When Does it Make Sense to PDF?

The other day, I received an email with a Microsoft Word document attached. It was from my child’s school. I was able to decipher that the document was a permission slip for an upcoming field trip, but where?  When? How? The Word document looked like this when I opened it (click on the image to enlarge. Names have been removed to protect the innocent.)

To be fair, the document was part of a special project that some students were working on. The students were probably “getting fancy” and using some fonts that are not available on my computer.  That being said, it is a good illustration of the problem:  Word is not always the best vehicle for transferring your information to multiple recipients.

You spend time creating a document (a letter, a flyer, etc.) You take time and care to make sure that everything looks just right. You add photos, change the font, and format it until it looks perfect. You send it out to the person in the office next to you and, maybe, when they open it on their computer it still looks perfect. Keep in mind, if that person in your office opens it, most likely they have the same version of Word and the same fonts available on their computer that you do. The risk comes when you send it to people outside your office, people with different versions of Word (2007, 2010, or even Mac or Windows!) In the example above, the fonts are probably the biggest problem. When I open the file, my computer tries to find the font that was used, and when it can’t, my machine substitutes a different font. When you are dealing with PC fonts on a Mac computer, and vice versa, the substitution fails and you get gibberish. Sometimes, the substitution is semi-successful and you get a readable document, but the formatting you took great care in perfecting is messed up. Plus, you should keep in mind that when you send out a Word document, recipients can change anything they want. So what can you do?

The best solution is to convert your Word document to a PDF. PDF stand for “Portable Document Format.” It is the best way to send a document to multiple recipients so that it is most likely to arrive in the condition that you intend.

How? In my version of Word, Control or Command P brings up the Print dialog box. In the lower left corner, I have an option to PDF. I also have the option to choose Adobe PDF as my printer. (I realize that not everyone has the software.) On my other computer, under the file menu I have options to “save and send” as a PDF. Hopefully, one of these options will help you. If not, there are many places online to get help with your version of Word.

What if, as in the case of the permission slip example above, your document is meant to be used as a form that the recipient will fill out and return to you? We want to save trees! If you are trying to “go green,”  what is the point of emailing a PDF that the recipient has to print so that they can fill it out? In this case, you have to go a step further and invest in the software ($45 to $130.) There are several software programs out there for making PDFs. Adobe Acrobat is the most common one. Whatever software you invest in, make sure you have the ability to “create fillable forms.” Learn how to use the software to create forms, and you are green!

Bottom line: If you are sending multiple people a file and you do not want them to edit it, PDF it.