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Don’t publish your documentation in PDF

Oct 25, 2023

Many companies use Microsoft Word to create some of their most critical documentation, and then publish these files online as PDFs – but did you know that PDFs are hard to find, use and update? Here are 9 reasons why publish your documentation in HTML instead of PDF.


In the early 90’s, Adobe created the PDF (Portable Document Format). Its purpose was an exchange format to preserve and protect the content and layout of the document. PDFs are essentially electronic versions of paper. Compared to HTML content, PDFs are often inaccessible and hard to read, which can alienate your audiences.

Don’t publish your documentation in PDF. Here are 9 reasons.

1. PDFs do not change size to fit the browser

On responsive websites, content shifts around to suit the size of the user’s device and browser. Desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones are all devices on which users should be able to access and read documentation. With responsive design, you can ensure a great user experience across all devices. PDFs are not designed to be flexible in this way. When reading a PDF on a phone it requires a lot of zooming in and out and scrolling both vertically and horizontally (they really aren’t designed for reading on screens). HTML pages are responsive and adaptable, for easy readability on any device.

2. Updating a PDF can be complicated

PDFs are tricky to update, and often require complex, manual routines to do so. This can be especially problematic if a document has been published in multiple formats. Any changes need to be made to all versions, meaning more work and more opportunities for error. It’s also common for readers to download a PDF file on their own device and refer to this downloaded version, without checking your website to see if a later version of the PDF has been created in the meantime – meaning your audience could be missing out on your latest information. That’s why we prefer web documents. Documents on Readin are published from the source file i.ex. Microsoft Word in just one click. Your reader will view the document live on the web so you can be sure they are accessing the very latest version.

3. PDFs aren’t interactive

PDFs are typically used to distribute read-only documents that preserve the layout of a page. They aren’t intended to interact with the user. This means your readers can’t easily see which parts of the document have been updated. Readin’s notification feature notifies the reader when a document is updated. The reader can subscribe to update notifications for specific documents, which contain a revision history log to easily highlight those updated areas.

4. It’s hard to search for content in a PDF

A PDF reader need to be specially configured to allow searching across multiple documents. So, when storing PDFs your company’s website, you will need to configure a third-party software to manage search. But with the help of Readin, searching web documents is as simple as searching with Google, but only more precise. Your reader will be able to search across multiple books and book collections and see a ranked list of search results with a snippet of the content. Their search word or phrase will be highlighted in the documents. Readin also supports metadata searches and filtering.

5. PDFs can be difficult to navigate

When a reader clicks a PDF on your company’s website, they are immediately taken away from the website, meaning they lose the context and the navigation path they’ve taken to get there. That’s where Readin comes in. Readin has a book collection feature which lets you present hundreds of documents in a collection view – so it’s easy for your reader to navigate among all your documents and find the one they’re after.

6. Annotating a PDF is limited

When reading a document with lots of information, readers like to make annotations and bookmark important pages. Both PDF readers and Readin pages let you annotate and bookmark, but where PDF users are limited to accessing their annotations and bookmarks on only one device at a time, Readin allows you to access your annotations and bookmarks across multiple devices simultaneously. Perfect for when you want to annotate a document on your work computer and pick up where you left off on your phone on your way home.

7. Analytics

Ever wondered if anyone reads the content you write? With traditional analytics, you know that a PDF has been downloaded but you don’t know if your document has been read, much less what section or for how long. The insight you get from PDF don’t give you any value.

Modern documentation systems should get and analyze data to understand how your users are viewing and interacting with your documentation. The system must capture users’ behavior to provide insights. The data must be presented in an easy-to-use dashboard for fact-based and data-driven decision making.

  • Typical important issues to measure:
  • Most and least read documents and sections
  • Time spent reading a document or section
  • Search- words and terms
  • Most and least documents having search hits
  • Who is reading a document or section, and who is not

Make sure the management can perform fact-based and data-driven decision making.

8. Automated publishing to document portals and libraries

Most organizations use a document management system to access and update their documentation. One of the most popular is SharePoint from Microsoft.

When using PDF as the publishing format for your documents, you need to regenerate the PDF files each time you update the Microsoft Word source documents. The next process is to manually publish the PDF-documents where they should be accessible for the user. It could be on a web site.

With a modern system you can publish a Microsoft Word document directly from the document management system i.e., SharePoint, to the right place on your web-based document portal. This is both convenient and time saving.

9. Ensure latest version

One of the worst things that could happen is that a user does not have the latest version of a document. Unfortunately, there are just too many examples of accidents and mistakes that occur because of outdated information.

PDF-documents are files that the users easily can download from a site. The pdf-documents, however, can be updated at any given time without the user's knowledge. How does the user know they have the latest version?

PDF-documents are files that the users easily can download. Now there are already two versions of the document. How does the user know they have the latest version?

So, how can you ensure that users have only the latest version? The simplest answer is that the documentation should only be accessible from one place: a web-based documentation portal.

More sophisticated technology ensures that new versions are ‘pushed’ out to the reader as soon as they are published. Readin’s “Notice of Changes” feature does just that. Users can subscribe to a specific document and as soon as the document is updated, users are notified.

Get rid of your PDF documents. Make the move to Readin documentation portal.

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