The PDF (Portable Document Format) is the open standard, created by Adobe in the 1990s, for presenting documents so they look consistent across all platforms and software. DOC (or DOCX) is the format/file extension used mainly by Microsoft Word for its word processing documents. And the two aren’t anywhere near compatible. You can’t open a DOC file with Adobe Reader (or any other free PDF reader like FoxIt and Sumatra).
But, in answer to the often-made query “How do I convert PDFs to Word format”—which really means, “How do I edit a PDF in Word”—the answer these days is easy. Just open the PDF in Word.
As of Word 2013 (released in 2012), Microsoft has offered a function called PDF Reflow. It does what you expect. In Word, you go to the File tab, select open, select any PDF File, and open it right up for editing, as if it was a Word DOCX file.
There are limitations, however. The PDF you open in Word will have all the content, but it probably won’t look exactly right. That’s because PDFs are “fixed”—while the data is there, the file doesn’t store the relationship between the data (such as the position on the page). Word documents are all about exacting that placement.
Here’s a list from Microsoft of exactly what may not convert just right:
- Tables with cell spacing
- Page colors and page borders
- Tracked changes
- Footnotes that span more than one page
- Audio, video, and PDF active elements
- PDF bookmarks
- PDF tags
- PDF comments
- Font effects, like Glow or Shadow (in the Word file, the effects are represented by graphics)
When you open a PDF in Word, you’ll get this warning:
“Word will now convert your PDF to an editable Word document,” it says. “This may take a while. The resulting Word document will be optimized to allow you to edit the text, so it might not look exactly like the original PDF, especially if the original file contained a lot of graphics.”
That said, the graphics get pulled in and are easily editable as well.
Saving a file from Word 2013 to PDF is as simple as doing a Save as from the File tab. You should check the boxes on the save dialog box that say “Open File After Publishing” to immediately view it.
Conversion also works in Word Online, found at Office Online. You open a PDF in Word Online and it’s viewable, but click the “Edit in Word” link and you’ll see this:
That’s followed by another warning about changes to the layout, etc. But the content will be there and editable, even if the look went wonky. Give it a try.
That’s it, you’re all set for using PDFs in Word. Unless you have an older version of Microsoft Word.
PDF Use With Older Versions of Word
You’re out of luck trying to open a PDF directly in Word 2010 or earlier. You’ll need to convert the file first.
The number of ways to do this are numerous. Sites like Nitro’s PDF to Word Converter will easily do a one-at-a-time conversion in either direction, and email you the result. Of course, Nitro would prefer to sell you some software, which is handy if you’ve got hundreds or thousands of PDFs that need conversion.
Others include: Convert PDF to Word.net, which has similar features;doc2pdf, arguably the best looking site that converts PDFs to Word and back; and PDF Converter, which also converts PDF to Excel, PowerPoint, or an image, or vice versa. In fact, you can email any attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org and get back a PDF.
For desktop software—which is a faster way to turn a PDF into a Word DOC—there’s also no lack of options. UniPDF or PDFMate PDF Converter Free for Windows; on Mac there’s Lighten PDF to Word Converter for Mac or iPubsoft PDF Converter for Mac, but each only has a free trial, they’re not totally free.
Ultimately, let’s face it, Word makes a pretty terrible editor for PDF files. You’re going to be much better off finding a full PDF editor, and you don’t have to pay the big cost of getting Adobe Acrobat XI ($449.99 or $19.99/month). FoxIt PhantomPDF Standard and Qoopa’s PDF Studio Standard are both $89, and CutePDF is just $49.95. They’ve all got free trials, so if you’ve got serious PDF editing in your future, give them a try before you settle for Word conversions.