Opening PDFs in Word

To open a PDF file without converting it to a Word document, open the file directly wherever it's stored (for example, double-click the PDF file in your Documents folder).

However, if you want to edit the PDF file, go ahead and open it in Word. Word makes a copy of the PDF, converting it to a Word document and attempting to match layout of the original PDF. You always have the original PDF file, in case you don't want to keep the version that Word converts.

Converting from PDF to Word works best with files that are mostly text—for example, business, legal, or scientific documents. But when you open a PDF file in Word, it might not look exactly the way it looked as a PDF.

If the PDF contains mostly charts or other graphics, the whole page might show up as an image. When that happens, the text can’t be edited.

Sometimes, Word doesn’t detect an element, and so the Word version doesn’t match the original PDF file. For example, if Word doesn’t recognize a footnote, it treats the footnote as regular text and might not put it at the bottom of the page.

Document elements that don’t convert well

Some elements are known to be problematic when converting from PDF to Word format. If your PDF includes these, you might want to open it directly rather than converting it to a Word document:

  • Tables with cell spacing

  • Page colors and page borders

  • Tracked changes

  • Frames

  • Footnotes that span more than one page

  • Endnotes

  • 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)

How does conversion work?

PDF is a fixed file format, which means the file stores the location of text, pictures, and vector graphics on a page, but not necessarily the relationships among them. Most PDFs don’t include information about structural content elements, such as paragraphs, tables, or columns. For example, PDF stores a table as a set of lines without any relationship to the content inside the table cells.

Different programs represent the same content using different structures in PDF files. For example, a PDF might contain invisible text, graphics, and images. It might use different text boundaries. But you can’t see those differences when you look at the PDF in a reader.

When you open a PDF file in Word, Word uses a system of complex rules to figure out what Word objects (like headings, lists, tables, etc.) best represent the original PDF and where to put those objects in the Word document.

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