What is a PDF?
A PDF file is file format developed by Adobe that allows the presentation of complex documents including text and images in a manner independent of application software, hardware or operating system. PDF is an abbreviation of Portable Document Format.
PDF can be a useful format for certain content types when used judiciously.
Avoid using PDF for your content delivery
Where ever possible your site should be primarily created using HTML pages from the CMS.
If a site contains many PDF documents that have been created in-house, and the PDF content does not meet the criteria defined below (in When to use PDF), the site publisher may be required to recreate HTML pages using the CMS, and remove the PDF documents.
When to use PDF
Some content is suitable to add to you site as PDF documents. The following criteria are good examples of content suited for PDF documents:
Content originally available as professionally designed documents that include multiple illustrations and graphics e.g. product manuals, brochures, Annual Reports etc.
Highly structured and complex information that has design requirements that exceed the capabilities of HTML.
- A PowerPoint presentation that you wish to share online is best converted to PDF.
- Printing of the document is with high fidelity is the highest priority (eg. a poster).
In such cases it may be better to add this content as downloadable PDFs rather than HTML pages.
Content in you PDF is fully searchable via the RCH search engine or by search engines such as Google. In addition a well-structured PDF will allow a user to navigate through the content in the document as successfully as around a web site.
Please note that there is a 2MB limit for PDF files. If your PDF document is larger than 2MB, please contact the web team to discuss.
Disadvantages of PDF
The use of PDF online has some significant disadvantages when compared to HTML documents:
- PDF documents cannot be viewed in-line on a page like an image. The PDF will be linked to as a separate document.
- A PDF document will sit outside the publishing workflow of the CMS, and will not benefit from:
- document life cycle tracking:
- tracking changes.
- rolling back to a previous version.
- important for FOI and legal considerations.
- approval process.
- document life cycle tracking:
- PDF documents are generally formatted for print and can be problematic when viewed on screen and worse on mobile devices as they do not behave in a responsive manner like HTML pages do. This results in a compromised experience on mobile devices.
- PDF documents can be easily be saved to a PC or mobile device for off-line use. This feature can be useful, but has the consequence of separating the user from content updates.
- Forms and interactive documents can be created in PDF, but they are a poor substitute for HTML forms and we do not recommend them.
- Although PDF documents can be made to meet accessibility guidelines, the reality is that they generally do not. From an accessibility perspective, the use of PDF's is actively discouraged by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
- Your sites contextual and navigational elements are missing from PDFs - so when a user does a search and ends up on your PDF they have generally reached a dead-end.
- Intranet security is more difficult to implement when PDF documents are involved.
- PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption - Nielsen Norman Group.
- Types of content - GOV.AU Content Guide
- PDF accessibility - GOV.AU Content Guide
- Make content accessible - Victorian Government Digital Standards.
- PDF - The University of Melbourne Web Accessibility guideline.
- World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes - Australian Human Rights Commission.
- Why GOV.UK content should be published in HTML and not PDF
- Best Practices for Using PDFs on Web Pages