Best Practices with PDFs

You’ve seen them, emailed them, downloaded them, and printed them – PDFs that is.  PDF stands for “Portable Document Format” and PDFs are the standard way of transmitting files across different hardware, software, and operating systems.

A PDF is a great way to send a document to someone else and be sure that it will look the same on their computer as it does on yours.  We have all experienced the annoyance of receiving a Word doc that just didn’t look right on our computer or wouldn’t open at all.  For this reason, it is best to avoid emailing files in their “native” format – especially when you don’t know the platform on which they’ll land.

Another key reason to convert files to PDF is for longevity of digital storage.  I’m not saying that PDFs are here to stay forever, but they certainly seem to last longer than the various versions of Word. Although PDFs can be edited to some extent (see tools below), they are more likely to be viewed as “point in time” snapshots of documents.  This is one reason why most scanners save images into PDF by default.

Below are tools that PDF users at various levels of expertise may find helpful.  At the end of the article, please make use of the comments section to add your own tips and tools for maximizing PDFs in your work.


The Basics – Creating PDFs

  • Check out  I use the free version of this tool – you see sponsor pages each time you create a PDF, but it is not a big deal to me.
  • Another free PDF creation option I am aware of but haven’t used is
  • If you have Microsoft Office, you can select File – Save As – PDF
  • If you are looking at a web page and feel tempted to print a hard copy for your reference, go to instead.  Enter the web address and it will create a free PDF of the page.


A Step Further – Editing PDFs


The Ultimate – Digital Signatures with PDF

  • Here is a free tool to encrypt, decrypt, sign, and password-protect a PDF using Microsoft digital certificate technologies:
  • If you want to apply a handwritten signature yet still secure and protect the information in the PDF, an option to explore is Nitro Pro ($120)
  • If you use a Mac, PDFpen ( has great PDF editing features, including digital signatures ($60)


A discussion of PDFs without mentioning Adobe would be like ignoring the founder of the feast.  The range of Adobe Acrobat products will do all of the above and more. However, the full suite can get pricey.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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