Thursday, February 4, 2010

Painless PDFs

Sending out a resume (or other important document) as an email attachment? Does it include carefully-crafted formatting and fonts? Think twice before you attach that .doc, .wpd, or any other file extension. Depending upon the recipient’s own word processing program and preferences, your specially-downloaded fonts may appear to them as Wingdings (or, "❖♓■♑♎♓■♑⧫"), and your careful page spacing may be horrifyingly-random line breaks. In addition, if you used Track Changes in Word (or other editing features), you risk exposing every insertion, deletion, and comment to the recipient.

The solution? Create a PDF, which will preserve your formatting and fonts in an image-based format. (Note that PDFs will also preserve your Track Changes if you leave them visible during the conversion, so always proofread those documents before attaching them to your email.) While most computers are equipped with Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files, this free download does not allow users to actually save documents in PDF format. Luckily, the Goodson Blogson has some ideas for those in a PDF pinch.

Members of the Duke Law community can access Adobe’s commercial PDF-creating program, Adobe Acrobat Professional, at selected carrel computers on Level 2 of the library (carrel numbers 2C1, 2C2, and 2C3; LawID required for login). Want a copy of your very own? Current University students, faculty and staff can take advantage of the discounts at the Duke Computer Store, which currently lists Adobe 9.0 Pro for both Mac and Windows at just $99 (down from the staggering retail price of $449!).

If you (or your wallet) prefer to remain Adobe-less, you might still be able to save documents in PDF format. Mac operating systems have contained this capability for years; in the Windows world, Microsoft Office 2007 offers a “Save as PDF” add-in, which can be downloaded at the Microsoft website. (We hear that Office 2010, currently in beta, will incorporate this add-in completely.)

What if you’re working on the fly at a computer where you aren’t able to download software add-ins due to security restrictions (such as the library’s twelve public workstations on level 3)? A few web-based solutions:
  • offers a free taste of Adobe Professional. Register for an account which allows you to convert up to 5 files into PDF before being prompted to upgrade to a premium account.
  • ExpressPDF is one of many web sites which offer quick, free conversion to PDF. It’s received positive attention on technology blogs, but users should naturally exercise caution, especially when uploading sensitive or confidential documents. Read privacy policies of such sites carefully, and check around for online reviews.
  • MergePDF is a slightly different animal, but worth noting for those who want web-based alternatives to Acrobat Pro's other features. This site allows users to combine up to 10 PDF documents into one file.
  • Finally, PDFmyURL allows you to enter the address of a web page and create a full-color PDF; law journal cite-checkers who wish to preserve citations to web pages may find this one particularly useful.
Any other computer-related quandaries? Contact the Academic Technologies Help Desk for assistance.