June 2005 Vol. 10 Issue 2
Four tips for creating user-friendly PDF files

Editor's note: This is the first of two articles on PDF files. Click this link to read the second article: “Advanced PDF features can keep documents and users more secure.”

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are fast becoming the worldwide standard for delivering digital documents for others to view, use, submit, or print. PDF files can contain images, text, audio, video, or interactive form fields in any number or combination.

The PDF format was created by Adobe many years ago so users could share documents whether they used a PC or Macintosh. For readers, viewing a PDF is simple. All they have to do is download and install free Adobe Reader® software. Creating true PDF files, however, is not typically free and requires Adobe Acrobat®.

Why PDF format?

There are a number of reasons to choose and use the PDF format for your documents, including their ease of distribution, relatively small file size, and cross-platform compatibility (that is, the same document can be read on Macintosh- or Windows-based computers).

From a document creator's standpoint, the most important reason is that content in a PDF file is displayed exactly as it was created, regardless of the computer. Chances are, you've noticed major differences in a document created on one computer and read on another. Have you ever created a Word file at work and taken it home, only to discover that the formatting you thought you created at work looks completely different from what you see at home? With PDF files, these kinds of problems are virtually eliminated.

Four basic tips

Regardless of your reasons for creating PDFs, there are some important things you should always do before sending them out.

1. Always fill in the Title, Keywords, and Subject fields in the "Description Properties" menu.

If you post your document to an Internet site, filling in these fields ensures that Internet users can find your material when they search the Web - helping you reach a broader audience who may be looking for your information and expertise. If you don't fill out these fields, readers will only know your document exists if they already know where to look for it.

2. Select an "Initial View" for your PDF document to control how the first page looks when users open the file for the first time.

Consider whether you prefer to have the entire first page visible or if the size should be large enough so text can be easily read. If the first page of your document is the size of a standard sheet of paper, readers may not be able to clearly read the text if the whole page is displayed at once. So consider magnifying the area around the title.

3. Specify whether the PDF file should be named the same as the file name or the document title.

Typically, it is best to set the file name to the "Document Title" so it is more user-friendly. The default choice is "File Name." If you follow good naming conventions when saving your PDF files, you will have short file names without spaces in the title followed by ".pdf."

For example, your document could be called, "The Joys of Gardening in the Early Summer" when document title is selected, or "gardening.pdf" when file name is selected. The file name ("gardening.pdf") is not very descriptive. As a result, readers saving the file won't really know what the PDF is until they open it up again. A good file name should be as close to the document title as possible so readers know what the saved PDF file contains.

4. Set the PDF file's security level.

By default, the PDF security feature is turned off. But security is important in this day of Internet piracy and identity theft. You can set a PDF so users can't print, copy images or text, or comment directly on the file. By limiting their ability to copy, you can protect against readers who would use or alter your images in ways you don't approve of. Furthermore, information on the Internet can be easily downloaded and changed by end users. This could create problems if there are multiple versions of the same file, one with your intended content and others with modified, and possible damaging, content.

These tips should get you started with creating PDF files. In the next issue, I'll offer some more "how to's" for some of the features discussed in this story. Until then, you can visit Adobe's Web site and visit their user forums for more information.

Chip Morrison, chip@purdue.edu

Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith.