Why does my PDF look different in Word?

Word uses a feature called PDF Reflow to convert PDF files into Word documents you can edit. To find out how your PDF file will reflow in Word, try it. Word makes a copy of the file, so no matter how the document looks when you open it in Word, you always have your original PDF file.

PDF Reflow 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.

For example, the pages might break at different places. Or a paragraph might be split in two. But Word keeps the document’s reading order.

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. If Word doesn’t recognize headings that correspond to the table of contents, it might add the table of contents as a plain table of text and numbers or just plain text.

Note:  The PDF Reflow feature isn’t a replacement for a reader, such as the Windows 8 Reader.

Document elements that don’t convert well

PDF Reflow doesn’t handle some elements well, including:

  • 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 PDF Reflow 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, PDF Reflow 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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