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with Mary Lou McNatt

Learn tips and hints to use a variety of electronic and technical equipment to enhance work with volunteers.

~ February 2005 ~ Topics

Demystifying the PDF File: What, Why, Where and Quick Tips

What is the PDF File?

The PDF file is a way to save a document so it can be viewed and printed in exactly the way you intended it to look, regardless of whether you're on a Macintosh, a Windows PC or a UNIX machine.

PDF stands for Portable Document Format, and it is one of the most widely used file formats currently in use by governments, businesses, and educational environments. It is a special format for viewing and printing documents which have been downloaded from the Web. Documents, such as those created in Microsoft Word and Excel, can be converted to PDF files, which then preserve the fonts, images, and layout originally used in the initial document.

When you click on a document file with the .pdf extension, a pop-up box may appear or your Adobe Reader will begin to run. You can choose to open the document or save it to your hard drive and then open it.

Opening a PDF document is like opening a book. You should first see the cover or page one. There may be an index on the left side of the screen which will allow you to jump to the chapter or section which interests you. In order to view PDF documents, you need Adobe's Acrobat reader plug-in. Nowadays most systems come with the necessary Acrobat Viewer application preinstalled. If you do not have this installed on your machine, you may obtain it free at: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html.

Why Use PDF files?

  • Software To View PDF Files Is Freeware. A huge benefit of PDF files is that they can be retrieved, viewed and printed with freeware called Adobe Acrobat Reader. This allows you to share documents easily with anyone inside or outside your organization.
  • To Create Electronic Documents. You can make your documents available for future use online via PDF. Graphics and specialized fonts can be included in a document no matter what the settings may be on someone else’s computer. PDF is geared towards visualizing documents. It will not preserve the logical structure of a document.
  • To Exchange Data. PDF files were designed to enable documents to be transferred and shared across computer platforms. A PDF document created in one platform such as Windows can be read in another platform such as Macintosh or UNIX. This cross platform acceptability makes PDF the document of choice to use over a network, the internet or an intranet. Your documents are viewable to a larger audience; not everyone has programs that can view .doc files, but the PDF viewer is free. PDF files can also be used for electronics forms in which the filled-in data can be stored in a data base.
  • To Archive Data. PDF files are usually smaller, typically half the size of an equivalent Microsoft Word file, so they load more quickly from the Internet. The smaller the file, the quicker the transfer. PDF files can be read directly from the computer screen helping to create the paperless office.
  • To Secure Data. It is possible to lock a PDF so it can only be opened with a password. It is also possible to forbid changing the content of a PDF or disable the option to print a PDF file. Unless you have the full version, i.e. Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional, the chances for a PDF file carrying a virus to your machine are remote.

Where?? Resources for saving a file with a PDF extension.

To create files with the .pdf extension you need the complete software program such as Adobe Acrobat, the developers of the PDF. If you are working with a MAC you can automatically save files with the PDF extension. Below are some resources for Windows PC's that can be used to save files with the PDF extension which can be viewed on any computer with a PDF viewer.

  • Adobe: https://createpdf.adobe.com/?v=AHP
    • Create Adobe® PDF Online is a Web-hosted service that lets you convert a variety of documents into 5 free Adobe PDF files.
  • CUTE PDF Writer - Free: http://www.cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp
    • CutePDF Writer allows you to convert any printable document to PDF format. It installs as a virtual printer and is available from any application that offers a 'Print' option.
  • PrimoPDF – Free PDF Creator: http://www.primopdf.com/
    • FREE PDF Converter. Print to PDF from virtually any application. Convert to PDF from any application by simply 'printing' to the PrimoPDF printer.
  • pdf995 Printer Drive: http://www.pdf995.com/
    • For Windows based systems this downloadable program is free and simple to use. Its interface allows you to create PDF files by simply selecting the "print" command from any application.

Quick Tips for PDF Files

Copy and Paste. You can Copy and Paste from a PDF document if it was created from a file, i.e. Word or Excel. Select the "T," for text, icon and then copy and paste as you would in any document. You can not Copy and Paste if the document was created from a scanned image.

Printing. Don't print the entire document unless you want ALL of it. At the bottom of the screen is a box with page numbers in it. These are the pages in the file; not the pages of the document. Get the page you want to print in the window and then check the number of the file page. This is the page number(s) that you should tell your printer to print.

Searching. Select Tools - Find or the Binoculars icon. The search term you enter and spelling must match the document entries. For example, a search for "St. Vrain" will not locate anything if the entry in the document is "Saint Vrain." However a search for "Vrain" or even "rain" will locate Vrain.

Viewing. When viewing a PDF file from the web a recommendation is to open it rather than save it. If the document is valuable to you and you plan on using it again, you can always save it when you close the file. Otherwise you end up with many PDF files that you have no intention of ever using again, thus taking up space on your hard drive.

Plan an EDU-VACATION - April 26-29, 2005

Training for managers of volunteers, leading to a certificate, is being held April 26-29, 2005. Sponsored by Washington State University, the Volunteer Management Certificate Program will be held in Port Hadlock, Washington, in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Topics include:

Recruitment Evaluation
Training Management and Supervision
Recognition Risk Management
Diversifying the Volunteer Pool The Internet as the Manager's Next Best Friend

Interactive Case Models based on student process is the focus of Learning Activities.
For more information, visit the website at: http://www.emmps.wsu.edu/volunteer.

Mary Lou McNatt has many years of experience working with volunteer programs, advancing our profession and has a passion for introducing the advantages of technology to volunteer programs. She was instrumental in obtaining Ivan Scheier’s body of work on volunteerism and putting it online. She can be reached at mlmcnatt@indra.com.

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