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Microsoft Word is convenient for word processing, but its file format (.DOC) is not as portable as we might like. This is particularly true for linguists, whose writings are likely to include special characters and fonts that prevent them from displaying correctly on other computers (even with the same operating system). Adobe's PDF (Portable Document Format) really is portable, displaying and printing the same way on many different computers, making it a better solution for distributing documents. This page describes how to convert Word documents to PDF files on Windows.

The Short Version

For those of you who don't care about the details, here's my suggested solution: PDFCreator is a free, open source tool that allows seamless creation of PDFs from DOCs. It adds a new printer to your system, and when you print using that printer, instead of putting the results on paper, it writes out a PDF file. That's all there is to it.

The Longer Version

Imagine you've finished editing your paper/article/homework and you have a Word document that looks just like you want on paper. Now, you'd like a PDF that you can distribute (on the Web, for example)�how can you convert from one format to the other? Word doesn't know how to write out PDFs, so you'll need an additional piece of software to do the conversion.

A seemingly obvious solution is to find a different word processor that can read DOC files and write PDF files. Sun's free OpenOffice suite can do this, but the conversion doesn't produce perfect results--when you load a DOC file in OpenOffice, it reformats the document, and although OpenOffice is intended to be a Word work-alike, the formatting can differ significantly.

What you need is a way to take a snapshot of the document exactly as it's laid out in Word. Software exists that does exactly that in a clever way: it pretends to be a printer, but produces PDF files instead of paper copies. Adobe ships a tool that does this (called PDFPrinter) with the full (expensive) version of Acrobat, which is available in various computer labs on campus (in Mary Gates, for example). They also have a more elaborate tool called PDFMaker that will produce a PDF from a Word document that preserves all the hyperlinks and references (e.g. you can click on the table of contents in the PDF). However, having to come to campus to convert your documents is a hassle; fortunately, it's possible to do PDFPrinter-style conversions using only free software.

Here's the manual way to do it: install a printer driver that outputs PostScript (a standard page description language for printers), and then use the "Print to File" feature in the Windows print dialog to save the PostScript to disk. Then, use the freely available PostScript interpreter Ghostscript (you'll need both the Ghostscript interpreter and the GSView viewer) to load the file and convert it to a PDF.

Converting a DOC to PDF that way takes several more steps than is convenient. Fortunately, somebody has already written a piece of software that automates the process: the PDFCreator tool I mentioned above, which includes the Ghostscript interpreter but hides all that temporary files and printer driver business from the user. All you have to do is print your document to the PDFCreator printer and you get a nice, portable PDF version of your Word document.

-- ScottDrellishak - 13 Jan 2005

If you are using OS X and Word Mac:2004, then Word supports Unicode (and has an integrated equation editor that can somewhat accommodate AVMs, or you can simply paste graphics from PowerPoint or any other drawing application for non-text content). Then, to make a PDF file, just select "Save as PDF ..." in the Print dialog.

-- JonathanPool - 19 Mar 2005

Microsoft does offer the 2007 Microsoft Office Add-in: Microsoft Save as PDF that allows you to Save As to .pdf.

-- Main.norah - 2009-11-10

Topic revision: r3 - 2009-11-10 - 22:05:50 - brodbd

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