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        Editing PDFs vs. Word Documents

        • calenderSep 24, 2020
        • calender 5 min read

        At PaperTrue, we edit a range of documents that clients often use. Our website’s FAQ section will tell you that we accept many formats to edit such as Word documents, LaTeX, PDFs, etc. But the editing process for each differs, based on the features that the medium has to offer. Needless to say, the mechanics of how we convey the edits change for each. Here, we look at how working on a PDF and a Word document differs in the editing room. 


        Editing PDFs 

        PDFs are generally recommended for final drafts. This makes it a cumbersome format for editing some of the earlier drafts, as it does not allow for text to be modified. So what do we do instead? 

        In the absence of an editing option, we simply add annotations, notes, and comments to the parts of the document that require changes. The thrust of these notes can range from proposing minor grammatical corrections, shifting words for better sentence structure, to suggesting larger changes concerning aspects such as tonality, style, and overall structure. 


        Editing Word documents

        In a Word file, we use the “track changes” feature to mark changes made directly to the text. It allows the author the option to accept or reject the changes. 

        The changes are marked in different colors by category or editor, and larger stylistic suggestions (which are left in comments) appear neatly on the side, corresponding to the text that is being referred to.  


        The various steps of editing 


        Proofreading minor errors

        In cases of minor errors in grammar and sentence structure, editors need to dig deep into each sentence. A Word file allows us to do this successfully since we can make changes directly to the text. We cannot do this on a PDF. Since PDFs are not editable, a draft modified by your editor is left with comments, annotations, or sticky notes for every single error. This becomes an issue when we edit documents with major grammatical errors across the document. 

        What does this mean for you when you receive a copy with annotations? You would have to check each annotation and replicate the change suggested, making the process of freeing your document of errors highly cumbersome. But with a Word document, you can simply accept or reject the changes in the text. With just a click of a button, the job is done. It makes more sense to do this in a document format where the text can be moved around, right? 


        Conveying structural changes

        Once we’ve gotten through the task of carefully scanning the document for word- or sentence-level issues, addressing larger aspects like the structure and organization of the content is next on the agenda. When refining entire paragraphs and sections of a document, the tools offered by both .docx and .pdf software come in handy. We mark the text in a Word document with a comment and the text in a PDF with a sticky note. 

        In a PDF, however, while you may not have to worry about scanning the entire document for minor errors, you do have to keep track of knowing which comment addresses which part of your text. Additionally, if sticky notes are used, they are notorious for dislodging themselves from the associated text if you close and reopen the document too many times. It’s best to avoid the risk of not realising what the editor is talking about, so we hail Word files as the superior format here as well. 



        A lot of an editor’s job across document types involves formatting. Whether it’s arranging and styling chapter titles, paragraphs, or entire reference lists, this aspect of editing is deeply technical. Naturally, it’s best to use an application that enables us to implement these complex formatting changes to the visual appearance of a document. 

        It is also about precision – checking that elements including page width, spacing, and indentation adhere to the prescribed formatting style. As a file format primarily used for viewing rather than writing on, a PDF does not have tools that measure these elements in units. This makes it really difficult for an editor to gauge (because that’s the most that can be done) the level of changes to be made. To suggest or implement changes in a document type that doesn’t allow the editor to modify text is counterproductive at best, since it’s impossible to determine what the final page will look like. 

        Fortunately, the tools and functions involving formatting are fairly advanced on Word. (Fun fact: we can also update and customize them based on specific requirements.) It’s far easier to achieve the precision of formatting here. Each change is tracked, with the option to either accept it or reject it, and requires no additional work on your part. Since this is the case, it’s also easier to compare both versions to see what you prefer. 


        So what you do end up with?

        As you may have already gathered, the choice of sending a word file or a PDF directly impacts the amount of effort you, as the creator of that document, have to put in the revision process.

        tracked word












        tracked pdf












        Word File: Accept or reject changes easily! 🙂
        PDF: Make all suggested changes yourself 🙁













        Word File:  A perfectly edited document 🙂
        PDF: No different than the original document full of errors 🙁


        Which is better? 

        As editors, working on a format that easily allows the author to undo/implement changes has always been easier. This makes Word, a format that is generally preferred for work-in-progress documents, a superior format.



        Chetna is a child of the internet. A writer and aspiring educator, she loves exploring digital media to create resources that are informative and engaging. Away from the writing desk, she enjoys cinema, coffee, and old books.

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