. It can be time-consuming to convert pages and pages of content to web pages. Using a PDF may make sense.

  • Does the content have special formatting, graphics, or layouts that won’t render well on the web? Consider using a PDF.

  • PDF vs. Word. PDF is a standard format that anyone can access by downloading the PDF reader at adobe.com. On the other hand, Word is a proprietary format that not every user may have.

Remember: you want to make things as easy as possible for your users. When in doubt, consider converting your Word document to a PDF file before uploading it.