Survey: how do you use PDFs?

Subject: Survey: how do you use PDFs?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 8 May 2001 14:40:24 -0400

Becca Price wonders: <<When you get a document in PDF form, how do you use
it? that is, do you: * read it online * print it out * read it online and
print out only sections of the document>>

Depends on a variety of factors, but primarily on my needs for the document
and whether it was laid out by someone with a clue. For example, I've got an
old Adobe sampler CD that contains the compleat Shakespeare in PDF format; I
use that when I want to do a quick search for a quote, the correct wording
of a line, or the specific play that contained a line, and I'm too lazy to
fire up a browser and head over to But the Adobe version is
not laid out particularly well for onscreen reading, so I turn to my printed
copies when I want to actually read one of the plays. For technical or other
material I've found online, I do much the same thing; in fact, since most of
this information is so poorly designed to support onscreen use*, I've more
or less gotten in the habit of printing a copy and adding it to my
literature files or binders, and only keeping the online copy if it contains
colored illustrations that are important for understanding the text.

* By my definition, "poorly designed" means the document doesn't fit in a
single screen without zooming out so far that the text becomes illegible;
conversely, at legible type sizes, you spend more time hitting the page down
to show you the bottom half of the page than you spend actually reading or
turning pages. Feh. I'd rather just print the damned thing.

<<maybe we should revisit the decision to use PDF format, if most of our
users only read our docs online or only print out small sections rather than
the whole document. Or, if we stay with PDF, maybe we should format the
documents more appropriately for online use than for hard copy.>>

Amen. For a few more thoughts on this issue, have a look at: Hart, G. 2001.
The trouble with Acrobat.

<<So: if you use PDFs, how do you format them? maintaining the paper doc
metaphor or more for online use?>>

I format them to support the manner in which I hope the recipient will
probably use them; at work, for example, we assume that all we're doing is
delivering files that will be printed, thereby saving the delay in mailing
the report, but I've been planning a project for some time that would use
PDF to produce a reference work designed optimally for onscreen reading.
Should I ever get a month or two free in the future, I'm hoping to get back
to work on this project again.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear


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